Ice buckets and cruelty

A picture of a black African boy meeting a white woman wearing glasses, and a caption saying "So, let me get this straight: you waste clean water as a challenge in order to avoid raising money for charity?"I’m sure everyone has heard of the “ice-bucket challenge”, in which someone is filmed having a bucket of freezing water poured over their head in response to donations to a charity, usually one dedicated to Motor Neurone Disease, also known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or, in the USA, Lou Gehrig’s Disease after a baseball player from the 1930s who died of it aged 37. Various complaints have been raised about it, including that it’s a waste of water (see image right), that many people aren’t donating at all or don’t really understand what it’s about, and that it’s already leading to bullying incidents or assaults. However, the silliest complaint, in my opinion, is that the major ALS charities fund research that uses experiments on animals.

I’ll be straight about this: I support experiments on animals, especially for developing medicines. The animal rights lobby has a number of facile and often baseless claims, such as that the same medicines have opposite effects on different families of mammals, that you can simulate effects on a particular organ (the kidney, if I remember rightly) by using a potato, and that animal experiments just don’t work. This simply isn’t true; all medications are tried on animals before they are tested on humans, and there are nowhere near enough people to test every medication ever developed on. They can only use healthy, young, male volunteers, and not every young, healthy man would or could volunteer. They can only do it once they are satisfied that the medication will not just kill them. (I have heard it suggested that we should test new medication on murderers and rapists; needless to say, there are not enough of these for this purpose either, and we cannot breed them like we breed rats. In addition, some people imprisoned for such offences are innocent.)

I have seen someone recently express similar sentiments about a particular drug being trialled for the treatment of ME. I have my own doubts about this treatment which is why I haven’t contributed to it, but the idea that laboratory rats or guinea pigs might suffer is not among them. The life-span of these animals, if allowed to run its course, is barely five years (less so for rats); there are people who have been suffering from severe ME for twenty years and counting, spending most of it lying in dark, quiet rooms in pain. ALS does not feature the extreme pain and isolation of severe ME but it is a killer, and it causes progressive muscle weakening and paralysis in the years leading up to death (usually from respiratory failure); people can spend years unable to walk, look after themselves, speak or swallow. True, technology and good care can enable the sufferer to communicate and perform some functions, but they will still be increasingly dependent and will still die.

There is a strong reason not to encourage this particular charity stunt, and it’s connected to human suffering: pouring water over someone is assault, and while obviously the challenge is meant to be voluntary, it has already been done to people without consent, as bullying or hate crime. In Liverpool, a group of thugs poured a bucket of water over the head of a homeless man in a wheelchair, who then had to sleep in the open in his wet clothes. (More recently, people have had fluids other than water poured over them as a ‘prank’.) When a trend gets to this point, it should be understood that the good humour has run its course and people should find other ways of raising money for this particular cause.

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