Legally Blonde, but Wrong about Animal Rights

January 01, 2003  ·  Michael Fumento  ·  Scripps Howard News Service  ·  Law

Legally Blonde’s Elle Woods is sweet and savvy, but unfortunately knows no more about animal testing than does her dog Bruiser.

The hit movie *Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde *is darling, as is its star Reese Witherspoon. Any heterosexual male who doesn’t have a crush on her, well, isn’t a heterosexual male. Unfortunately, the film carries a message that’s not only false but, to the extent it gains currency, lethal. It says animal testing is not only immoral but worthless.

In the beginning, Witherspoon’s ditsy but determined character Elle Woods sets out to find the mother of Bruiser, her cute Chihuahua with a wardrobe that puts Imelda Marcos to shame. But Bruiser’s mom turns out to be a test subject at a cosmetics company. Ultimately Elle finds herself campaigning for a bill outlawing all animal testing, not just that for cosmetics.

The radical animal activist group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which calls animal testing a "sadistic scandal," celebrates the film on its Web site. But one wonders how Elle would feel about PETA’s aim to forbid meat consumption. Bruiser wouldn’t care for tofu Alpo. Yet PETA’s co-founder Ingrid Newkirk once made the rather offensive observation that, "Six million people died in concentration camps, but six billion broiler chickens will die this year in slaughter houses."

Colonel Sanders as Adolf Hitler; fancy that.

Even worse (by Elle’s standards) PETA would also ban any use of leather. Whoops! There goes Elle’s shoes and handbags, Bruiser’s shoes and handbags, and the leather biker outfit Bruiser wears when he comes out of the canine closet.

And, since PETA would outlaw owning pets, there goes Bruiser.

Yet the film does exactly what the animal activists do, going for soft targets first. They get your attention by emphasizing non-lifesaving testing involving cuddly little critters, but ultimately it’s lifesaving therapies that get chucked overboard in order to spare rats and mice.

"Of all the animals needed for medical and scientific research, less than one percent are involved in cosmetic product testing," notes Frankie Trull, president of the Foundation for Biomedical Research in Washington, D.C.

The other 99 percent are used to test foods, drugs, household goods, pesticides and other applied chemicals, and surgical techniques.

Without guys like these, forget about improved treatments for cancer, AIDS, stroke, or virtually anything else.

And don’t readily dismiss the need for animals in cosmetics testing either. Some cosmetics are labeled "Cruelty-free" or "Not Tested on Animals," but it’s basically a sales gimmick. All the individual ingredients must be animal tested under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, enacted after many American women were injured by an eyelash dye called Lash-Lure. Some became legally blind.

Animal testing also helps animals. Elle wouldn’t want Bruiser taking untried heartworm pills.

Our pretty-in-pink heroine makes a point in her congressional testimony when she says that animals and humans don’t have the same physiology, but she’s only partly right. Yes, animal testing for chemical carcinogenicity has essentially flopped. But that’s not so much because of differences in physiology but rather because the animals are dosed so heavily that it causes massive cell death leading to tumor formation.

On the other hand even lower animals such as rodents have proved fairly reliable predictors of human reactions in many areas. Otherwise nobody would use them.

Researchers are also genetically engineering animals to make them better test models. While normal mice are impervious to AIDS, engineered ones can contract it and have thereby contributed to saving countless lives. Yet Newkirk has said that even if animal testing produced a cure for AIDS, "We’d be against it."

A recent twist on PETA’s disinformation is that "sophisticated computer technologies" have made test animals unnecessary, such that "Scientists have built an accurate working model of a human heart that will allow researchers to test new treatments electronically before they are attempted on humans." Further, "computerized ’virtual organs’ predict how drugs will be absorbed and metabolized, so drug companies can now test the effects of substances electronically before ever trying them on a person," PETA’s website claims.

Yes, and Captain Kirk and Buck Rodgers will operate them.

"Companies would be thrilled with such systems, because it would be cheaper and faster," says Trull. "Unfortunately, machines with this kind of computing power are probably at least 15 years away."

Logically, the only alternative to testing on animals is testing on humans. And I consider that a laudable goal — so long as the labs can get all the PETA members they need.