Monday, August 29, 2016

Meatless Mondays, Oprah Winfrey, and the Humane Society of the United States

by David Balashinsky

Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, recently announced on his organization's Facebook page that Oprah Winfrey has endorsed the Meatless Mondays movement.  In a post that also links to his appearance with Winfry on SuperSoul Sunday, Pacelle writes, "The big news coming out of my appearance with Oprah Winfrey onSuperSoul Sunday today is that she took the “Meatless Mondays” pledge and asked her 33.5 million Twitter followers to follow suit. Incredible, high impact, game-changing stuff. On today’s show, she showed such facility for the cause and a great shared passion for fighting for animals, in ways large and small. It’s great to have this amazing woman on our side."  

I write as a long-time and proud monthly financial supporter of the HSUS when I say that I am deeply disappointed to see the HSUS sully its reputation by associating itself with Oprah Winfrey.  Yes, Winfrey - to her credit -  now endorses the Meatless Mondays movement.  Good for her.  But this is the same Oprah Winfrey who has gone on national television and shilled for SkinMedica, a company that manufactures anti-wrinkle face cream which is made from the stolen prepuces of helpless infants who have been subjected to nontherapeutic circumcision - a totally unnecessary genital modification surgery that causes infants excruciating pain, violates their right of bodily integrity, permanently removes a normal, sensitive, and functional body part, kills over 100 infants and leaves over one million more scarred for life in the United States every year. How can one oppose an industry that exploits animals and causes them needless suffering while at the same time supporting an industry that exploits human infants and causes them needless suffering?  It strikes me as morally inconsistent and exceedingly hypocritical to refrain from meat consumption on ethical grounds while smearing "beauty cream" made from stolen human body parts on one's face.  Yet this is exactly what Oprah Winfrey is now doing.  
The HSUS, as well as many other animal-welfare and animal-rights organizations, has long deplored the use of animals in cosmetics testing, not merely because the animals subjected to these tests experience horrific pain while the tests themselves are absolutely unnecessary but because, as unethical as such testing is to begin with, such mechanized and routine exploitation of animals becomes even more conspicuously unethical when it is done for no more noble a purpose than to gratify human vanity.  Yet how is tearing off part of an infant's penis without a shred of medical justification, without his consent, and with insufficient or no anesthesia morally any better than vivisection?  How is manufacturing a "beauty cream" (or any other product) that is made from these stolen body parts morally any different from subjecting animals to painful cosmetics testing?  

As Pacelle himself has written, "As harsh as nature is for animals, cruelty comes only from human hands.  We are the creature of conscience, aware of the wrongs we do and fully capable of making things right.  Our best instincts will always tend in that direction. . . ." ("The Bond: Our Kinship With Animals, Our Call to Defend Them" by Wayne Pacelle; published by William-Morrow/Harper-Collins; 2011; the quotations included here are all taken from excerpts from Pacelle's book that appear on the HSUS website.)  As I understand him, Pacelle is arguing here from the unassailable and morally unambiguous position that, because human beings have the capacity to entertain the notion of ethics, we have not merely a duty but even an innate impulse to act ethically.  The focus of Pacelle's mission is to call humanity to a better version of itself and to apply the standards of integrity, rectitude and compassion to animals that we would like to believe we apply to ourselves - or, as Pacelle puts it, to uphold "the decent and honorable code that makes us care for creatures who are entirely at our mercy."  

But isn't it axiomatic that we have no less a duty to apply these same standards to our fellow human beings?  Doesn't "the decent and honorable code that makes us care for creatures who are entirely at our mercy" apply no less to infant boys than to our fellow living creatures?  Pacelle continues: "Especially within the last 200 years, we've come to apply an industrial mindset to the use of animals, too often viewing them as if they were nothing but articles of commerce, the raw material of science, or mere obstacles in the path of our own progress.  Here, as in other pursuits, human ingenuity has a way of outrunning human conscience, and some things we do only because we can - forgetting to ask whether we should."  Exactly these observations, criticisms, and questions are at the very heart of the genital rights movement: a movement that has arisen in response to the medically unwarranted but culturally normalized practice of routine infant circumcision. Indeed, I can think of no more fitting a description of routine infant circumcision and the unethical use of the human tissue obtained thereby than Pacelle's trenchant observation that "as in other pursuits, human ingenuity has a way of outrunning human conscience, and some things we do only because we can - forgetting to ask whether we should." 

Subjecting an infant to a medically unnecessary and irreversible amputation of part of his body is unethical.  To then use that infant's excised body part in the manufacture of "beauty cream" as SkinMedica does is by orders of magnitude even more unethical: it is a moral abomination.   Oprah Winfrey has enthusiastically promoted this practice and this product.  I cannot think of a poorer choice as a spokesperson for the Meatless Mondays movement, much less everything else that the HSUS stands for, than Oprah Winfrey.

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