Humans and Animals: Shared Maladies


Our Animal Natures,” by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers (Sunday Review, June 10), beautifully highlights the many disease processes shared by animals and humans. There have been advances in veterinary medicine that have benefited human health. For example, the Department of Agriculture in 2007 approved a therapeutic vaccine to treat melanoma in dogs, the first therapeutic vaccine in animals or humans, and a human melanoma vaccine has shown promise in clinical trials and may be licensed in the near future.

Animals share our homes and serve as sentinels for environmental toxic exposures, yet we do not include them in epidemiologic or biomedical studies in areas of research such as asthma, cancer or infectious diseases, even though they suffer from these diseases.

Imagine the benefits to both human and animal health if we integrated our research efforts, using the “One Health” approach, to study disease processes across species. Accomplishing this would require more research funding for veterinarians, allowing them to become equal partners with other research scientists.

Princeton, N.J., June 11, 2012

The writers are co-founders of the One Health Initiative, a global effort to increase communication and collaboration between physicians and veterinarians. Dr. Kahn and Dr. Monath are physicians, and Dr. Kaplan is a veterinarian.

To the Editor:

“Our Animal Natures” offers one more blow to human exceptionalism. We are animals, of course, and so we can learn much about ourselves from other animals. But from another perspective, there is a danger in such scientific claims of sameness.

Similar claims by the scientific community in 19th-century England were used to support cruel procedures like vivisection on dogs, and other inhumane experiments continue to be conducted on nonhuman animals with the purpose of expanding knowledge about the human body and illness.

Sameness extends only so far when it is thus revealed that these animal lives are held to have little if any value in themselves. What experiments will yellow-bellied marmots or blue whales be subjected to in the attempt to reveal secrets about human weight gain?

Middletown, Conn., June 11, 2012

The writer is the author of “Thinking Animals: Why Animal Studies Now?” and a professor at Wesleyan University.

To the Editor:

I was thrilled to read an essay by a physician who understands that humans are a special case in nature only from our own parochial perspective.

Veterinarians have known this for a very long time. Humans and animals (and plants and bacteria and viruses) inhabit the same biosphere and share the same risks and illnesses.

The sooner our physician colleagues recognize our common biology the better, for humans, animals and the planet.

President-Elect, American Veterinary Medical Association
White Plains, June 11, 2012

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