Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Hazards of the job

This e-mail was sent out by my company's security group:

"The National Animal Rights Convention 2007 will meet from this Thursday through Monday at the [hotel] LAX. As in previous years, Monday will include an organized protest at a target to be named that day.

In addition to the convention, those organizing protests against HLS are taking advantage of this convergence of activists to hold its "West Coast Shut Them Down Tour" beginning next Tuesday, July 24. A list of cities and dates has been posted with no additional information, although it is expected the protests will target research-based facilities and financial institutions. "

That was followed up by alerting us to which days the group might potentially be "visiting" our campus. We were reminded about general policies of not allowing random, non-badge wearing people into the buildings and to report any suspicious activity.

There have been several alerts like this over the years, but nothing serious has ever happened (yet). The only incident we ever had was a suspicious package that was delivered to one of the labs sometime before Xmas. The return label address did not look familiar so the recipient reported it. The city bomb squad actually ended up coming out and blowing up the package because they could not determine the package's contents. It turned out it was a gift box sent by a vendor - a box of animal-shaped chocolates.

At a previous company, I heard stories about various disease groups coming to protest for more access to experimental drugs. They'd have to bar the doors and escort people to work. I can't imagine how uncomfortable that would have been.

While I live in a politically active region of the country, I don't often hear about any major animal rights protests that turn violent. Certainly, it's inconvenient and I understand their interest in protecting animals. I definitely have never been one to be comfortable experimenting on animals. However, I also acknowledge there are medical advances that couldn't have happened without the sacrifice of animals. Like any ethical debate, the lines are fuzzy and there will never be a clear right or wrong.

It's easy to say that testing on live animals such as monkeys, dogs, and rodents is cruel. I knew someone who had to snap the necks of mice in a research lab. Creepy job. The line gets fuzzy (to me) when you start talking about things that don't run around and interact with other animals. Cells are alive, but no one says we abuse or torture them. (Stem cells are a whole different issue.) But what do you say about chicken embryos? If it weren't for the use of eggs, we wouldn't have enough stock of common vaccines such as the flu shot. (This is also why people with egg allergies can't take the shot.) There have been many attempts to find alternative manufacturing processes, but they just aren't as easy and scalable as eggs. Gosh, this starts sounding like an abortion debate - when is an embryo a being?

I'm not going to go there, that's not the point of today's thoughts. Moreover, I'm simply always amazed that I work in an industry that has to worry about this sort of thing. It's something you see on tv, not something you fear might appear at your front door in the morning. Clothing manufacturers have to worry about human right protesters, oil companies may have to deal with environmentalists, what do the high-techies have to worry about? Luddites? ;)

It's interesting to think about the potential job hazards you don't realize you are taking on.

1 comment:

teahouse said...

True dat!! I have to deal with crazy corporate sharks as clients :o) Does that count? If it weren't for that, my job would be perfect...