25-year-old Caterina Simonsen supports the use of animal testing for pharmaceutical research because she would have died long ago without animal research.
Simonsen, an Italian veterinary student, suffers from four separate lung diseases and spends many weeks every year in the hospital. Her condition flares up regularly and requires re-hospitalization, but even when she is not in the hospital, Caterina relies on prescription medications and advanced equipment to maintain her condition at home.
Having benefitted from many medications and experimental treatments which have prolonged her life, Simonsen felt compelled to express her gratitude for animal testing, without which there could be no guarantee that many of Simonsen’s medications and treatments were safe for humans before being prescribed.
Simonsen wrote on a Facebook page that promotes animal experimentation, saying simply:
I am 25 thanks to genuine research that includes experiments on animals. Without research, I would have been dead at nine. You have gifted me a future.
Many individuals were outraged by Simonsen’s comment, however, apparently holding a belief that the value of animals’ lives ranked higher than that of a human’s. Consequently, Simonsen received a backlash of 30 death threats and 500 insults for daring to express her gratitude for the existence of animal testing.
The episode sparked a huge debate in Italy, and one political leader even tweeted his agreement with Simonsen, saying, I am with Caterina. The debate about animal rights has grown intense in Italy, and in April a group of Milanese activists protested animal research by breaking into a lab and releasing many lab rats (many of whom died of exposure on the streets of Milan shortly thereafter), chaining themselves to the facility, and switching labels on hundreds of cages.
While the sympathy factor in the argument over animal testing has normally applied only to the animals upon whom research is performed, Caterina brings a different perspective to the argument. The existence of animal testing has allowed to her to live for years longer than she otherwise would have been able to survive. Although she is not employed by any entities that perform or support animal research, she feels personally compelled – because of her own experience – to support the practice in favor of humans. “I am fighting for my life,” she said.
Simonsen was recently admitted to the intensive care unit of her hospital for treatment of a new illness which her doctors have posited was stress-induced. If she maintains the health necessary, Caterina will continue her studies in veterinarian medicine to ensure the health and well-being of animals, while simultaneously holding that the hierarchy of animals to people demands that human needs be placed at the forefront of the debate.