Ethics

I had a little fundraiser at work yesterday, a real low-key affair that mostly involved me sitting around, chatting up people, and giving them slips of paper with links to my JDRF ride page. A little follow-up from me after the fact, and violà! $785 $1,025 in contributions, which will be doubled by The MathWorks. Adding in my earlier fundraising, I’m only a few hundred dollars away from my goal!

It’s going to feel so good to be out from under the shadow of that obligation. But even afterward, I’m going to keep fundraising over the next six months until the ride because (a) all of the money goes to a great cause that I believe in 100% and (b) if I raise enough money, all of my transportation costs will be covered (including getting my bike there and back). I didn’t set a higher goal initially because I wasn’t sure how much I could actually achieve, but not having the hassle of figuring out the trip’s practical details is turning into a great motivator.

As you might have gathered, I work with wonderful people who are passionate about what motivates them and very generously give their time and money to get behind causes they believe in. The core purpose of the company is to accelerate the pace of science and engineering, and part of that involves building software tools that are used in the type of research that JDRF does.

And what does JDRF do? A bit of advocacy and patient support and a whole lot of research funding. (It’s there in their name: Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.) The work they support spans the gamut: computer simulation, in vitro studies, hardware and software development, and human clinical trials. They also support groups using mice in their research.

It turns out this got me into an ethical dilemma last night, as I was thinking back on the fundraiser. One of my coworkers backed away when I said I was soliciting for JDRF, saying, “They’re one of the groups that does animal testing.” This assertion surprised me because, when I think “animal testing” I think of cosmetic-wearing bunnies and not beta cell-enhanced mice. (I had forgotten about these “diabetes cured” mice we always hear about when talking with her.) Plus, the JDRF doesn’t actually perform the research itself.

But it occurred to me that these might be distinctions without difference for my coworker. Even though I had no intent to deceive and I don’t share her beliefs on the matter, I had accidentally enticed her to act contrary to her values and felt I must give back her contribution.

There was never really any hesitation on my part about needing to return her gift, even though I feel chagrined about it, partly because I made the mistake in the first place but more so because I don’t see anything wrong with what JDRF and its funded researchers are doing. In a perfect world, there would be no need for this kind of testing because everyone with diabetes would be cured. But in the world we live in, I have few problems with the sacrifice we selfishly choose to make for countless mice as long as we learn something useful from them that moves us in the direction of somewhere much, much better. Even though they were furrier and friendlier, I feel the same way about the dogs that Banting and Best used in the development of insulin therapy 90 years ago. I’m not advocating for the extreme position of “anything goes as long as it happens for the greater good.” On a scale that ranges from “No Animal Research” to “Anything Goes,” I draw the line near a place that minimizes suffering, forbids cruelty, excludes primates, and demands results commensurate with the number of animals involved in the trial. (The more animals used, the bigger the pay-off must be.)

I know and deeply respect that everybody has their own ethical compass, and we should be true to where it points. I just hope that we can get to the more perfect world soon, where we don’t have to make these choices any more. And that’s why I’m fundraising for JDRF.

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