Aysha Akhtar

“Ending animal testing is a win-win for humans and animals” – Neurologist CEO Aysha Akhtar

Watch our conversation on YouTube or listen on Podcast.

Aysha (@DrAyshaAkhtar & ayshaakhtar.com) is a neurologist, public health specialist & author. She is President & CEO of the Center for Contemporary Sciences. She worked for the Office of Counterterrorism & Emerging Threats of the FDA & served as Lieutenant Commander in the US Public Health Service. She is a Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics. Aysha wrote: “Animals & Public Health: Why treating animals better is critical to human welfare.

In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?” Sentientism is “evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” The audio is also on our Podcast – subscribe here on Apple​​​ & here on the other platforms.

We discuss:
0:00 Welcome & Sentientism

2:10 Aysha Intro

  • Neurology, public health, emerging threats (e.g. pandemics)
  • Setting up CCS to replace all animal research and testing with human relevant methods

4:27 What’s Real? Renouncing Islam, becoming atheist

  • Growing up in a Pakistani Muslim family, but more culturally than strictly religious
  • Calling herself a Muslim, but then seeing how her father & Muslim society treated girls & women differently
  • Feeling pressure to dress modestly
  • Announcing “I renounce Islam” at 11 yrs old
  • Still believing in a god, then becoming an atheist
  • “Why would a god care about me and not someone else living a miserable life?” “If there is a god, why is there so much suffering?”
  • How can the suffering we cause animals be something a god could allow?
  • Religion helps people feel less lost. Understanding why people cling to it
  • Meaning, value, moral structure, purpose, community, love, awe & wonder are available naturalistically too.

15:50 What Matters Morally? All suffering & flourishing beings

  • Keeping the good parts of religious morality
  • “Living a life that causes the least amount of harm & the greatest amount of joy possible”
  • “Of course that includes non-human animals because they feel, they have emotions”
  • Our moral basics can be very simple
  • Rights, dignity, personhood, sentience
  • Why so much philosophy assumes only humans matter. The fundamental mistake of disregarding so much suffering
  • People seem more concerned about the potential suffering of AI & mini organic brains, while not caring about animals
  • Experiencing sexual abuse & finding solace with Sylvester the dog “my best friend”
  • Finding out Sylvester was being physically abused & calling that out, then finding the confidence to stand up for herself
  • Accidentally being sent PETA materials about the life of a dairy cow. The family went vegetarian that evening
  • Being a vegetarian in the Pakistani community in the 1980’s was unheard of
  • Being made fun of my other kids, but “I didn’t give a damn”. “I didn’t care what they thought about me I cared what they thought about the issue”
  • Reading Regan, Singer. Finding the connections between human & non-human ethics & rights
  • “We were such nerds”

31:05 What are sentience & consciousness?

  • “I don’t know”, you can dig deeper & deeper
  • “It’s a human made construct”
  • The core question is “can a being suffer” & we can assess that
  • “We like to think we’re above the physical”, but “Our consciousness is deeply tied in with our anatomy” (dementia, injury, illness, drugs…)
  • Powerpointism & panpsychism
  • Meditation & introspection

38:03 The Future – Star Trek? Ending animal research & testing

  • Star Trek: broad compassion & naturalism
  • “Not only can we get there, we have to get there”
  • “This pandemic started because of animal exploitation” but “unfortunately people aren’t going to learn”
  • Climate change
  • Empathy is innate in our species & it will grow as we grow
  • Humanity as a species is an adolescent
  • Has the moral argument re: non-human animals already been won?
  • A #JustTransition to help those who depend on animal exploitation
  • Why so many vegans exclude wild animal suffering
  • Animal testing as an unpopular topic
  • Maybe animal testing played a role but we’re beyond that now
  • “What is the best way to understand human biology today?” It’s to get back to studying human biology
  • We have so little to show for animal testing
  • We call for diversity in human clinical trials but we’re still testing on animals!
  • 90-95% of US drugs/vaccines fail. They’ve all passed animal tests!
  • Most animal testing isn’t even developing treatments. Why are we doing drug addiction & tobacco research on monkeys?
  • Ethics boards are “foxes guarding the henhouse”
  • CCS: Better alternatives (and moral pressure)

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