FOR 14 YEARS I've carried the label "HIV positive" and all the baggage that goes with it. But through the darkest of moments I could always depend on one symbol to lift my spirits -- the tiny red ribbon worn by compassionate people throughout the country, but especially by Hollywood celebrities. To me, the ribbon -- worn as a sign of compassion for people with AIDS -- had always been a reminder that when much of the world turned its back on those suffering from the disease, or simply lost interest, Hollywood opened her arms and kept the world's attention focused on this terrible plague.
Given the devastation throughout the creative community wrought by AIDS, the high priority assigned to this cause is understandable. But of all the causes to fight for, which is considered to be the hippest and hottest cause in Hollywood? Here's a hint: don't let the sea of red ribbons at the Academy Awards fool you.
New York magazine recently crowned "animal rights" the "No. 1 hip cause on the planet," eclipsing AIDS, homelessness and other human tragedies. A recent USA TODAY cover story claimed this "hip cause" is luring Hollywood's hottest stars. The June issue of Penthouse magazine depicts the most visible animal-rights leader, Dan Mathews of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), as a hero of social activism -- the Gandhi of the animal-rights movement.
Celebrity Alec Baldwin, who is often seen with a dash of red on his lapel, was forced to defend his support of PETA on the "Charlie Rose" television talk show. He was asked why he supported a cause that opposes AIDS research work with animals. As I listened closely to his feeble reply, and learned more about the cause to which he lends his name, I was struck by the hypocrisy of Hollywood's latest passion. The animal-rights agenda at its core is incompatible with finding cures for AIDS and other deadly diseases. By supporting PETA, celebrities are lending credibility to a group that is downright dangerous.
In the USA TODAY article, PETA's Mr. Mathews was asked how he felt about patients desperately awaiting the results of animal research. Mr. Mathews quipped, "Don't get [diseases] in the first place, schmo."
This comment speaks volumes about PETA's lack of compassion for humanity. It is particularly offensive to those of us who have watched friends and relatives suffer and die from this disease.
PETA's agenda calls for the total abolition of all human uses of animals, including for food, clothing and, of critical importance to me and others who battle chronic diseases, lifesaving biomedical research. Animal-rights activists believe that the life of a laboratory rat is equal to that of a human being. In the words of PETA co-founder and Chairwoman Ingrid Newkirk, "A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy."
Ms. Newkirk summarized the animal rights philosophy in an interview published in Vogue: "We'd be against" animal research even if it resulted in a cure for AIDS. Everyone who suffers from illness or cares about someone who does -- including everyone who wears the red AIDS ribbon -- should be incensed by this callous disregard for the sanctity of human life. How can a group that claims to corner the market on compassion doom hundreds of thousands of suffering people to death?
To be sure, when a cure for AIDS is found, animal research will be key to that discovery. Dr. Robert Gallo, co-discoverer of the human immunodeficiency virus, the virus that causes AIDS, said: "With animal research, we may have a cure for AIDS in 10 years. Without animals, we will never cure AIDS in our lifetime." The same is true for such killers as stroke, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis and heart disease.
The animal-rights machine continues to stall medical progress. Its tactics range from firebombing medical research facilities to bombarding school children with misinformation. Animal extremists are in our state legislatures and on Capitol Hill strangling medical research with excessive regulation. Yet, in addition to Mr. Baldwin, actresses Kim Basinger and Rue McClanahan, musicians Chrissie Hynde (of The Pretenders), k.d. lang and Paul and Linda McCartney, continue to win mainstream support for animal rights -- at the expense of all who suffer from AIDS and other diseases.
I've lost many friends to AIDS. I'll never forget their pain. As I ponder Hollywood's infatuation with animal rights, my thoughts turn to those red ribbons that adorn the chests of our nation's most revered stars. What once was a pure expression of hope xTC has now become tarnished.
Carl Kapanke, a military veteran and a lawyer, is a volunteer for HIV/AIDS research at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda. He writes from Mattapoisett, Mass.