A new study leading to some significant regulatory changes in the United Kingdom made headlines last week, as it was announced that, “Lobsters, octopus and crabs will be recognized as sentient beings in the U.K. after new research suggested they have a central nervous system and can feel pain.”
Simmering policy questions
The ultimate effect of the new research on policy remains mostly matter for speculation; but some have suggested that it could lead to enforcement of guidelines for ‘humane’ preparation of these critters for food, such as quickly killing lobsters and crabs prior to steaming or boiling them (a practice already observed in many restaurants in any case), or even to outright bans on boiling crustaceans without first dispatching them.
Many leftists took to social media to celebrate the study and the U. K. governmental designation of these creatures as “sentient,” PETA (for example) calling it “PROGRESS” in all caps.
No brain? No problem
This shift in scientific opinion is somewhat significant. As recently as 2018, Business Insider reported that there was simply no consensus on the question of whether these sorts of animals have the capacity for pain. One major problematizing factor is that (in the case of lobsters, crabs, and shrimp) they don’t have a brain or brainstem. But the more recent findings do not dispute that fact; rather, it is argued, these animals, even without a cortex governing the process, have complicated enough nervous systems to be able to register stimuli as either pain or pleasure and react accordingly. Examples of studies involved in the new research report included looking at the animals’ reactions to pain suppressing medications, or else at whether basic stimuli response/learning behaviors can be demonstrated—e.g., do they move away from perceived phenomena associated with, say, heat, which would presumably be experienced as painful stimuli. On the basis of these rudimentary factors and behaviors, it seems, the preponderance of evidence points to lobsters and crabs being at least in some manner “pain capable.”
The double standard
Not, of course, that anyone used that term—“pain capable”—to characterize the new findings… even though it’s a perfect fit. No, they wouldn’t dare do so. And that, for a very obvious reason: because that term has been used in the pro-life cause. In fact, it’s one among many issues under consideration in the upcoming oral arguments at the Supreme Court in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which could finally lead to the overturn of Roe v. Wade. The Mississippi abortion restriction in question was in part motivated by the compelling evidence of a fetus’ capacity to feel pain.
Leftists certainly don’t want this connection made. They welcome protection for lobsters; but they would much prefer it to remain open season on prenatal human beings. Yet simply looking at the evidence cited in favor of lobster sentience makes the double-standard pretty obvious even to the layperson. Consider just one factor: a lobster is considered capable of pain with its rudimentary nervous system of just around 100,000 neurons and no brain stem or cortex coordinating response. In contrast, a fetus at around 12 weeks of gestation—three weeks prior to the point at which the Mississippi law excludes abortion— is developing new neurons at a rate of around 15 million neurons per hour. Furthermore, fetuses exhibit at these early stages many behavioral traits of stimuli-response and sophisticated neural reactions far more complex than lobsters ever achieve. For example, they’ve been observed to turn toward familiar sounds, and even to make “shocked” facial expressions in reaction to “startling” stimuli on 4D ultrasound.
The whole hypocritical affair cannot but remind one, with its subject matter of neurology and pain sensitivity, of another dark passage from the history of psychology and medicine where ideology triumphed over science: the lobotomy craze.
In the middle of the twentieth century, the technique of transorbital lobotomy briefly became a cause célèbre heralded as a kind of miraculous panacea for the curing of various ailments, from extreme anxiety to chronic pain to schizophrenia. Nowadays recalled with shame as an embarrassing and shameful social fad, many forget that its pioneer was awarded the Nobel prize for his work in 1949.
The dehumanizing treatment of lobotomy patients—who after surgery were, as one description puts it starkly, “left with irreversible changes in their persona” and reduced to “drooling zombies”—is a cautionary tale about how seeming scientific consensus, when tied up with issues of political expediency, can sometimes be very, very misleading. Society at the time was faced with a problem: how to deal with the mentally incapacitated, those with asocial maladies or invalidity? The prescribed cure ended up being worse than the problem it aimed to fix. How reminiscent is this of the talking points of pro-abortion Leftists about how the children who are born to mothers denied abortion are “worse off”? Worse off than being dead?
The same mechanisms of callous dehumanization; of a refusal to care for the unfortunate and dependent and the choice instead to simply get rid of them; and of just plain denying good science—the factors that enabled the rise of the lobotomy craze: these are also the fuel giving momentum to the abortion industry.
Hopefully, the Supreme Court Justices on December 1st hear past the talking points and euphemisms and instead follow the science where it quite clearly leads. If a lobster deserves not to be killed in a pot, then surely (and how much more!) a child deserves not to be killed in its mother’s womb.