Make Suffering History

Our foundational research and applied work is focused on safely minimizing suffering among all sentient life. Phasing out suffering is both technically feasible and morally urgent. 

What if you never felt bad?

In her 70s, retired teacher and mother of two adults, Jo Cameron, has never felt pain, even after surgery. Childbirth "felt like a tickle." Cameron is healthy, heals faster than other people, and seems invincible to negative experience. Research demonstrates that altering FAAH/OUT, the gene which empowers Cameron to be free of suffering, confers similar traits in rodents. However, Cameron is just a glimmer of what is possible in terms of imbuing life with happiness and meaning, without the risk of horrific suffering.

Whereas Cameron is insensitive to pain, occasionally acquiring minor burns while cooking, there are several existing mouse variants (also validated in chickens) who respond adaptively to burns and yet may not be capable of feeling affectively "bad" about their injuries, e.g. P311, and AC1/8 KOs. These and similar advances are rapidly improving the practicality of abolishing suffering, turning its deliberate retention into an issue of social policy and ethical choice.

Which beings suffer?

The Precautionary Genetic Principle

Consciousness is complicated. Consider the case of a French man missing 90% of his brain volume who miraculously lives an ordinary life and even works a white-collar job. Similarly, consider how selectively ablating the anterior cingulate cortex (cingulotomy) can temporarily eliminate what makes physical injuries feel bad (pain asymbolia), but the pain often returns with greater sensitivity. Such findings cast doubt on any (gross) anatomical theory of suffering, wherein region X constitutes the universal pain center.

 

Genetic routes to minimizing suffering are more immediately promising. We know that Jo Cameron as well as many human and nonhuman animals behave as though they don't suffer. We also know that this results from just a few, naturally occurring, base pair changes. Thus, we don't have to solve consciousness to end suffering. The relevant genes are highly conserved among animals, and even if they don’t code for suffering in neurologically simpler organisms, we might assume that e.g. a nematode, with the same genotype that confers reduced suffering in more complex organisms, also has a lower likelihood of suffering than those without this sequence. 

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Our PAWS campaign seeks to quantify the global distribution of animals and the neuro-genetic substrates underpinning their wellbeing. It is a public database and visualization tool designed to inform effective welfare and ecological conservation efforts. 

Planetary Animal Welfare Survey

Welfare Conservation

Genetically engineered nonhumans are everywhere, from mice in research facilities to glowing fish in pet stores. These innocent creatures are highly sensitive. Sadly, they frequently go without adequate pain relief. To reduce their suffering, we are working to replace genetically engineered animals with variants who suffer far less. These variants are already available for broad use, but their existence is not widely known to researchers. Replacement is likely to have the highest marginal impact in laboratories and lab supply companies, as the same genes that reduce suffering in these settings will later benefit beings in other contexts.

Protect All Beings

Foundational Legal Work

We believe that no individual should be worse off, in terms of their capacity to suffer, than their parents. Similarly, suffering-reduced nonhumans should be treated no worse than their more sensitive counterparts. Our work seeks to codify these principles into law.

Could reducing suffering increase public complacency?

All welfare improvements may.

Is the animal activist who gives water to thirsty cows increasing complacency?

Just as most animal activists promote the use of pain medication, despite its potential to increase complacency for vivisection, we feel similarly about empowering nonhumans to suffer less throughout their entire lives, not just during a particularly painful event. Indeed, mistakes and abuses happen in every industry, but a greater inborn capacity for well-being reduces the severity of suffering such errors can inflict. 

Our foundational research seeks to better understand and safeguard against complacency.

According to research, people's choice to eat animal products is likely to be unaffected by learning about welfare improvements. However, there is some evidence that their concern for animals increases. Scientists, many of whom perform research on nonhumans, overwhelmingly report that researchers are not justified in subjecting suffering-reduced animals to harsher treatment. Even if researchers feel sure that subjects are incapable of suffering, perfect certainty is not possible.

Universal Genetics

From flies to guys, the genetic roots of suffering and well-being are highly conserved between diverse organisms.

Genes are highly similar between species. Even when the genetic code is not exactly the same, the resulting proteins often are. Many genes which are important for pain, anxiety, and depression in humans code for the same experiences and behaviors in our most distant relatives. For example, TRP channels, which relay a wide variety of damage signals to the central nervous system, have likely remained remarkably unchanged since the time of our last common unicellular ancestor. When mutant genetic sequences from pain insensitive humans are inserted into mouse and fly genomes, these animals also show clear signs of pain reduction. This is not to say that flies definitely suffer, but we can still use the Precautionary Genetic Principle discussed above to replace beings who might suffer in labs with variants who are less likely to.

Steps to an Invincible World

The following groups of animals will successively be liberated from unnecessary suffering. Nonhumans in isolated laboratory conditions and those who are not consumed for food are likely to be replaced first. As safety and efficacy are more thoroughly demonstrated and appreciated, humanity's circle of compassion will expand to those in less controlled environments. 

Now

Far Future

Isolated
labs and lab supply companies

Not Consumed
(fur and leather)

Domestic
(factory farms, pets)

Happy Biodomes
many species in self-contained environments

Wild
starting with single small populations

Precautionary 
beings who may not suffer but have the same genes

Why is helping animals in labs the bottleneck?

Nonhumans in laboratories make up a small proportion of earth's animal life. However, given the extensibility of genes, wherein progress in one organism yields progress in most, which group benefits first is less important than one might presume. However, it is important to proceed cautiously to ensure safety as well as reduce the chances of public backlash.

 

Operating openly and honestly in controlled laboratory conditions will reduce fear and help minimize the risk of moratoriums on humanitarian biotechnology. We want to avoid unnecessary delays similar to those which hampered Golden Rice, a free for humanitarian use crop which could have saved up to hundreds of thousands of lives every year since its creation over 20 years ago. Despite being supported by 159 Nobel Prize winners and tens of thousands of scientists, it has only been approved in one country so far.

 

Delays in minimizing suffering could prove catastrophic, especially given the prospect of space colonization, wherein humans spread suffering-sensitive beings to Mars and beyond. Thus, it's vital to make rapid progress on invincible wellbeing to preempt the spread of suffering throughout the cosmos.

We're focused on replacing:

  • Research Subjects 

    • Toxicology (dogs)

    • Basic Research Models (rodents, flies)

  • Laboratory Supply Products

    • Antibodies (rabbits)

    • Cell Culture Media (cattle)