Stephen’s death should make us all think about animal testing

After the tragic death of Stephen Sutton from cancer, CHARLIE BELL thinks there are lessons to be learnt.

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Last night a very sad thing happened: a young person lost his fight with cancer and died.

He isn’t the first or the last – indeed, nor is he the only teenager who died last night – but the death of Stephen Sutton seems to have touched a nerve in society. Celebrities have lauded him as a hero, from comedians to politicians (cue the what’s the difference joke), and money has flowed into a cause which, no doubt, needs it, and to which you can donate here.

The death of any young person is awful – many of us have lost friends or family members well before ‘their time’ and the pain can be unbearable. For some of us, this public outpouring of grief will trigger those feelings all over again, and it’s quite justifiable: how the hell do we live in a world where someone who should be going to university or starting out in life is actually lying in a cancer ward preparing to die?

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Stephen Sutton has been lauded as a hero, which to me is an interesting description. I don’t for one moment want to take away from that – to me, he is. But for me, the reason that he’s a hero is because the money he was raising was never going to help him.

This is a guy who’d been at the hard face of what being truly sick feels like, and rather than put up and shut up, he just said no. No, I’m not dying before I make people put their money where their mouth is and cough up. And it says rather a lot about us that we had to wait for a boy to start dying on our front pages before we coughed up.

One of the more distasteful things about the death of Stephen has to be our bland, seemingly amoral political class’s use of the situation as, frankly, a political tool. It’s really not their place to comment on a specific death – particularly when all it seems to be is populism. I, and I’m sure the rest of the country, couldn’t give a toss about whether Miliband or Cameron could tweet the most authentic condolence or sound the most sincere. But they shouldn’t be this redundant.

Giving a dying kid a knighthood is clearly not a sensible suggestion, but come next Thursday, Stephen will be forgotten in the minds of the British public; the Teenage Cancer Trust will likely be back to baseline levels of funding, and more like Stephen will die day by day.

And it’s because of that that the media, politicians, faith leaders, and yes lecturers, fellows and we students should make the very most of the conversation that Stephen has started. Firstly, in a time of relative plenty, we should be making a real, serious commitment to research funding. And yet there is something even more important than that. Yesterday morning – the very day he died and the media went into frenzy – the BBC ran a piece giving air-time to animal rights protesters and attacking a professor of science for not being open enough about what experiments are done on animals.

No animals were harmed in the making of this article

We tolerate crass and inappropriate media attacks like that because we’re scared, and it’s not good enough. When uneducated journalists (or indeed thugs) come to our doors and criticize the use of animals, we need to stand up and be counted. Animal testing and the cure of disease is one and the same – and we should say so. Without the testing that we currently do – and let’s be absolutely upfront here, testing in the UK has the most stringent rules ever established – more people would die.

The money that has been raised for causes like Stephen’s will go into animal testing. That is a fact, and we should stop hanging our heads in shame over it. No, animal testing is not nice, and nobody that does it does it for fun. But it cannot be replaced by computers – if it could, then it would be. And without it, more people, more often, would die. If that is what the general public want, then fine – but campaigns like this show that isn’t the case. But research institutes like Cambridge have the moral duty to put two and two together, and get the British public to grow up.

Drugs that have been tested on animals might have saved Stephen’s life in a few years time. They might have saved my own father’s life – and those of the millions of people lost to potentially curable diseases every year. It’s not nice – but nor is seeing the last breaths of someone you love.

For those of us here, it’s about time we got some balls and spoke up – and while we’re at it, make the most of life while we still can, just like Stephen did. We could also make a more serious attempt to put our money where our mouth is.

And Stephen – say hi to my dad for me. You’re an inspiration.