Ingrid E. Newkirk, President
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
501 Front St.
Norfolk, VA 23510
Dear Ms. Newkirk,
I grew up listening to Bob Barker reminding me to “always spay or neuter your pets” at the end of each episode of The Price is Right. It’s a responsible action to take as a pet-owner, something I’ve done for each of the four cats my husband and I have rescued from shelters over the years. I can support campaigns to promote spay/neuter programs, as it’s something all pet-owners really should be doing anyway. Organizations like the ASPCA have even established mobile and transport spay/neuter programs to reach pet-owners in urban communities, an example of a great community-based program to give pet-owners the access they need to spay/neuter care for their animals.
What I can’t support, however, is your latest media-sensationalizing-ready “Win a Vasectomy” campaign offering a free vasectomy to a man who has his pet spayed or neutered during the month of April:
It’s not that I take issue with offering a vasectomy as a contest prize, rather, that this entire publicity stunt is in honor of National Infertility Awareness Week.
As you so tactfully state:
Human overpopulation is crowding out animal life on the planet, and dog and cat overpopulation is creating a euthanasia crisis that is a crying shame. Disappearing wilderness, vanishing water resources, and pollution is the price that future generations will pay for more human births…
I recognize that PETA has never been a bastion for balanced, non-violent promotion for the ethical treatment of animals. Your “Win a Vasectomy” campaign in honor of a federally recognized health observance, however, takes your subtle PR approaches to an astoundingly new low.
Why has PETA chosen to exclusively recognize National Infertility Awareness Week? By your logic, if we’re to curb human overpopulation, we should be more aware of high mortality rates and causes. Why not American Heart Month in February? Why not Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October? After all, heart disease and cancer are the two leading causes of death in the United States. Why not honor those Awareness Months (and thus those leading causes of mortality) by offering assisted suicides for patients who spay and neuter their pets?
Perhaps I’ve spoken too plainly. Perhaps poking fun at cancer and heart disease patients to promote your cause isn’t the best PR strategy. In fact, it would appear that PETA even supports and awards the work of those in the breast cancer research community. You even said so yourself: “Anyone who wants to see a cure for breast cancer in our lifetime should support this forward-thinking program.” So I guess finding cures for cancer is something PETA supports, even though you’ve said publicly: “We are named People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. There are plenty of other groups that worry about the humans.”
Now that I’ve had a chance to really process this, I think I’ve figured it out now: it’s not that PETA wants people to die; rather, they shouldn’t be born in the first place. And what better way to do this than to celebrate and honor National Infertility Awareness Week by enabling “one lucky man” to be “reproduction-free, free of charge, just like his pooch or feline friend.”
I think your meaning is finally crystal-clear to me. PETA has decided that it’s acceptable to ridicule, devalue, and trivialize the infertility patient community experience in the name of promoting responsible pet-ownership. By your logic, infertility patients deserve the diagnoses handed to them because we simply shouldn’t be having children in the first place. The planet is crowded enough. Our infertility is justified.
It’s okay to have a laugh at the expense of the infertility community because they shouldn’t be having babies anyway: what a fantastic PETA promotional message. Your “Win a Vasectomy” campaign is tactless, arrogant, hurtful, damaging, insensitive and disgusting.
I guess I’m just a little confused since your organization is focused on the ethical treatment of animals, yet you seem to have a pretty strong opinion worrying about human concerns like overpopulation, or even taking the time to award progressive breast cancer research groups. I mean, you said so yourself- there are plenty of other groups to worry about the humans.
Ms. Newkirk, as someone living “reproduction-free” for the last two years, I can tell you that our patient community experience is not justified nor deserved. While you’re offering “one lucky man” the choice to live “reproduction-free,” I didn’t have that choice. My one remaining ovary stopped functioning and my hopes to ever have my own genetic children were taken away from me without my consent. Overpopulation or not, I still have the right to parent and to seek medical treatment for my infertility. To say that my diagnosis is somehow deserved or justified in the name of population reduction is not only an affront to me personally, but to the 7.3 million other men and women who live with this disease daily in the United States.
RESOLVE, the National Infertility Association and the responsible organization for National Infertility Awareness Week, has dedicated this year’s focus to busting infertility myths. Ironically enough, by choosing to honor NIAW with your “Win a Vasectomy” campaign, you’ve helped to perpetuate many infertility myths in the process. It would behoove you and the members of your organization to perhaps do your homework before initiating such media-ready PR campaigns, but then again, I suppose that was the point.
Unfortunately, even bad press is still press, so I’m hoping my readers will post about their outrage on Facebook linking instead to this post, posts of their own, or the screenshot of the page rather than linking directly to the “Win a Vasectomy” page at PETA. When the success of a publicity campaign is measured in pageviews, it’s important that the infertility community keeps your organization from receiving those pageviews in the first place.
It’s unfortunate that you launched this campaign at the expense of any kind of financial support from our 7.3 million-strong patient community. I will encourage all of my friends, family, readers, and followers who have previously supported PETA in the past to instead make a donation to RESOLVE in support of National Infertility Awareness Week and ask them to do the same to their family, friends, and readers. I will also encourage them to email you directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with their outrage over your latest campaign and to share your email address with those who share their concerns.
Perhaps if your organization bothered to treat their fellow humans with respect, dignity, and ethics, more people would do the same for animals.
Emailed on April 5, 2011
Read the complete series of posts:
- You Are Here: An Open Letter to PETA
- Update 2: PETA’s Response
- Update 3: Close But No Cigar
- Update 4: Victory!
- Update 4a: Thank You, PETA
- Update 5: A Response from PETA President, Ingrid Newkirk
- Update 6: Why This Mattered