September 6, 1991

Animals and Medical Research

If men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters; and no one would think of interfering.

Charles Darwin 1871

For a good part of my life I worked for better care for laboratory animals. It had nothing to do with my feelings about animals; it was because sick, badly treated animals make for lousy research. I oppose cruelty and poor animal husbandry.

I worked on mice because they were the best animals available for studying cancer. My mice lived almost to 2 years of age, in contrast to wild mice whose life span is measured in weeks or months. They were as happy as it's possible for a mouse to be. Life for a laboratory mouse is mouse heaven. There are no predators and, while life lasts, there is abundant food and drink. It never gets too cold or too hot. When death comes, it is usually swift; not like being tortured by a pussycat. For the breeders there is lots of sex and the fulfillment of raising a family.

Unlike a cat or dog, a laboratory mouse is not the kind of critter that you are likely to talk to. I talked to my dog when I had one, and to my cats. If they ever answer me back, I'll know that I'm in deep trouble. My feelings about my pets are such that when one of them dies, I cry. I don't remember who said it: "I love you; but I love the kitten too, and it has fur."

I am an adversary of the Animal Rights people who want to cripple medical research. I can sympathize with their motives, but not with what they are doing. Both human and animal welfare is dependent on medical research. The animal rights movement has as its aim, to stop medical research on anything smarter than a bacterium. There are many things that can be done with bacteria, but there are more very important things that require using animals.

Animal facilities have improved immensely in the past 30 years. They started improving long before the animal rights movement gained influence. The major impediment to better animal care was money. It was hard to convince a researcher who worked with cheap pound animals, that his work would be worth more if he used an expensive pedigreed, kennel reared animal that was happy in a cage, or that his work would be more valuable if he used pedigreed inbred animals rather than "white rats".

Former house pets make for lousy experiments. They are often ill and are severely stressed just by being in a cage. They are very useful for learning and practicing surgical technique and for teaching medical and veterinary students how to care for a patient. Many an experimental animal has ended up as a medical or veterinary student's pet.

It makes no sense to me, if you are going to kill an animal anyway, not to use that animal to benefit the living --both people and animals. It also makes sense to me to use people who are terminally ill or dying to, in some way, help the living. That's why I have a card attached to my driver's license donating my organs to anyone who needs them, after I no longer do.

The most widely used experimental animal is man. Any drug or treatment, after it has been tested on animals, is tested on people. It is usually done on a small group at first; then a larger group, and eventually it is released for general use. To eliminate the animals means that the first group that will be at risk will be humans. Being a people myself, I prefer that animals be used first.

To test a drug against a disease, you need an animal that will get the disease. For AIDS, that means people or monkeys. Some preliminary testing can be done with human tissues implanted into special mice, but eventually it must be tested in either monkeys or people --take your pick!

Most of the advances in medicine were accomplished with the use of animals. If progress is to continue, animal research is a must. The wanton obstruction of medical research is a blow against everyone who needs, or might need medical care.

Next column

Return to the Medicine and Health Home Page

Return to Ira's Home Page