Animal testing is vital to research for the sake of furthering medicine, technology and our overall understanding of science. Mice, rabbits, cats, dogs, sheep, chimpanzees, and many other animals have all contributed towards the health and, consequently, progression of the human race.
We have gained asthma inhalers, eradicated smallpox, developed insulin for diabetics, discovered vaccines against polio, tuberculosis, meningitis, and the human papillomavirus (HPV) thanks to animal research.
Humans have long benefited from animal research. In doing so, we must shoulder the responsibility of being kind and empathetic. As the party on the receiving end of the relationship, we must take care to treat these animals humanely.
While animal testing is essential, it should not be conducted in a thoughtless manner – thoughtlessness is a form of cruelty unto itself, as animals are living, feeling creatures and have a right to life without unnecessary pain.
A few years ago, I worked in a lab where mice were euthanized with carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a natural waste product, which is exhaled. When gassed with it, the mice were placed in hypoxic conditions, depleting the oxygen available to their biological systems and halting respiration. This process causes a great amount of distress. Alternatively, a different gas could be used- carbon monoxide has a greater affinity for hemoglobin, the protein in the blood that delivers oxygen to the body. In short, the mice would simply be put to sleep.
In another example, a coworker described the process of harvesting livers from mice in one of his previous labs. Fully conscious mice, who were given no anesthetic, surgically had their chest cavities opened and were bled out before their livers were removed.
Of course, there are laws in place to prevent animal abuse in testing. This is definitely an improvement, as it prevents awful things from happening, like selfish egoists electrocuting circus elephants – looking at you, Thomas Edison, you jerk.
However, the government can only regulate so much.
Laws provide a structure for individuals, institutions, and societies, but they do not and cannot replace ethics and morals.
It is impossible to have a law for every nuanced situation.
A parallel incident is the recent instance of up-skirting in Massachusetts, in which courts ruled that the defendant, who had taken photos and videos up women’s skirts on public transit, was not guilty.
On March 6, 2014, CNN reported on the Massachusetts high court ruling, “…we interpret the phrase, ‘a person who is … partially nude’ in the same way that the defendant does, namely, to mean a person who is partially clothed but who has one or more of the private parts of body exposed in plain view at the time that the putative defendant secretly photographs her.”
An update on the story was published the following day on March 7 reported, “Massachusetts lawmakers Thursday passed a bill banning “up-skirting.”
It is simply inefficient and impractical to have to pass a law for each situation that arises. At some point, the spirit of the law has to be understood-empathy and ethics have to come into play.
Animals are alive, intelligent, and aware. They understand and comprehend. As any pet owner or animal lover can attest, they are caring companions. On Dec. 8th, 2011, the Washington Post reported on a study conducted at the University of Chicago which found that rats displayed empathy for each other, releasing a captive rat “from an unpleasantly restricted cage if it could,” and would even leave some food for it.
Clearly, we could learn a thing or two from those rats. A little more empathy for our fellow living creatures would increase our humanity—the time has come to revise our perspective of research animals and our own empathy towards them.