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aamen's picture

This was a common theme in

This was a common theme in both our discussion and on the forum, but I definitely have fewer moral qualms with the idea of using laboratory animals for research when the research will directly serve to help us (AIDS research, cancer research, etc) than I do with using animals to gain knowledge for the sake of knowledge.  I worked in a lab last summer where they were studying problems with protein transport in rat models of Huntington’s disease, and to do this they had to anesthetize a pregnant rat and use neurons from the brains of the babies.  I had a lot of trouble watching this procedure done, but given the progress that they made in understanding (and hopefully helping people with) Huntington’s, it seemed to be worth it to me.  I was thinking about this in terms of Jessica’s question as to whether researchers really consider alternate models. In the Huntington’s research, for example, I can’t imagine what alternate model would allow you to study protein dysregulation.  Even if you could somehow get humans to donate their brains to research, the neurons would be too mature to be cultivated and studied like the prenatal rat neurons.  At the same time, there are of course limitations to animal models since their brains are obviously not always functionally similar to ours.  Also, to use my experience as an example again, the lab’s results may show what’s going wrong in developing neurons, but how do we know that the same problems exist later in life for people with this condition?  I guess that my personal rational for using animal models of disease is how many advances have been made through this method, even given all the limitations.


The first real discussion of the ethics of laboratory animal use that I had was led by a professor who is personally comfortable using animals in her research.  One of the arguments that I remember her making was that she feels it’s meaningless to talk about “animal rights” because animal species excluding humans are not concerned with the “rights” of others (individuals or species), and if they do not give rights then they don’t deserve to receive them either.  I think this came off harsher than it did when she presented it, but I think the general idea is interesting.  I personally feel like the degree to which an animal is concerned with the “rights” of others varies between species - I don’t feel like humans are the only species who exhibit this characteristic; I feel like dogs probably exhibit it more than flies, and chimpanzees more than dogs.  Maybe this is why to me it’s so much more okay to cause and study genetic deformity in fruit flies than it would be in monkeys.  But, like many other people have pointed out, this still requires drawing a line somewhere between which species are okay to use and which aren’t, and it’s impossible to say where that line is.


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