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atuttle's picture

On the Issue of Expendability

 

The discussion over animal rights versus animal research is an interesting and relevant topic given our shared experiences over the last four years in biology and psychology lab settings. In my first forum post (week 1) I gave a list of reasons why I believe animal research is beneficial; while many of these issues have been readdressed in this forum, I encourage anyone who is interested to also look back at my first post. Picking up on the issue of animal expendability or “sacrifice” for science, it is important to realize the importance of language in talking about animal use. Throughout our history we have used animals to further our own survival. Even today we continue to rely on animals for a variety of purposes, including food, clothing, fuel, fertilizer, friendship. As a result of the myriad of roles we as humankind play in association with the animals we raise, it is no surprise that we have developed corresponding feelings for these creatures. For example, we tend to anthropomorphize objects (both living and non-living) in our environment. As a member of a generation who grew up on Disney movies, I believed for much of my early childhood that animals could walk, talk, and figure out how to free a Princess from a tower. Similarly, people’s behaviors are often depicted in animal terms: “mean as a snake,” “sick as a dog,” “courage of a lion,” etc. Euphemisms are also employed in both animal food production as well as science. We refer to animal death in the lab as “sac’ing” an animal. When I order cow on a menu, it has a pretty name like “London broil.”

Based on the study of animal behavior, however, there is no doubt that animals can feel pain, nervousness, fright, etc. This is the reason why they are used in the first place for behavioral research. But people who become enraged that animals are being wastefully “sacrificed” for science often fail to account for the animals that are used to enhance their own lives. I would argue that the use of animals to better human life justifies animal research. Furthermore, I view animal research as a step that stems from our long and intimate relationships with other animal species.

Finally, while we should uphold the animal statutes in place to protect against needless animal suffering or unnecessary waste, I believe that on the issues of knock-out mice or longitudinal pain studies the discomfort of animal subjects is justified. These subjects may feel pain, but the greater good for both veterinary and human science outweigh this discomfort. Furthermore, while animal models have been engineered so that they are not be able to survive in the natural environment, the overall quality of life for lab animals appears to be better than similar organisms in the wild (reflected in average lifespan, body weight, etc.) Resources are scarce in the wild, and predation is a persistent concern. If an animal is afforded with safety, companionship, and unlimited food, does this justify the “sacrifice” they will give for science?

 

~Alex Tuttle

Haverford '08

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