Editorial


Knight A. Animals needn't die to save human lives. Seattle Times 2003 (Oct. 14).

A critique of the wastefulness and ineffectiveness of the animal experimental model of humans within biomedical research, with a personal observations of terminal surgical laboratories witnessed during veterinary school.


Once when I was in vet school, I observed a healthy young pig being prepared for surgery. I watched as the unconscious piglet was tied to a stainless steel operating table, then scrubbed with antiseptics. The practice in my veterinary school, as with countless others around the world, was to teach surgical technique by practicing on healthy animals obtained from shelters, pounds or markets. At the end of each surgery, the animals would be killed.

As I observed the quiet, deep breathing of this healthy young pig, oblivious to the bustle of preparation around it in the operating theater, I was struck by its potential. Poised on the threshold of what should have been a rich, full life, investigating its natural surroundings, foraging, exploring, forming relationships and participating in the rich social lives that pigs naturally enjoy, this young pig was oblivious to its fate. The knowledge that we were about to take its life away forever filled me with a deep sadness.

One other student and I refused to be party to this killing. Our reward was the scorn and derision of some of our esteemed professors and classmates, who told us that surgery could be learned in no other way. Yet, we persisted, finding homeless dogs and cats from animal shelters and helping sterilize them to ensure fewer unwanted puppies and kittens would be born. We succeeded, ending up with five times the surgical experience of our classmates who killed to obtain their degrees.

The leaders of the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS), who are hosting the largest gathering of animal experimenters in the world at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center this week, would have us similarly believe that human lives can be saved in no other way. Regrettable though it is, animals must die, they tell us, in order to find cures for devastating diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Yet, is this in fact true?

Since President Richard Nixon declared the war on cancer in his famous State of the Union address of 1971, cancer has become the second-biggest killer of Americans. Two in every five of us will be diagnosed with cancer, and one of us will die from it. Millions of dogs, cats, monkeys, guinea pigs, rabbits and mice have lost their lives, and billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent, in the quest for a cure.

Yet, despite decades of intense effort, age-adjusted mortality rates have slowly increased, and experts such as Dr. J.C. Bailar III, former chief administrator of the war on cancer, tell us that all these efforts focused largely on improving treatment must be judged a "qualified failure." How could this be so, when researchers tell us that animals are so similar to human beings that drugging, irradiating and dissecting them provides a valid model for a human cancer victim?

Perhaps it is because, as the researchers also tell us, animals are in fact so different from humans that these things may be done without consent, kindness, painkillers or adequate medical care, as undercover investigations of laboratories repeatedly reveal. Perhaps those differences have something to do with the fact that adverse reactions to drugs deemed safe after passing animal tests are the fourth-leading killer of Americans, killing more people each year than all illegal drugs combined.

All the animal experiments performed to date did not make my grandmother's passing any less painful or debilitating when cancer claimed her before her time. But some preventative medicine might have. Thirty percent of all cancer-related deaths are caused by smoking, and another 30 percent are caused by poor diets and unhealthy lifestyles.

Yet, in contrast to the billions of dollars poured into animal experimentation, hardly any is spent educating the public to quit smoking, eat more fruit and vegetables, and exercise regularly. Instead, money is spent paying the salaries of those who conduct animal experiments, breed animals for experiments, make cages, restraining devices and surgical equipment... oh, and, of course, on sending them to expensive conferences such as that hosted by AALAS.

I am proud to join the protesters at the AALAS conference in Seattle, for I know that if I am successful in pricking the conscience of one animal experimenter, I will have made a difference. If I can encourage one researcher to examine the ethics of taking so many lives and squandering so much money, when adults and children sicken and die for lack of good nutrition, I will have made a difference. And if I can encourage one animal experimenter to find a more ethical way to earn a living, I will have saved more lives than I could in a month of veterinary practice.

Dr. Andrew Knight is the director of research and education for the 2,000-member Northwest Animal Rights Network, based in Seattle. He is the author of 'Learning Without Killing: A Guide to Conscientious Objection’.