The humane sacrifices are necessary for breakthroughs
Every time I start to tell someone about the work I do in my lab for the first time, I inevitably get into a discussion much like this.
“So you work with mice?”
Yes, I work with a species called the
“And you look at the mice’s brains?”
I answer in the affirmative, already knowing where the conversation is headed.
“But how do you do that?”
Then I have to explain, yes, we do extract their brain. And yes, they do die. That is what happens when you take something’s brain out. Then comes the shock, the horror and the outrage.
I understand those responses. Maybe you are having a similar reaction to my hypothetical interrogator right now. But animal testing is one of our greatest tools as scientists. Through the sciences, we look for answers about the world and about ourselves. However, we cannot study everything through human beings, for both ethical and practical reasons. We can neither force people to live in a lab nor are we able to take their brains out for what I hope are obvious reasons.
As a result, animals provide good models to answer our questions. Drug research, studies on aggression and research into early brain development are just some examples of research that is difficult if not impossible to do in human subjects. There are too many variables, too little control for valid results. But the research questions are important nonetheless.
Every lab in the world that uses animals does so for exactly those reasons: we want answers, and this is the best way to find them. Scientists want to test medicines and see if they will help humans. Scientists want to learn about genes to discover if we can alter genetic diseases that would otherwise be fatal. Scientists want to learn about how the brain develops so that we can better rear children in our increasingly unnatural world. From the level of DNA to the study of how the brain functions, scientists want to understand our biology better so that we can live better, and animal testing provides us a useful avenue to carry out that research.
But animals are more than just tools that we use to learn about the world. The relationship between researcher and animal is one of respect and care. As researchers, we do everything we can to care for our animals. Regardless of how we use them experimentally, the safety of our mice (and of all lab animals) always comes first.
We return their service to us by providing them a happy and healthy existence. And that is not just a policy of my lab. There are innumerable laws and school codes that ensure that safety as well. From recording their births to ensuring that they experience a swift, humane death at the end of their lives, our animals are always cared for.
Animals are used in the sciences to help us learn. Their sacrifice is not in vain. Animal testing has yielded an endless number of scientific breakthroughs, from medical research to the importance of hormones for various brain functions. The humane usage of animals in the sciences should be revered and celebrated, not blindly criticized.