Torture for a good cause?

A mouse in a gloved hand.

Imagine a life behind bars in a space that is just big enough for you to move around somewhat freely. A life that you are not able to control; someone decides everything for you. You have no choice of when and what you eat when you sleep, what you do and even when and with whom you reproduce. A life where you are terrorised and tortured. Every day of your life, from birth to death. Could you imagine that?

No? Well, that is the fate of thousands … no millions … of animals that are reared and held for test causes in laboratories all around the globe. The animals are used for a wide range of different tests; some are modified genetically, some are infected with diseases, some are put in extreme stress situations, some are force-fed and some are tortured. Others are reared only to be later killed and their stem cells, tissues, and organs harvested. This is shocking and unacceptable, isn’t it? Or is it really when we look at this problem from a different perspective?

Well, that's how I thought until I started an internship in a medical lab, that does diagnostics for doctors (tests ranging from the normal haemogram to drug tests, cell differentiation and tumour-marker diagnostic) a few weeks ago. While the lab does not directly work with lab animals I was shocked to learn that the antigens that I was working with were harvested from rabbits and mice and some wash solutions were enriched with calve-cells.

I addressed the topic with my colleagues. The result was a very interesting talk about the ethics and possibilities of medicine and research and a change in the way I perceive animal research. Here are some of the insights that I was able to gain.

Most of you reading this blog post have probably been vaccinated at least once in their lifetime and will rely on medications including painkillers and antibiotics at least once a year. Adding to that no one will deny or regret the advances that we have made in the health-sector world-wide in the past century. In many regions of the world having influenza or diarrhoea is no longer a threat to someone's life. This can be attributed to vaccination schemes, an increased awareness of the importance of hygiene and a healthy lifestyle and a boom of available treatments (antibiotics!). All of this has been made possible because of intensive international research, including with animals. We have tested different treatments and vaccinations and analysed the effects of different factors on our bodies (e.g. stress on the immune system) on animals before they have been approved for human use.

Now we can turn our attention to the more complex illnesses like cancers and genetic diseases. In a few years, we can expect treatments for HIV/AIDS, leukaemia and other cancers, sickle-cell anaemia, genetic diseases, cystic fibrosis and cerebral palsy. We can also expect to increase our perceptions of different lifestyles and many other diseases, including degenerative ones like Alzheimer or Parkinson.

Millions of people would be relieved of their pains and struggles and can hope to live a “normal” life. Wouldn’t that be great? Wouldn’t that be worth some animal lives? I know that that sounds very grotesque and heartless … but you have to admit that you wish for yourself and your family members and friends to live healthy lives and not suffer from those diseases. We have to accept this type of research (until now have not found any alternatives) if we accept advances in the medical and pharma industry.

Adding to that we have to be aware of the fact that proportionally we are using much fewer animals in labs each year than are reared for food production. Nevertheless, it seems more acceptable to eat animals than to use them for test causes, even if it would be easier to renounce to meat and other animal products than it is to renounce to medical treatment and prevention methods.

What do you think? Please feel free to post your ideas and insights below.