Animal Research is More Strictly Regulated than Experiments on Human Children???

I followed this YouTube link, the Foundation for Biomedical Research disspelling myths about animals in laboratories:

At 0.18 in this video: “In fact, some people say they’re [ US animal welfare laws ] are more rigorous than the regulations covering experiments with people.” The printed version has “children” instead of “people,” an even wilder misstatement. It’s not the first time I’ve heard this nonsense.

What makes “some people” think this? Because the animal laws require inspecting subjects’ cages twice a year? Because scientists must consider use of pain medicines when inducing cancer or fractures or sepsis or infections or heart disease? Because a committee must assure that undergraduate students know how to properly conduct brain surgery on their subjects?

To the extent that animal subjects protections are more rigorous than human subjects protections, that might reflect the things scientists can get approval to do to animals, and that we in animal research have no equivalent of informed consent that lets people opt out of experiments.

Suppose an experiment required some sort of brain surgery to study cancer. Let’s compare animal research and human research.

A human researcher starts with patients who already have cancer and are in need of treatment. In the animal lab, the first step is to cause cancer, which may require brain surgery. Difference #1: non scientist can get permission to inject brain cancer cells into human subjects. They can’t even get permission to ask human subjects to consent to this. So, far, human subjects protections are looking more rigorous.

And if we do need brain surgery, for example, to try removing a tumor or injecting a drug to kill the cancer cells? Specialist MD board-certified hospital-employed brain surgeons, anesthesiologists, ICU docs and nurses will perform the procedures and aftercare. In the animal lab, those roles may be performed by students or technicians without medical or veterinary degrees. and so an animal ethics oversight committee will (or should) scrutinize their skills rather than assume they know what they’re doing. Maybe that’s a way in which animal protections are more rigorous?

After student surgeries to cause cancer in animals, the animals go back to their cages for the rest of the project. Human patients may spend some time in the ICU, then go home rather than to a cage. Animal ethics committees then will do a cage inspection twice a year, and if the animals are a species covered by the United States’ Animal Welfare Act, a government vet will see them once a year. So is oversight of how we cage our research subjects more rigorous for animals? I don’t see a human subjects committee approving a scientist to cage her human subjects, and in fact, prisoners in jails are considered vulnerable subjects hwo get extra protections.

Pain management? For the human volunteers, decisions about pain management are decisions about what is the best for this patient, balancing side effects and addiction potential against what makes a post-surgical patient experience less pain. For animals, the scientist must consider using pain medicines and must consult with a veterinarian, but can sometimes get approval not to treat the pain, if that might affect the data he’ll get from the experiment. If an animal committee pushes with more rigor to get details on pain management, it’s because pain management with animals remains optional, whereas it’s automatically the standard of care for human patients and subjects.

There are lots of compelling arguments in favor of animal research, and reasons to promote its acceptance in the public. This justification, however, rings hollow.

Published by larrycarbone

Larry Carbone is a veterinarian with 40 years of experience caring for animals in laboratories. In addition to his veterinary degree, he holds a PhD in History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, and specialty certifications in Animal Welfare (ACAW) and in Laboratory Animal Medicine (ACLAM). Carbone left the University of California San Francisco in 2019, and is now a freelance animal welfare scholar, consultant, speaker, and trainer in laboratory animal welfare. Carbone writes about public policy, ethics, and laboratory animal welfare. His 2004 book, What Animals Want: Expertise and Advocacy in Laboratory Animal Welfare [Oxford University Press] tells the story the United States Animal Welfare Act. Once Congress decided to update that law and regulate how scientists use animals in their experiments, everyone wanted to tell them what changes would really matter to the animals themselves. How could medical researchers, animal protectionists, veterinarians and citizens disagree so much on how big a cage a guinea pig harem should have, how to evaluate and treat pain in a lab mouse, what makes for a psychologically enriched monkey, or how much exercise dogs need, settle for, or yearn for in their caged lives? What Animals Want is available in print or kindle. With one foot in the humanities and one in veterinary science, Carbone is uniquely poised to examine the policy and ethical ramifications of emerging information animal welfare science. Humans use and impact captive, domestic and wild animals in so many ways, and we must understand how our actions matter to the animals as perceived by the animals. Much of his recent work has focused on pain management: Animals cannot run to the medicine chest for an aspirin, so people must have the best tools for recognizing pain, preventing pain, treating pain, assessing whether the treatments are effective, and deciding when animals will be left with untreated pain in the pursuit of medical research. When not working on animal issues, Larry Carbone is a potter in San Francisco, a member of Ruby’s Clay Studio. His work is mostly functional wheel-thrown stoneware and porcelain, with occasional flights to the dysfunctional. Carbone is a traveler, especially to places where he can see and photograph animals. He travels with his husband, David Takacs, professor of environmental law at UC Hastings College of the Law.

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