In the name of… progress?
I recently came across this editorial at the Huffington Post by Prof. Elizabeth Fisher:
Even before I read it, I immediately thought of my mother. She was well aware of the antipathy towards using animals for research, and it really got her dander up. Her work, of course, depended on animals. For much of her career, she used rabbits, but in the later years she did much work with cows.
Now, I ought to come clean right off the bat and say that I agree with Prof. Fisher and my Mom. For one thing, I owe my life to a group of rabbits I will never know. My Mom discovered not only the link between oxytocin and the onset of labor, but also the fact that alcohol inhibits the release of oxytocin and thereby can inhibit premature labor. When I was nearly born over two months prematurely, Mom administered herself a dose of ethanol (in the form of whiskey), based on the results she found in her rabbits. And so instead of being severely premature – a very high-risk situation with a poor prognosis in 1963 – I was born healthily to term 8 or 9 weeks later in 1964.
I am an animal lover, and there are moments when it can be difficult to accept that Mom performed research on animals. I know that she was contemptuous of objections to the use of animals in scientific research. She was acutely aware of the difference between peer-reviewed scientific research, for which she felt the use of animals was self-evidently necessary, and product and cosmetic testing. I don’t think Mom ever opposed ending product testing on animals. As a scientist she knew it was unnecessary. Her big blindness, I think, was that she could not see that the most of the rest of the world couldn’t make that distinction.
Now, of course, animals are absolutely essential to Alzheimer’s research. If we’re ever going to figure out how this dread disease works and how to fight it, it will be because a lot of rats and mice will have given their lives to the cause. I don’t say that to be glib or facetious. We owe a debt to these animals and to honor that debt we must hold our scientists to high ethical standards in the use of animals in research. It sounds like Prof. Fisher, herself studying Alzheimer’s using mice, is doing all the right things. Her editorial omits mention of product testing, which I think is a serious omission. The world needs to understand that testing mascara and shampoo is not the same thing as looking for a cure for Alzheimer’s.