Must we use animals?

Must we use animals? McGill University

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McGill Reporter
April 6, 2000 - Volume 32 Number 14
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Must we use animals?

| The emotionally charged issue of using animals for scientific research revolves around two fundamental questions: is it scientifically expedient and is it morally right? Both were addressed from opposing viewpoints at a recent panel discussion organized by the McGill branch of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG). "When possible, animal research should be avoided in favour of alternatives," allowed Dr. Pierre Lachapelle, a professor of ophthalmology at McGill and chair of the University's Animal Care Committee. "However," he added, "the study of physiology and the training of students in the biological sciences requires that all available tools be utilized."

Animals, he contends, are a valuable tool, without which progression in human health research would be retarded. Referring to his own specialty, human eye disorders, Lachapelle cited examples such as night blindness, where guinea pigs have provided an effective model for study and treatment. In the case of retinitis pigmentosa, he continued, a childhood disease which can cause blindness 20 to 30 years after the infection, experiments on mice showed how the degeneration could be slowed. He argued that experiments on animals were crucial in both instances.

Not so, countered Dr. Ray Greek, a physician and president of Americans for Medical Advancement, a non-profit organization that supports the proposition that animal research is detrimental to human health. "It is simply not good science to attempt prediction from animal models to humans," he said. "On the cellular level, the differences between species mean that findings from experiments on animals cannot be extrapolated to humans."

Greek had his own set of examples to support his position. Of chemotherapy drugs which have been clinically proven effective on human cancers, 30 out of 48 (63 percent) failed in tests on mice. Similarly, no animal model has ever predicted the cancer-causing effects of smoking, one of the greatest killers of humans. Early cornea surgeries that succeeded on rabbits were a dismal failure on humans, resulting in blindness. Since then, such surgery has been perfected, but not, Greek asserted, because of animal experimentation. Which led to his other point: that whatever medical advances have been attributed to animal research could have been accomplished through other methods, such as epidemiology, computer modelling, human autopsy or genetics.

Supporting the necessity of animal use, Dr. Gilly Griffin, Director of Guidelines Development for the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC), said that one of her group's objectives is to make sure that the smallest number of animals consistent with the achievement of research objectives be used and that all animals be treated humanely and ethically.

"We have in place a peer assessment system that oversees academic institutions, government laboratories and private research facilities to ensure the optimal physical and psychological care of the animals," she said. Peer review groups are made up of veterinarians and researchers, as well as community representatives from humane societies across Canada.

Marie Bedard, who is in charge of the Assessment Program, claimed that the CCAC Certificate of Good Animal Practice, which indicates compliance with the organization's guidelines, is a recognized symbol of high standards in animal care. Participation with the CCAC cannot be compelled, but failure to comply with its standards can result in the denial of research funds from federal granting agencies. McGill has been awarded the certificate.

The most impassioned speakers of the night were Gloria Grow, who co-founded the Fauna Foundation, and Arryn Ketter, a Foundation volunteer and master's candidate at the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law.

Grow and her husband have established a 103-acre sanctuary for abused animals and those who had been exploited for laboratory experiments, but have outlived their usefulness. Among those finding a new lease on life with Fauna are 15 chimpanzees, including some infected with HIV. "It is imperative that institutions take responsibility for retiring their animals," she urged. "It is immoral and unethical to warehouse animals, to compound their lives of pain, loneliness, fear and misery. "Every individual deserves a chance at a life without suffering once their service in labs is over."

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