Live animal experimentation puts EWU science program behind the times

By Lloyd M Vigil, EWU Junior, Buddhist Philosophy, Meditation and Peace Studies Club

In the week before Thanksgiving, dozens of frogs were killed in the science building at Eastern Washington University so that biology students could make their legs jump with an electrical current. For the demonstration to succeed, to convey educational value, the animals had to be freshly killed.

Each amphibian was decapitated, alive.

Humane laboratory practices should anesthetize the animals, but students report that some frogs resisted and displayed an intense reaction to the extreme pain of having their heads cut off.

This experiment addresses human physiology and illustrates muscle excitability, or how nerve cells signal our muscles to begin working. But is it a necessary tool for educating undergraduates?

Compelling evidence says no.

The journal Nature reports that live animal use has been reduced from 77 medical schools in 1994 to just 8 in the U.S. by 2008. This significant change is based on cost compared to

excellent alternatives that teach the same skills.  In 2011, the U.S. Institutes of Medicine declared laboratory experiments on primates to be “unnecessary.” In other words, the medical value of these questionable practices is worth neither the economic nor the ethical costs.

Even the idea that medical advancement comes from animal testing is unfounded. Using this outdated rationale, millions of animals are injured, infected with disease and psychologically

tortured every year. Yet their reactions are different enough from our own that new medical interventions always require careful testing on human subjects anyway.

Medical history is rife with examples of “animal-safe” drugs that end with adverse reactions, even deaths, for human test subjects. Legal history is rife with lawsuits seeking compensation for harm from pharmaceuticals that do get approved for sale.

Is widespread animal testing more about appearances than science?

Compelling evidence says yes.

The only organization that exists to ensure that U.S. laboratories follow humane procedures is not doing their job. An independent study discovered that many accredited labs fail to follow

basic guidelines. A recent article in the journal Science cites the lead author of this study: “accreditation has become more of a PR tool than a meaningful oversight mechanism … you certainly can’t say that animals are better off in these facilities.”

But let’s return to EWU because a discussion on “humane” lab practices misses the point. Any practice that inflicts harm on other creatures for the benefit of man is ethically suspect.

The assertion that we have some right of dominance seems to be the justification for this exploitation of nature.

Common sense shows this logic to be unsound.

All sentient beings experience suffering by definition and their lives are no less valuable than our own. The more we respect nature and care for our fellow creatures, the more our quality of life improves.

The wisdom of recognizing our interconnection reveals genuine humanity.

Venerable Geshela Phelgye, renowned EWU professor and Global Scholar in Residence, addressed students and visitors at a Thanksgiving, vegan potluck hosted on campus. He spoke eloquently on the subject of compassion for all sentient beings. He referred to the hundreds of millions of turkeys that are brutally slaughtered each year to satisfy an arbitrary national tradition.

We need not consume these animals when excellent plant-based nutritional sources are abundantly available.   We need not kill animals in the name of education when the technology for reasonable

alternatives exist.  Animals perceive their own existence, and like humans, they possess the capacity to experience both fear and love. It is our own consumer demand, at dinner tables and in university labs, which inflicts cruelty on so many creatures. May all sentient beings find freedom from suffering.

Lloyd M Vigil

EWU Junior

Public Health Major

Buddhist Philosophy, Meditation and Peace Studies Club