Animals in laboratories have a miserable life. This shouldn’t be surprising.
Recently, two anti-cruelty advocates grabbed the national spotlight when they climbed an excavator where a new animal experimentation laboratory is being built at the University of Washington campus. Authorities have indicated that those who carried out this act of nonviolent civil disobedience will be charged under a draconian law called “criminal sabotage.” This crime is a Class B felony that carries a potential 10-year prison sentence.
As president of Beagle Freedom Project, a nonprofit animal-advocacy organization that has found homes for hundreds of animals who were abused in laboratory experiments, I want to express my support for these brave individuals and explain why our organization is staunchly opposed to the new lab under construction at UW.
Animals in laboratories have a miserable life. This shouldn’t be surprising. The fundamental premise behind using animals for research is to allow researchers to carry out activities that would be unthinkable if done to humans. Animals in laboratories are poisoned, intentionally infected with deadly diseases, surgically mutilated, burned, given electrical shocks, addicted to street drugs, psychologically tormented, and deprived of food or water. No experiment is illegal, no matter how cruel or pointless.
The members of the “oversight” committees that review and approve these experiments at UW and elsewhere are almost all institutional insiders. These committees are a sham.
No species of animal is safe. Even dogs and cats — the same animals that share our homes and are considered members of the family — are used and killed in laboratory experiments. Dogs are frequently used in toxicology experiments where increasing dosages of an experimental drug are forced down their throat or injected into their body until some of the dogs have died a slow, and often painful, death. It is a tragic fate too few dog-loving Americans know about.
Beagles are the most common breed of choice for laboratory experiments because these dogs are known for their gentle disposition and docile nature. Preying on individuals precisely because they are vulnerable and defenseless is morally perverse.
Animal abuse is such a common occurrence in laboratories that Washington’s animal-cruelty law even contains a specific exemption for animal experimentation conducted at a university. This means that acts of abuse that would normally get someone arrested and sent to jail are allowed under the law, so long as the victim is in a laboratory and the perpetrator wears a white lab coat.
Animal experimentation isn’t just bad for animals, it’s bad for people, too. In the 21st century, scientists are investigating disease and drug responses on the molecular and genetic level. But this is the level that a human is a human and a mouse is a mouse. As a result, the data we get from animals are not relevant to human health. This is why the the U.S. Food and Drug Administration stated in a 2006 news release that “nine out of ten experimental drugs fail in clinical studies because we cannot accurately predict how they will behave in people based on laboratory and animal studies.”
In their internal deliberations, UW administrators emphasize that the new laboratory will be in the university’s financial interests. But UW needs to look at the bigger picture. As confirmed by a recent Gallup poll, Americans are increasingly supportive of animal rights — 67 percent of responders stated they are particularly concerned with the treatment of animals in research.
In response to this societal shift, we’ve seen institutions change: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is phasing out its use of elephants; dining halls and cafeterias are providing more vegan meals; and Harvard University closed its federal primate-research laboratory just this year.
It’s troubling that UW is ignoring these signs and instead further entrenching itself in this archaic, abusive practice. UW is placing itself on the wrong side of history.