We Must Protect Animals from Needless Experiments
Picture this: Researchers place a dog in a device called a “shuttlebox” which consists of a box divided into two compartments separated by a barrier. Hundreds of intense electric shocks are delivered to the dog’s feet through a grid floor. At first the dog is able to escape the shock by jumping across the barrier, but then the barrier is replaced by a piece of plate glass. The dog is tested again and, as expected, tries to jump over the barrier, but instead he smashes his head into the glass. The researchers observe that the dog’s reaction to his situation includes such symptoms as “defecation, urination, yelping and shrieking, trembling, and attacking the apparatus.” After ten or twelve days the dog ceases to resist the shocks. The conclusion of this experiment is that a combination of the plate glass barrier and foot shock was “very effective” in eliminating jumping by dogs (Singer 36).
No medical benefits emerged from this experiment, yet this same experiment continues to be carried out by other researchers. In fact, every 24 hours in this country, about 200,000 creatures die in the name of medical and scientific progress, some in experiments like the one just described (Satchell 4). Many of these experiments are repetitive and unnecessary. Congress needs to pass a law preventing cruel and unnecessary experimentation on animals.
The Animal Welfare Act was passed in 1966, the only Federal law that directly defines the rights of animals. The act sets standards for lab animals’ living conditions but sets no regulations on actual experimentation. The act was amended in 1970, setting standards for the transportation, housing, and handling of animals sold as pets, exhibited, or intended for research, but once again in actual experimentation, there were no restrictions. The act was most recently amended in 1985, when Senator Dole attached it as a rider to that year’s farm bill. The amendment requires animal-care committees established at every research facility to review planned experiments and procedures involved. Each committee must also have one public representative as an equal voting member (United States Code 7:2131).
This amendment has also turned out to be weak. Ann Chynoweth, a researcher for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA, an animal activist group), commented that “There is basically no limit to what can be done to an animal once it is taken out of its cage” (Bresnick 20). The problem arises because the animal-care committees often function as an uncritical peer-review system. For example, at the University of Oregon, the former president required that everyone on the committee take a pro-vivisection oath. Stephen Wise, president of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, found that in his area’s thirteen animal-research facilities, including those at Harvard and MIT, the public representatives included “an exercise teacher, a secretary, and an...