Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Harvard Law School Blather

You'd think they'd think a bit more clearly, but then, Harvard has a history of being completely wrong about the use of animals in its labs.

Read this: "Are Human Research Participants Deserving of Research Animals’ Rights?" It was posted on Harvard Law School's Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics' blog, The Bill of Health, on November 20, 2012 by Suzanne M. Rivera, Ph.D.

It's pure tripe. The only reason I'm calling attention to it is because of the awesome response by Jessica Sandler which I am reposting here in it's entirety. It's not unlikely that it be disappeared.

Jessica Sandler, Class of '78 on November 26, 2012 at 2:44 PM said:

While reading Suzanne Rivera’s blog, “Are Human Research Participants Deserving of Research Animals’ Rights,” I had to do a double-take to ensure that I was reading Harvard Law’s Bill of Health, and not The Onion. If she were not so well-credentialed I would chalk the silliness of the article up to pure ignorance, but because Rivera must know better it appears she used the blog to spout pro-animal experimentation propaganda that plays fast and loose with even the few facts that were included.

There is only one federal law in the U.S.—the Animal Welfare Act (AWA)—designed to offer some modicum of protection to animals in laboratories. As Rivera implicitly acknowledges, the AWA is primarily focused on issues of animal husbandry: the size of the cages in which the imprisoned animals will spend the duration of their lives; the temperature of the rooms in which the animals are kept; the frequency of cleaning, feeding, watering; and so on. Rivera misleadingly paints life for an animal in a laboratory as resort-like and does not acknowledge that the law permits animals to be used in all manner of cruel, painful, and trivial experiments. Animals are poisoned, burned, shocked, and paralyzed. They are deprived of food and water to force them to “cooperate” with the experimenters and are even completely deprived of pain relief should the experiments wish to do so. Infant monkeys are taken from their mothers days after birth—often as a matter of operating procedure. They are cut open in experimental surgeries in which their eyes are removed, their spines are mutilated, and their brains are exposed. Even today, cosmetics, household products, and caustic chemicals are dripped into the eyes of rabbits and rubbed onto the shaved, abraded skin of guinea pigs who are not given pain killers. It is perfectly legal to do ANYTHING to animals in U.S. laboratories as long as the right paperwork is filled out. Even when alternatives to the use of animals are available, U.S. law—unlike that in the EU—does not require that they be used.

Furthermore, thanks to vigorous lobbying on the part of the well-heeled animal experimentation industry—a group that claims to be pro-science—99 percent of animals used in experimentation, including mice of the genus Mus, rats of the genus Rattus, birds bred for experimentation, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and agricultural animals used in agricultural experiments are excluded from the definition of “animal” in the AWA and are deprived even of the meager protections of the Act. While there are guidelines that govern the treatment of these animals when they are used in federally-funded studies, these animals have no legal protections whatsoever at the federal level.

This means that when mice are subjected to painful and invasive surgeries, but are deprived of post-operative pain relief—as happens 50 to 80 percent of the time according to recent literature surveys conducted by researchers at Newcastle University (,—the experimenters are not legally liable for such egregious cruelty. Likewise, when living rats are thrown into a freezer intended for the bodies of dead animals, when mice drown or dehydrate to death as a result of employees failing to check water systems, and when rats are left in their cages and run through the mechanical cage washer where they are boiled alive – there are no legal repercussions for the responsible parties. If they are federally-funded, they just get a letter that effectively asks them not to do it again. If they are not receiving government money, there is no external government oversight at all.

At the institutional level, the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) system is also failing to protect animals. Repeated audits by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and observations by USDA inspectors stretching back more than a decade, as well as evidence gathered by PETA through whistleblowers and undercover investigations, have documented ongoing failures in the IACUC system. In September 2005, the USDA OIG published a scathing audit report describing a climate in which laboratories view fines for AWA violations as a “cost of conducting business.” The report noted that at almost one-third of facilities, IACUCs failed to ensure that experimenters considered alternatives to painful procedures. The report further documented the failure of IACUCs to ensure that animals receive adequate veterinary care and to ensure that unnecessary or repetitive experiments were not performed on animals. These problems persist today.

Rivera’s implicit contention that animals used in experiments are better protected than human research participants flies in the face of common sense as well as peer-reviewed research on the subject. The most comprehensive analysis of IACUC reviews of proposed animal research protocols conducted to date concluded that IACUCs rarely disapprove of proposed animal research protocols, approving in-house protocols 98% of the time ( When the same protocols were evaluated by IACUCs from other institutions, 61% were found to be substantially lacking. A recent study conducted by my colleagues found that at leading research institutions an average of 67% of IACUC members were animal experimenters; an additional 15% were institutional veterinarians who conducted or facilitated experiments on animals; and 93% of IACUC chairpersons were animal experimenters ( These stacked committees no doubt contribute to the approval bias expressed by IACUCs. Moreover, the paltry representation of unaffiliated members on U.S. IACUCs, intended to represent the general community and its concern for animal welfare—particularly in comparison to membership requirements in the EU and elsewhere for animal experimentation oversight bodies—contributes to public distrust of animal experimenters and does not reflect the mounting opposition among the general public ( that largely funds the practice.

An article published in the journal Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine further suggests that institutional review boards (IRBs, which oversee human-based research) place a “tremendous burden” on clinical researchers, while IACUCs (which oversee animal-based experimentation) are much easier to work with, approving “essentially everything they consider” ( The author argues that this “discrepancy in regulatory ease between the two types of research” has pushed scientists to use animals in investigations even when they believe the studies should be performed with humans or human tissue. A recent article published in the British Medical Journal argues that IACUCs are in need of reform: “IACUCs have chosen not to make such ethical judgments [of conducting cost-benefit analyses of proposed animal research protocols] but, rather, restrict themselves to an advisory role, often tweaking the details of animal-use protocols, but eventually approving all of them” (

Fundamentally, Rivera has performed some hand-waving to perpetuate myths to further her own agenda and has intentionally failed to discuss the elephant in the room (or more appropriately, the monkey in the isolation chamber, the dog in a metal box, and the rat in the inhalation chamber). Animals in laboratories are imprisoned for the entirety of their lives in tiny cages where they are used, abused, and killed. The regulations that govern the treatment of animals in these circumstances—stipulating minimum cage sizes that confine animals to taking one or two steps in any direction for their entire lives—simply do not apply to humans research subjects who give informed consent, do not spend their lives imprisoned in laboratories and in the overwhelming majority of cases are not caused any harm beyond losing a few hours of their day or having to complete a boring experiment. Even when there are serious harms involved, human participants and IRBs must determine whether the potential benefits outweigh the risks, and subjects must volunteer to participate. With animals, no curiosity is too trivial to justify tormenting and killing them, and they obviously are not given any choice. This is not a matter of opinion; it’s a fact.

Given the wholesale abuse suffered by animals in laboratories—and the paucity of any meaningful protections for the animals involved—it is simply astonishing that Rivera would compare the considerable rights of humans who volunteer themselves for clinical trials to the non-existent rights of animals who are unwilling participants in experiments where they are, for all intents and purposes, viewed as a means to an end and with little to no regard to their status as sentient beings capable of physical and psychological suffering.

For more on the question of whether or not animal use is more heavily and meaningfully regulated than research using humans see my essay: "The Ethics Underpinning Oversight."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What's so amazing for me is I read what you write Rick and I learn something new from your posts. Then I read something you post written by Jessica who can show another view of the ethical issues with animals. What I mean is people like Frankie Trull say the same thing over and over, like a broken record. Frankie Trull is no scientist and yet she thinks the public should hang onto her every word. I read some of her articles and the information is nothing like what I read from your blog. Just when I think there is nothing more I can use to debate with others about animals in medical research, I come back to your Blog and there is always something new. These people who call themselves a researcher or scientist that have no morals or empathy to guide their conscious are evil. They don't do it in the name of science to save a human, they do it in the name of science to make large deposits in their bank accounts....
Little Mimi