Archive | ethics

Is animal experimentation really “cute”?

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Today’s Scientist had an entertaining article  on holiday presents for scientists: Brain-slice coasters, silk scarves with red blood cells, bands of one’s own DNA blown up to portrait size, for example.

Another present suggestion was a package of knitting patterns of dissected animals available from a talented knitter at her company aKNITomy , where “biology no longer smells like formaldehyde, but like your favorite sweater.”

Of all the lovely objects available at aKNITomy, why would The Scientist choose animal dissections as the leading illustration for the article? Are dead frogs and dead rats, laid open as by 7th graders in class, cute? Fun? Happy reminders of high school?

A sense of humor is important, and a sense of humor about things that bother us can sometimes mitigate our nervousness….but it can also stop us from really looking at what is happening.

Hard to say what the artist’s motivation for cute and gruesome dissection knitting kits is, but The Scientist might well be trying to do what many scientist do- minimize the pain and cruelty of animal experimentation with humor.

Below is another illustration of this dark humor at the Narishige table in the exhibition hall at the 2015 Experimental Biology convention in Boston. Narishige makes equipment for micromanipulation in physiological research…for cells, yes, and for animals. To illustrate some of their devices for manipulation of live animals, they used little cuddly stuffed animals in place of pictures of real animals. Most scientists walked past the exhibit with little curiosity and no outrage or shame.

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The belief in the righteousness of humans’ right to dominion over the other creatures of the earth lies beneath much scientific training and practice. The devastation of rain forests, elimination of whole species, the poisoning of rivers and streams are actually akin the assumption that animals in labs are here just for us. For some mysterious reason, scientists seem to believe that the nobility of their quest to better human lives excuses causing pain and suffering to animals. For some mysterious reason, scientists seem to believe that the cruelty they cause is not the same as the cruelty caused by pit bull fighting or the abandonment and starvation of pets.

Somehow, many scientists seem to believe that the pain their own little poodles and kitties would feel is a fear more special and in need of prevention than the fear of all those beagles and cats and mice in the lab.

Shouldn’t the first law for scientists, as well as for physicians, be First, do no harm? Don’t cause pain? To anyone or any creature? Can science be a non-violent profession?

Animal experimentation is contrary to what many scientists believe and how they want live their lives, but cruelty to animals has become accepted as a part of science. It is insinuated that folks who do not believe in the use of animals for experiments cannot be serious about science. And so, people make jokes to mask the cognitive dissonance. They are quiet about animal experimentation, ashamed: They don’t tell their children or their dates how many mice they killed that day. They compartmentalize their scientific and family lives.

Rationalization is what scientists are trained to do. But it takes a toll when it is dishonest. Some people, including scientists, are unabashed believers of domination. Of dominance. But many people who are not dominance believers are somehow still convinced that animal experimentation is a given, without alternatives. Others think that animal experimentation should be carefully regulated- except for their own research.

There are groups that advocate for the use of animals in research. There are groups  that advocate against it. Read about it, if you will. But know the reality of what animal experimentation is about, and make sure your scientific side follows the same principles as your human side.

More humanity might even change the face of science and society.

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Stop researching: We know what works for healthcare.

 

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“Research ethics and health care reform”, a stunning letter written by James Kahn, a professor in Health Policy and Epidemiology University of California, and Paul Hofmann, president of the Hofmann Health Group with a Ph.D. in Public Health, was published in the June 19th issue of Science.

Bottom line of the letter- it is unethical to research and write on partial fixes to the multi-payer system of health care in the USA when we already have plenty of compelling evidence that single payer health care systems improve patient outcomes, serve more people, and do it more economically than multi-payer systems.

Kahn and Hofmann wrote the letter in response to a Policy Forum essay by Amy Finkelstein and Sarah Taubman published in Science in February, 2015. “Randomize evaluations to improve health care delivery” made the point that too few randomized control trials for U.S. health care reform research means there is not enough solid research to base policy on. Kahn and Hofmann do not disagree with this, but say it is a secondary problem to a “major ethical breach.”

The ethical breach defined by Kahn and Hofmann is based on the “principle of equipoise,” which says that deviations from the standard of care are allowable in research with humans only if there is real uncertainty about which intervention is better. Because there is enough research to conclude that single payer healthcare works better, further experiments and trials to define the better system are unethical.

“To ignore this compelling evidence risks lives in the United States as we experiment with partial fixes to the multi-payer system. This experimentation would be rejected by any responsible university institutional review board as violating the principle of equipoise and causing unacceptable patient harm.”

Strong words- and hopefully, they will be spoken by more scientists, physicians, researchers, and academics. The development of drugs and vaccines, research on surgeries and devices, basic work on cell physiology, applied genomics research to target individuals health problems, social and psychological health interventions- all are funneled in the USA through the health care system. And in this system, where money can purchase excellent care for some, while others must hold bake sales and run crowd sourcing campaigns on line to pay for medicine, not all people will benefit from your research.

Most people don’t go into medicine or research to impact only the lives of people who can afford good health insurance. Single payer health care will mean that more people can be served by your work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Design winner human-organs-on-chips helps rationalize the end of animal research.

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It will if Harvard cell biologist and engineer Donald Ingber and University of Pennsylvania bioengineer Don Dongeun Huh, designers of Human Organs-on-Chips, have their way.

Every year, the Design Museum in London holds a competition for the Best Design. The winner this year is Human Organs-on-Chips. A microchip perhaps the size of a domino and containing miniature wells with connections like rivers between the wells is lined with a polymer on which human cells can be grown. The experimenter can, for example, add drugs to one set of cells and measure the effect on the cells in other wells. Organ systems, using cells from individuals, can then be mimicked, and tested.

Human Organs-on-Chips had some tough competitors, in the categories of Architecture, Digital, Fashion, Graphics, Product (the category for Human Organs-on Chips), and Transport.  I saw the exhibit early in June, and was thrilled by the many science-based entries among the 76 entrants. A project that uses a 3D printer to make arm and leg protheses was an emotional favorite of the crowd, but the beauty and simplicity of the Human Organs-on-Chips display took my breathe away. I’d read about them, but seeing them displayed, with the implications boldly stated- “A way to research drugs without testing on animals”- was a thrill…beautiful science done with a stated purpose of being an alternative to animal research.

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Human-organs-on chips is only one example of the many products  being developed to improve in vitro testing on human systems.

There are 3 main reasons scientists say they would like to cut down or eliminate animal testing: animal upkeep and experimentation is expensive, animal models do not adequately represent humans, and there are ethical issues with animal experimentation.

That there are ethical issues with animal treatment is definitely the minority reason given, and even when it is, what is meant is that other people have ethical issues with animal experimentation and that makes it more difficult for animal experimentation to be done. All those rules! And the protesters!

Drug testing is only one of many, many ways animals are used in labs. But anything, whether moral, financial, or convenience-based, that leads scientists to stop assuming that animal experimentation is a given, is good.

Meanwhile, scientists and activists are directly addressing the ethical issues of animal research. For example, physician and lawyer Ruth Decker has been working relentlessly to stop experimentation on monkeys at the University of Wisconsin, starting an on- line petition against Ned Kalin, who studies rhesus macaque monkeys removed from their mothers and raised in isolation. Recently, when Ned Kalin spoke at the Univeristy of California-Davis on his research, scientists and activists, members of UCDavis Primates Deserve Better, demonstrated at the lecture to protest the cruelty of his experiments.

In March, a European Citizens Initiative with 1.17 million signatures proposed phasing out animal research. While it was rejected by the European Commission, the commission did say it would seek to speed up the development and use of alternative methods of research.

Many science organizations and a group of Nobel laureates spoke out in defense of animal research. As pointed out by the pro-animal experimentation group AnimalResearch.Info, 91 of 105 Nobel Prizes awarded for Physiology or Medicine were dependent on animal research. It is hard to change the paradigm. But every aspect of alternatives to animal testing will bring change to the culture of science. The collaboration of scientists and citizens, which brings new perspective, is vital in changing the insular and often conservative nature of science.

One nascent change is that biomedical scientists and physicians can question animal use without appearing to be “unprofessional,” an accusation and judgement that held many scientists from actually considering the morality involved in working on animals.

 

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Scientists for Global Responsibility- YES!

Scientists for global responsibility

How could one not be thrilled to find (via a message from activist and friend Linda Jansen) to find the UK- based group Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR), whose priorities are so relevant to the needs of world citizens, and so on target with the protests going on all over the earth?

Here is a list of project categories from the website:

Corporate Influence on Science and Technology

Military Influence on Science and Technology

Nuclear Weapons Threat

Ethical Careers

Other projects- Population, Climate, Peace, etc.

What’s not to love?

There are currently about 900 members in SGR, and though the organization is UK centered, international members are welcome, according to Stuart Parkinson, Executive Director since 2003. Parkinson earned his bachelors’ degree in physics and engineering, but so many applications were military, with deep ethical implications, and he did his PhD work in climate change modeling. Even here there were ethical problems for Parkinson, as much funding for environmental work was from corporations, and their need to turn a profit was in conflict with preservation of the environment. SGR was a place where he could discuss these ethical issues with other scientists, something that unfortunately doesn’t occur in most scientific workplaces or training grounds.

To demonstrate the various pathways a scientist could choose to imbue life and work with ethical integrity, SGR put out a booklet, “Critical Paths: 12 inspiring cases of ethical careers in science and technology.”  The booklet can be downloaded as a pdf, or purchased as hard copy. Below is the list of scientists in the booklet, which the varied issues they’ve embedded in their life’s work. It would be great to have this booklet distributed in undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate programs, to be used for inspiration and discussion of options.

Critical paths

Contents

Introduction …………………………………………………………………………………………….. 3

Elizabeth Martin………………………………………………………………………………………. 4

Discipline: geography
Issues: sustainable development; politics; corporations

Annie Brown……………………………………………………………………………………………. 6

Disciplines: mechanical and civil engineering
Issues: sustainable building; sustainable energy; corporations

Laurence Kenney …………………………………………………………………………………….. 8

Disciplines: mechanical engineering; biology Issues: the military; health

Dave Harper ……………………………………………………………………………………………. 10

Discipline: psychology
Issues: mental health; social justice; the military

Emily Heath …………………………………………………………………………………………….. 12

Disciplines: environmental and geo-sciences
Issues: environmental protection; politics; social justice

Caroline Smith…………………………………………………………………………………………. 14

Disciplines: chemistry; plant biology Issue: sustainable agriculture

Yacob Mulugetta……………………………………………………………………………………… 16

Disciplines: environmental sciences; environmental management Issues: international development; sustainable energy; corporations

Birgit Völlm ……………………………………………………………………………………………… 18

Discipline: medicine
Issues: animal experiments; health

Karl Brazier……………………………………………………………………………………………… 20

Disciplines: mathematics; IT; physics
Issues: the military; sustainable energy; social justice; corporations

Steve Dealler …………………………………………………………………………………………… 22

Discipline: microbiology Issues: food safety; politics

Wendy Maria Phelps………………………………………………………………………………… 24

Discipline: electrical engineering
Issues: the military; sustainable energy; social justice

Sue Mayer……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 26

Disciplines: biological and veterinary sciences Issues: the military; genetics; politics 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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