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Don't perpetuate this cruel practice

Don't perpetuate this cruel practice

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I am writing in response to the opposing letters-to-the-editor between Drs. Roe and Trunnell of PETA ("Animal experimentation is cruel and unnecessary," Dec. 6) and Dr. Borsody of NeuroSpring ("Animal experiments create valuable treatments," Dec. 6), regarding the use of animals in medical experimentation.

I speak from experience, as I too am a physician who did brain research on rats, cats, and squirrels in college and medical school, in hopes of improving my chances of admission to medical school and a well-regarded residency program.

For 16 million people each year, the pain and fear caused by stroke is not “unimaginable” – it is their direct and immediate experience, one that is not shared by the anesthetized rats used in our studies.

The punchline is that I struggled mightily through the college animal research (because in reality, the animals are not quietly anesthetized machines who are happy to contribute to human medical knowledge), and I finally walked out of my rat-based neurological research in medical school - with multiple people yelling after me that I would never be admitted into a residency program.

In fact, I was accepted into my first-choice residency program (Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic), and I had a 25-year successful career in psychiatry. (It turns out that ethically disturbing animal research is not necessary for a career in medicine. I wish I had known that when I was 20 years old.)

While it is undoubtedly true, as Dr. Borsody points out, that animal research has yielded some remarkable human medical treatments, it is also true that 95% of medicines that are effective in animals ultimately prove ineffective for humans. Our own Food and Drug Administration (which requires animal research for all new medicines before they are approved in humans) quotes this shocking statistic.

It creates an important question for us as a society: is the horrific abuse of animals in medical research (and, yes, it is horrific) worth the small return for humans? My answer is a resounding 'no'. If that means that I or a loved one does not receive a future new treatment for stroke, so be it.

Clearly, the best way to study human stroke would be to use human experimental subjects. However, we cringe at the thought of doing to humans what Dr. Borsody and many other animal researchers do to animals.

I submit that ethically there is no difference. Mammals all react to pain and fear similarly. Torture is torture; it should not be practiced on innocent beings in our advanced 21st century society. We would never allow the neurological research done on rodents, cats, and dogs to be done on our family pets. Why not? Because we protect our pets from fear and pain. Pets and research subjects are one in the same. We must treat them as such.

To be clear as to why I equate animal experimentation with torture, please read the following examples:

I saw a researcher tape an awake, unanesthetized rat to a desk and cut into the animal’s scalp and skull to begin placing electrodes. Why was the researcher not using anesthesia as directed by protocol? Because it wasn’t easily accessible and he was in a hurry. The rat was piteously screaming and thrashing.

We killed animals who were no longer ‘useful’ to our research by placing them into a carbon dioxide chamber. This technique painfully, miserably, and slowly suffocates the animal. The animals all screamed, scratched, and desperately attempted to escape the chamber. Why didn’t we use carbon monoxide in the chamber, which would have been a peaceful death for the animal? Because it was too expensive.

I repeatedly saw animals emerge from anesthesia during their brain surgeries, moaning then screaming in pain, but the researchers simply continued the surgeries because they did not wish to take the time to re-anesthetize the animal.

I joined PETA after witnessing the above (and more).

Animal research is limited by time and money, and research animals are considered nothing but useful machines. Accordingly, these animals are treated abysmally. They live in constant fear and intermittent excruciating pain. The end (several human medical advances) simply does not justify the means.

We must teach young people to treat all sentient beings with respect; we must not encourage high school students to continue the shameful and disturbing practice of animal experimentation.

Dr. Jaymie Shanker

Shaker Heights, Ohio

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