Animal cruelty: A repugnant AND really stupid idea
There has been recent public uproar over an experiment conducted at University of Adelaide. Researchers have shaken anaesthetised lambs to death in an attempt to prove whether shaking alone is sufficient to produce brain injury and mortality, or whether additional head impact is required.
To quote from the research paper itself, “Nine anaesthetised lambs were manually grasped under the axilla and vigorously shaken with sufficient force to snap the head back and forth onto the chest…”
During the experiment, three of the lambs died unexpectedly (to the researchers at least). The remaining lambs were killed after six hours and left overnight. The next day, brains, spinal cord and eyes were collected for examination.
I read the research paper, published in the Journal of Clinical Neuroscience and I was outraged. I was furious that public funding is being wasted on information already known – research to prove something which most average people consider to be common sense: you don’t shake babies!
After a little more ‘research’, on my behalf, much to my surprise I found that the same testing had actually been done only two years ago by Finnie, Manaris and Blumbegs which in turn was published in the same Journal of Clinical Neuroscience. In fact the two papers’ Experimental Protocol was almost word-for-word in both cases. The only difference being that two extra lambs were used in the recent ground-breaking experiment.
As members of the public, we are continually assured that all research using animals is highly regulated, subject to approval from an animal ethics committee, only conducted when absolutely necessary and then only when there are no suitable alternatives. Well, perhaps we’re all missing something here because by my interpretation this research certainly does not seem to meet these requirements.
Aside from the ‘common sense’ factor, how on earth did two separate animal ethics committees sanction this experiment?
The purpose of an animal ethics committee is to evaluate the justification of an experiment, to consider such things as whether the benefit outweighs the harm caused, whether the research has already been conducted elsewhere and whether the animals being used are appropriate for the desired outcome.
The researchers chose to use lambs due to the large brain structure and weak neck muscles to simulate a human baby. What they failed to consider was that they used a species that differs to humans in critical areas such as disease pathogenesis, response to traumatic insult and responses to interventional drugs – all of which render the data obtained from this research and any potential cures to be obtained from this as completely irrelevant.
So what have we actually learned from all of this? Well apparently”[t]his study proved that shaking a subset of lambs can result in death without additional head impact being required.” Wow! Now we all know that’s a pretty important medical breakthrough, but more importantly it shows us:
• that animal ethics committees (two separate committees in this case) are failing to function correctly;
• that our researchers could be spending their time more productively,
• there is a need for greater transparency and accountability of animal experimentation; and
• how our taxpayer dollars are wasted on futile research.
Oh and yes, if you hold a lamb without supporting its neck and shake its head too much it will die.
A great amount of unnecessary research is being conducted on animals in Australia every day. Some of the more ‘critical’ experiments include silicone breast implants in pigs, feeding alcohol to pregnant sheep and giving marijuana and ecstasy to other animals.
Animal experimentation is not just about cruelty to animals; it’s about wasting precious resources which would be better spent on human-specific research relevant to real medical progress.
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