A Hundred Lives for One

Smitii Nayak.

Imagine being stuck in a two by two feet filthy cage surrounded by many others. You stay in this foul place, suffocating under the revolting stench of carcasses. As day after day goes by, every ray of hope you have ever had of freedom slowly fades away. All you do is silently wait for your captors to come and quickly finish their work with you and hope that today, it won’t hurt too much. Until one day, death is kind enough to steal you for its own.

You have successfully imagined yourself in the place of thousands of rabbits, dogs, cats, primates and many other animals that are facing the same fate at this very moment. The liberty they enjoyed in the wild was snatched away from them. Wire cages replaced the open spaces of the forests and cities where they lived before. Born in breeding colonies of researchers or licensed breeders, some have not even seen the outside world. These purpose-bred animals are only given life to be subjected to immense pain for the gain of humans. They are left to die once their body is rendered useless.

Often animals are caged without any company. They are denied space for movement and continuously whisked between the laboratories and their cages. Dogs are intentionally poisoned with experimental drugs and seldom given any painkillers. Grotesque apparatuses are embedded in rabbits’ bodies. Pigs and sheep have their skin burned off, chimpanzees are infected with enervating diseases and rats have their spinal cords crushed. Primates are drowned and electrocuted and are force fed lethal toxins.

Pharmaceutical companies and laboratories splurge millions to conduct experiments on animals which are supposedly held for the good of humankind. Studies have shown that these tests have little relevance to human beings and are mostly undertaken out of curiosity and rarely contribute to medical advances. Resources are unnecessarily wasted to infect animals with diseases that they would have never contracted in normal circumstances. These tests are simply a way for the media and companies to pull wool over the eyes of the citizens and make them believe that the experiments have the potential to lead to new cures. It is a ruthless multi-million dollar industry.

According to the USA Food and Drug Administration,  approximately 92% of the drugs  proven to be safe on animals fail during human clinical trials because they are too dangerous. An example of the failures of animal testing is the search for a cure for polio. Discovered in 1835, it was only in 1905 that scientists suspected a virus for the disease that paralyzed and killed its victims. In 1912, scientists discovered that the virus enters the body through the digestive tract. Monkeys were infected by researchers with the virus. But monkeys contract polio nasally unlike humans, which was why this development effectively delayed production of a cure. Scientists chose to favor the monkey data over the human digestive data and conducted experiments on the primates.

In time, a cure was developed. This “cure” led to 12 cases of paralysis and 6 deaths. Again, the same monkey data was used to create a new nasal treatment. Tested on children, it caused permanent olfactory damage to them. In 1949, John Enders paved the way for a cure by growing the virus in tissue cultures. Simply unable to learn from their mistakes, manufacturers again used animal tissue in the cultures though human tissue could have been used. This cure led to 204 people being infected by polio and 11 documented deaths. Also, a virus (SV4O) jumped across the barrier of species and infected humans. These misleading experiments on animals only delayed preparation of a necessary cure for decades.

Animals are not tortured only in these medical labs, but also right in front of our own eyes. Animals are dissected by high school and university students, who ignore the presence of computer software that provides better forms of teaching basic and advanced biological principles and medical procedures. Half are killed beforehand, while the more unfortunate half is tormented in biology classrooms and psychology experiments. About 10 million animals are used annually in the USA in these archaic, cruel experiments. The U.S. Department of the Interior has reported a decline in the population of frogs that are picked from their natural habitat for dissection. In addition to dissection, animals are also abused and killed in classroom demonstrations. As reported by PETA, the heads of turtles are smashed with hammers and holes are mercilessly drilled into their shells to manipulate their hearts. Pins are stuck into the heads of frogs so that students can cut them open and stimulate the exposed muscles with electricity.

A chilling example of the inhumane experiments conducted in universities was the primate research conducted in the Harvard University Medical School labs that breached all moral boundaries. Over 2100 monkeys were imprisoned there. At the New England Regional Primate Research Center, Harvard, researchers did not hold back and unleashed horrific procedures on the primates. Electrodes were implanted in the brains and eyes of monkeys. Unsuccessful attempts were made to transplant hearts and kidneys of pigs into baboons. The brains of live monkeys were mutilated with neurotoxins. They were deprived of food and water and were attached to restraint chairs for days in a row. 35% of the primates were kept socially isolated, though they’re known to be very social animals. Hundreds of monkeys were sacrificed before these labs were discovered and closed.

These experiments leave the victims in complete physical agony and scar them emotionally for life. Animals suffer from withdrawals and severe frustration. The stress of their situation causes them to  acquire neurotic forms of behavior. They rock back and forth continuously, spin around in circles and pull or scratch out their own fur. In extreme cases, the animals resort to methods of self-harm and bite off their fingers and toes. Socially deprived, the animals yearn for social contact. They die a brutal and lonely death, psychologically and physically damaged until their last days. The existence of alternative methods of studying animals blemishes the reputation of those who still follow the old ways. New methods that utilize less money and efforts have been developed and are not hindered by the differences in species.

The Harvard Wyss Institute’s “organ-on chips” contain human cells grown in a state of the art system that replicates the structure and functions of human organs. These chips are used in disease research, vaccine creation and drug and toxicity testing. They also replicate human physiology, drug responses and diseases more accurately than crude animal tests. Quantitative structure-activity relationships (QSARs) are computer based techniques that make sophisticated estimates of the human reaction to a substance and its level of danger by comparing it to known substances and human biology. It is replacing testing chemicals directly on animals and many companies have already swapped animal testing in favor of the computer models. Systems like TraumaMan, which mimics a bleeding human torso and has realistic layers of skin, tissue, and bones, are used to teach surgical procedures to medical students. They have been shown to impart lifesaving skills better than the courses where students are required to cut into live pigs, goats and other animals.

TraumaMan, the organ-on chips and QSARs are just a few of the modern techniques that have come to replace animal testing in labs. Yet, there are still those who continue to carry out the conventional testing. Organizations such as PETA continue to work to eliminate such testing in labs, and slowly, their efforts are bearing fruit. It is time to usher scientific research into a new era where inhumane methods are eradicated so that no animal ever has to face the cruel fate experienced by billions of animals before them. Dogs and cats need not languish in pain every day, imprisoned in their cages. Aching with loneliness, held captive for the entirety of their lives is a reality of the past.


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