The National Institutes of Health (NIH), primary funder of biomedical research in the US, is reviewing its policy on human-animal chimera research. In light of the abject failure of animal ‘models’ of disease to translate into treatments for human subjects, some researchers are chasing a new holy grail: the possibility of engineering animals with enough human genetic material to make them better models for human pathologies. This research involves appalling pain and suffering for animals, and the prospect of millions more sacrificed on the altar of medical science until such time as this new enterprise is revealed, like much previous animal research, to be a hollow promise.
A recent Animals in Science Policy Institute press release indicates that the number of animals used for science research in Canada increased by 24% according to the latest annual report released by the Canadian Council on Animal Care. This dramatic annual increase demonstrates the hollowness of the research community’s professed commitment to replacing the use of animals with new technologies and approaches. The largest increases are for fish, birds and non-human primates.
We know that Queen’s University is one of the last Canadian universities to do experiments on non-human primates (NHPs) such as monkeys. No wonder Queen’s has repeatedly refused to disclose information about its research on NHPs (and other animals), since it would have to explain to the public why these numbers continue to increase, when other institutions are shutting down NPR research altogether. In refusing to disclose information, Queen’s insists that the statistics are too “sensitive” (i.e. the public would be upset by them), and that the numbers need to be put into “context”. (Of course there is nothing stopping Queen’s from providing “context”, or explaining its rationale for harming and killing animals.) We can only surmise that the University is terrified of any outside scrutiny of their research programs.
In the growing climate of public concern for treatment of non-human animals, and insistence that their use be ethically and scientifically justified, Queen’s knows that some of its research activities simply wouldn’t pass muster.
For more on this story, see “Latest stats show whopping increase in animals used for Canadian science” in the National Observer.
Donaldson and Kymlicka, co-founders of the Animals in Philosophy, Politics, Law and Ethics research initiative at Queen’s University, published today an op-ed in The Globe and Mail on the issue of animals used in zoos and circuses and what it teaches us.
Growing public unease has prompted the multibillion-dollar zoo industry to rebrand zoos as institutions of “education” rather than “entertainment,” in the hope that this will make captivity seem more acceptable. But notice that this shift is more about the human experience than it is about the situation for the animals. For them, the realities of social and environmental deprivation remain, and so-called enriched zoo habitats merely gloss over the realities of rigid control, manipulation and impoverishment, whether or not animals are trained for public performance.
Over two years ago a member of Queen’s Animal Defence (and Queen’s faculty) submitted a freedom of information request concerning nonhuman animals used in research at Queen’s. Queen’s declined to release the information. An appeal was submitted, and we are still awaiting an arbitration decision from the Information and Privacy Commissioner’s Office. (The decision has been delayed three times.)
Queen’s is utterly secretive about research using animals. We don’t know the numbers and types of animals used; the purpose and types of experiments performed on them; the source and ultimate fate of the animals; or the results of any evaluation of the quality or utility of resulting research. In response to requests for information, or justification of research, Queen’s invariably repeats the same mantra: it complies with the guidelines of the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC). The CCAC is a quasi-administrative body governed by animal research interests which establishes guidelines for animal use. The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies is the only advocate for animals on the CCAC – one voice out of 22 member organizations. In other words, the biomedical research industry makes its own rules, behind closed doors. (See this recent post for a more detailed critique of the CCAC.)
We should know by now never to entrust the care of vulnerable beings to powerful organizations acting without public scrutiny. Consider residential schools. Or the sex abuse long tolerated and covered up by the Catholic Church. Or the non-consensual surgeries, experiments and other abuses inflicted on people with disabilities and mental illness in residential institutions. These aren’t cases of a few bad apples run amok – a priest, or government agent or doctor here and there. They are structural, institutional failures on a massive scale – failures that have been deeply exacerbated by misplaced ‘trust’ in experts and authorities.
Queen’s Animal Defence has been criticized for demanding information about what happens to animals at Queen’s – as though it’s bad manners to question the ethics of the research industry, or to suggest that researchers, like all humans, are vulnerable to human frailties like professional myopia, arrogance, careerism and greed. Continue Reading