Book Review: ‘Humane Education’ by Helena Pedersen

Humane Education: Animals and Alternatives in Laboratory Classes. Aspects, Attitudes and Implications by Helena Pedersen

A Book Review by Tracey Hamilton


Pedersen - Humane EducationHumane Education by Dr. Helena Pedersen, an accomplished author and researcher at Malmo University in Sweden, is an excellent resource for educators and students alike, as it explores animal experimentation as a teaching and learning method by presenting an historical overview of the practice and a theoretical analysis from educational perspectives, student perspectives, and animal and sustainability perspectives. Pedersen adds to this study many personal stories through direct quotes from those who support and those who oppose the use of dissection and vivisection in education in order to give the reader a solid background from which to understand the importance of considering replacing animals with alternative methods for educational purposes. Easy to read and comprehend, this book is accessible to any person who finds themselves questioning the ethics and function of animal use in education. This book can help students to know they are not alone and encourage them to voice their concerns about performing dissections and vivisections, as it takes much courage and effort to conscientiously object to this common practice. It can also aid educators in not only understanding students who are opposed to using animals as learning tools, but also in deciding whether or not to offer alternatives, such as interactive physical models, CD ROMs, and videos, in their classrooms.

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The Emperor Has No Clothes


Image taken from the CCAC’s website.

A ground breaking article by Professor Laura Janara (University of British Columbia) has recently been published in the peer-reviewed Canadian Journal of Political Science. “Human-Animal Governance and University Practice in Canada” is essential reading for anyone interested in policies relating to the use of nonhuman animals for research and education in Canadian universities. Dr. Janara systematically reviews the history, practice and discourse of the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC), the primary administrative body that oversees animal research. Far from offering protection to animals, Dr. Janara argues, “CCAC administrative oversight helps depoliticize and legitimate this culture of causing pain, suffering and injury to nonhuman animals“(p. 9). She systematically examines the key claims of the CCAC – that it acts in the public interest, that it is democratically legitimate, and that it secures compelling ethical and scientific peer review of research and pedagogy using animals – and shows each of them to be a fallacy. Even the CCAC’s own internally-requested 2013 review of its practices was scathing, noting “significant structural deficiencies of the CCAC” and a “governance vacuum” (p. 20).

The abstract for Dr. Janara’s paper is provided below, and readers are urged to read the article in full. It should be of particular interest to members of the Queen’s community. Why? Because whenever Queen’s is asked to provide information about its animal use practices, it ritually invokes its compliance with CCAC guidelines to forestall discussion.  For example, the university web page on animal care assures readers that the role of the University Animal Care Committee is to ensure “that the highest ethical standards, as defined by the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC), are observed.” (The University Animal Care Committee is the local body instituted at each university to implement CCAC guidelines, and report back to that body.)

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From research tools to patients: animals and the future of medical science

Image taken from Wikimedia Commons

Image taken from Wikimedia Commons

A recent article in The Globe and Mail (by Ivan Semeniuk) discusses clinical trials for new cancer treatments at Guelph and other universities across North America. The patients in these trials are dogs and cats, not humans. Animal companions share our exposure to carcinogens in the environment, diet and lifestyle factors, and, not surprisingly, develop many of the same cancers as we do.

The Globe article focuses on the possible benefits to humans of cross-species clinical trial comparisons, but what’s really interesting is the situation of the nonhuman participants. These dogs and cats are beloved family members, and their participation in clinical trials rests on two very important conditions. First of all, the animals are sick with life-threatening cancers, and stand to benefit directly from the drug treatments they undergo. Secondly, their participation is conditional on consent by their human companions, who can review the risks/benefits of the trial, and ensure that the well-being of their companion is the primary focus and purpose of the treatment (just as parents consent to treatment, including drug trial participation, on behalf of their sick children). It’s important to remember that the dogs and cats are not protected by the same legal framework that protects the rights of human clinical trial participants, and indeed are exposed to unacceptable risks that humans would not be subject to. However, the protection offered by their family status means that de facto, they are more like human patients than the vast majority of animals involved in biomedical research. Most of the animals used in research are deliberately injured, or have diseases deliberately induced. The purpose of the research is not to help them, but to sacrifice them as tools of science. There is nobody to speak up for them, or protect their interests.

Here is what the Globe article says about why research that benefits dogs and cats is more likely to benefit humans than research that harms laboratory-bred mice (note that rats, dogs, and monkeys are also purpose-bred for harmful research):

“Unlike genetically standardized laboratory mice, which are a mainstay of medical research, domestic dogs and cats are more diverse, just like humans. They also share our home environments and, often, our food. Their cancers are equally diverse and naturally occurring, unlike those of lab mice, which have to be deliberately implanted. This makes companion animals far better analogs for human cancer patients.”

In addition, companion animals, like humans, tend to develop cancer as they age, and in the presence of various other health conditions like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, dementia, etc. The highly artificial disease status of lab mice is one of the key explanations offered by growing numbers of scientists to explain why biomedical research using “animal models” has failed to provide significant breakthroughs in human medical treatment.

The future of ethical biomedical research is one in which all animals, not just humans, are protected by the laws that currently govern the use of human research subjects. It’s a win-win situation.

The History of the Anti-Vivisection Movement

Wikimedia Commons

© Wikimedia Commons

Excerpt from Margo DeMello’s Animals and Society: An Introduction to Human-Animal Studies (2012, Columbia University Press), p. 183-185:

The History of the Anti-Vivisection Movement

    Although many people think of the animal rights movement as being very modern, it actually originated in nineteenth-century England, with groups who were opposed to vivisection. The anti-vivisection movement was made up of feminists who were involved in the suffragist movement in England (and later the United States), religious leaders who were opposed to vivisection on moral grounds, and humanists who saw vivisection as a crime against God’s creatures.
    Of all the religious groups voicing their opposition to animal experimentation, the Society of Friends (or Quakers) were the most vociferous. Quakers were unusual among Christian groups in that they believed in an afterlife and a present day when humans and other species could live together in peace. Furthermore, they believed that women and men were spiritually equal; in fact, women were able to preach alongside men. Quakers such as Anna Sewell denounced the cruelty inherent in vivisection. In 1877, Sewell wrote Black Beauty, a story about a horse that experiences a great deal of cruelty in his life. Black Beauty, considered by some to be the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of the animal protection movement, was extremely influential in the growing anticruelty movement in England. And because it was nominally a children’s book, it served to instill in mnay young readers an empathetic understand of animals.
    Suffragists too saw the cruelty of vivisection, and many saw women as being victimized by men in the same ways that animals were by humans. Neither woman nor animals had rights at that time, and many feminists could not help but see the parallels between the treatment of women, who were in those days strapped down during childbirth and forced to have hysterectomies, and animals. In 1875, the National Anti-Vivisection Society, the world’s first such organization, was founded by a woman, Frances Power Cobbe. In 1898, she founded a second group, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection. Because of the activities of Cobbe and other anti-vivisectionnists, England passed the world’s first animal protection law, the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1876, which governed the use of animals in vivisection. The law mandated that experiments involving the infliction of pain only be conducted “when the proposed experiments are absolutely necessary… to save or prolong human life” and that animals must be anesthetized, could only be used in one experiment, and must be killed when the experiment was concluded.
    Working-class men, too, for a time took a stance against vivisection. Because the bodies of poor people and criminals were still being used for dissection, many in the working class feared that they would be next. In 1907, a number of different groups coalesced together in the fight against vivisection in a series of events know today as the Brown Dog Riots. They were inspired by the death of a dog that two female medical students claimed had been experimented on multiple times, contrary to the conditions of the Cruelty to Animals Act. The women later installed a memorial to the dog in a park in Battersea, England (the home of an anti-vivisection hospital), that became the focal point of the battle between pro-vivisectionists—mostly medical students—and anti-vivisections—made up of feminists, trade unionists, and socialists. The labor groups saw the medical establishment, largely made up of wealthy elites, as oppressive and thus aligned themselves with the anti-vivisectionists: Both thought of themselves as underdogs. In her book on the riots, Coral Lansbury wirtes, “The issue of women’s rights and anti-vivisection has blended [in the late nineteenth century] at a level which was beyond conscious awareness, and continually animals were seen as surrogates for women who read their own misery into the vivisector’s victims” (1985:128).*
    The anti-vivisection movement arrived in the United States with the opening of the first animal laboratories in the 1860s and 1870s, and the subsequent formation of the American Anti-Vivisection Society (AVVS) in Philadelphia in 1883. Originally, the AAVS was founded to regulate the use of animals in scientific research, but it eventually adopted its current mission of abolishing such research. Similar to the National Anti-Vivisection Society, the AAVS was begun by women who were also involved in other types of social reform such as the struggles for women’s suffrage, child protection, and temperance. Many of these women had also been active in the antislavery movement in the mid-nineteenth century.

Margo DeMello - Animals and Society

* Lansbury, Coral (1985). The Old Brown Dog: Women, Workers, and Vivisection in Edwardian England. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.