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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

24 September 2002 Issue

By Judith Marie Gansen

Article 15 - Medical Research

A Response Letter to Debra J. Saunders Column--"Humane or Inane? Animal Rights:  Don't Call Them Humane" in the San Francisco Chronicle of 8/11/2002

Let me preface this by saying Ms. Saunders that animal advocates don't live on Mars -- many have children, family and friends who we care about and love and we don't want them to get diseases either.  I personally lost both my parents, my uncle and several friends to various kinds of cancer.  We also have diabetes and many other diseases in our family tree so I have some really bad genes to be concerned about with my own health as well.  Your article not only hit a nerve in me - it made me furious because when a journalist writes about something it is assumed some research was done on both sides of the issue to be presented fairly to allow the reader to make an intelligent, informed decision -- that is Journalism 101.  Apparently you don't believe in that or don't practice it or there would be more substance to your article.  Perhaps before calling any mostly volunteer movement "inhumane" you might reflect on that important premise.

Let's examine medical experimentation.  We take animals who feel pain and fear like we do and take them from their natural environment which puts them under terrible stress.  Dogs, for instance, are social creatures by nature so the very act of making them live in a cage puts them under dire stress.  What does that do to their blood levels, their hormones, etc.?  How does this impact the results of so-called "medical experiments"?   Would a doctor get correct readings on your body if you were ripped from your home and placed into a scary, unfamiliar situation and forced to live inside a cage?  Would your blood pressure go up from fear every time someone with a needle came near?  Would you react as painful, torturous things were done to you by strangers while you were not (if an animal) even able to communicate with the people doing it?  How about your blood sugar levels--would they be affected by stress from your terror as you saw other "specimens" cry out in pain and/or die?    And exactly how would this distort the results of any medical experiments done on you?  The bottom line is that it is not natural for ANY living being to live in a cage like that and that is why I cannot understand why supposedly intelligent researchers believe their tests are infallible.  History has proven the results are not.

Pound animals used for research are another issue.  The practice is
unbelievably inhumane since these animals were once someone's pet but what about the scientific aspect of this practice?  How does a researcher know the medical history of this animal?  Did it once ingest something that nearly killed it that could have really affected the animal's organs?  What was it exposed to through the air that it breathed -- was it kept in a basement and breathed in radon for instance?  Fed poor quality food as many pet owners do so that its immune system doesn't work properly -- how would any of these issues affect so-called "scientific experiments" performed on this animal?  Cursory medical checkups they would give an animal brought into research often would not show all the damage a poor background and/or congenital defects could cause.  This is one reason many "more credible" labs who still use out-dated animal research will not use pound animals but instead breed their own.

In our country, both the medical and veterinary establishments are steeped in "conservative tradition" -- this means unfortunately their ability to think has sometimes been lost because they are oftentimes trapped in a certain way of thinking.   They often don't look at the big picture.  How many chemicals, new makeup and other products that we put on our bodies, household cleaning agents, etc. do we add every year to an already overloaded environment full of toxins?  It may surprise you to know that few of these products are ever safety tested or the effects studied after they come on the market.  

What about the effects of people living by industries that pollute -- how many of them are causing diseases?  What about the lifestyle of the ill person? 

Here's a radical idea -- instead of taking animals (since even chimpanzees only have something like 97% of our DNA) and coming up with far-out experiments to try on them after making them deliberately sick in some cases with diseases they can't even get on their own, let's study the people with the diseases!  If a dog comes down with cancer, should we perform experiments on cats to find the answer?  Duh!  While animals are like us in that they feel pain and fear like we do, they have many physical differences.  Doing a smoking experiment on dogs (hooking them up to smoking machines -- the photos still haunt me from when I first saw them years ago) is taking an animal that has a short digestive system, shorter life span, far more sensitive sense of smell and walks on all fours and isn't attracted to tobacco to begin with and attempting to apply the "test" results to humans who have a long digestive system, don't have fur, who walk on two legs, don't have the same DNA and the majority of humans who smoke get addicted to cigarettes.  Do you see anything wrong with this logic?  The main problem with researchers is their arrogance in thinking they know everything about the bodies of both animals and humans--and they don't. 

As an illustration, years ago I asked our vet if brewers yeast and garlic tablets worked on dogs for fleas.  I was told an experiment had been done at Michigan State University that proved it didn't work.  Being the independent type that I am and after doing more reading on the subject, I decided to try it anyway.  Not only did it work, but our Lhasa Apso no longer got allergic flea dermatitis -- if he got bit at all by a flea it was on his head (not a normal place for fleas to bite) because he would get a few little bumps there--the fleas found the place with the least flesh perhaps and therefore the lowest concentration of brewer's yeast/garlic, bit once and jumped off because I never found any on him.  He was free from breakouts until the day he died and we live in the country where all kinds of wildlife visit our land carrying all kinds of pests with them.  This method has worked on all of our dogs for many years for fleas and ticks--not a double blind study granted but you can't argue with success.

Why didn't the experiment at MSU testing this method on dogs work?  Could it be that those dogs were under so much stress that a more gentle remedy like garlic tablets couldn't work under those conditions?  Is that why non-traditional treatments (herbs, etc.) work often in the home where the animal has love and a good life but sometimes not so well on lab animals?  But the "scientific" results MSU did fit into the criteria of the researchers and now dog people everywhere rely on business-based chemicals that bombard our dogs with toxic overloads and dogs are now coming down with cancer in record numbers -- is it related?  How tragic if it is.  However, it makes money for business and if you did the research you would find the majority of research is FUNDED by business -- it is often not about good health for us or the animals we are guardians for -- it is about finding a product to sell whether it is a flea collar or a medication so the business can make a profit.  I am not saying all business is corrupt but rather it's a poorly designed system for finding the real truth in research.  Funding for research is hard to come by and without it the researcher is out of a job.  A researcher's work is affected by bias if it is funded by a company with a vested interest in the outcome.  That's a "no-brainer" in my book!

After a medication has been "tested" on species it wasn't designed for to begin with, it is then given a short trial (probably for liability issues) on people who are volunteers who generally get paid a sum based on risk assessment -- people who need money (the most likely to volunteer) sometimes don't eat very healthy either so it's debatable how reliable that part of the testing is.  Finally, the pill is given our government's stamp of approval by the FDA.  Quite often after the medication has been out for a few years some illness or deaths occur.  Thousands of people die every year in this country alone from medications prescribed by their own doctors!  Intelligent people, therefore, don't touch a pill until it has been out for at least 7 years (an excellent book by Ralph Nader's group is Worst Pills Best Pills).  So you see, Ms. Saunders, the thousands of deaths every year that occur happen to people  who finally test the medicine or pill in the end anyway -- the only difference is they didn't know they were volunteering their bodies and in some cases giving their own lives!  If you want to know more about this, do research on the Thalidomide babies who were born deformed many years ago after the medication was tested on animals and believed to be safe. 

There are many other examples.  Furthermore, we now know that medications react differently even within the human species--men, women, children and the elderly can react differently to the same medication--you now don't dare give aspirin to a child or teen with a fever for fear of Reyes Syndrome!  Also, if you give a dog something like chocolate (which is toxic to dogs) it may be okay until you reach the level of saturation that the dog's body can't handle and then it may die.  The point being--size matters.  Yet, we test on animals smaller than we are and draw conclusions on how this substance will affect us--it boggles the mind.  (and to any researchers reading this who say they make adjustments for size, let me know when you have "interviewed" your first animal who tells you what their symptoms are that you cannot observe firsthand).

If our government and business really wanted us to be healthy, they would put more research into vegetarianism, exercising and living a more natural lifestyle.  Instead our government is "in bed" with big business like pharmaceutical companies, meat and dairy people, etc.  The result of that could be seen on a show I watched years ago (perhaps 60 Minutes?) which profiled a doctor working in a program in a low-income area.  He put all the kids on soymilk instead of cow's milk and their health problems (like sinus and allergy problems and ear infections especially) improved dramatically.  Our government threatened to shut him down if he did not go back to feeding cow's milk to the children.  See what I mean?

Another illustration:  A beloved relative of ours had epilepsy up until age 5.  This included several grand mal seizures which terrified all of us as people can even die from them.  I joined the National Epilepsy Foundation (which I did not know at the time funded animal research) and got their newsletter so I could learn everything about the latest research.  In that newsletter it spoke of a drug to treat epilepsy that was tested on animals in the U.S. and believed to cause brain damage so they stopped studying it.  In Europe, however, they tested it on people and guess what, it worked great for seizures and didn't cause brain damage on people!    That was a drug that was denied to my beloved relative BECAUSE it was tested on animals!  Doesn't it make you wonder how many cures for diseases we may have thrown in the wastebasket because we test on animals?  We may have scrapped the cure for cancer or AIDS or any other disease.  What a horrible waste!  How tragic!  How thoughtless!

Every year we churn out kids from college but sadly we often do not teach them to think.  A percentage can memorize their studies but how many can look beyond what they have learned?   One true "thinker" some years ago was a doctor who believed that a virus caused a kind of stomach ulcer.  He tried to convince others of this but no one would listen to him.  So, he did a very courageous and intelligent thing -- he gave himself the virus and then cured himself with the use of antibiotics.  He was a "thinker" -- he "thought outside the box."  Now this treatment is standard procedure.  If this man had listened to what the "establishment" taught him, if he had followed traditional ways and experimented on animals we would not have this cure now.

According to your article, Dr. Linda Cork's statement (Chair of Stanford's University's comparative medicine department) saying "The reality is you cannot do biomedical research without animals" is one doctor's opinion.  Since she is using a "specially-bred line of narcoleptic Doberman Pinschers" for her research it doesn't surprise me that she would say that.  Imagine that, deliberately breeding a dog to make it ill to do research on it for a disease that people get -- and these people get paid to do this.  Dogs by the way were with us searching and risking their lives at the World Trade Center and are invaluable to humans as bomb and drug detectors, help people with disabilities, have saved our soldier's lives in wars, etc. -- what a lovely thing to do to "man's best friend."  How unconscionable -- Dr. Cork should be ashamed of what she is doing to those dogs as well as the wasted research money that could be put to better use.  But then she does encourage toys and interaction with those dogs by staff -- well, that certainly makes up for all the pain and torture.  I am sure if Dr. Cork were put into a cage and experimented on against her will and we threw her a Barbie doll that would make it all better!

While my comments perhaps carry little value to those of the research world, the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine has a membership of over 5,000 physicians who have better credentials than I and they are all against animal research.  The President, Dr. Neal Barnard, is the author of many books and has testified before Congress many times.  If you read the PCRM newsletter you will find something that is often missing in journalism today -- the truth about health issues.  Check out the credentials of the doctors on their board -- these aren't stupid people. 

Dr. Dean Ornish a few years ago also thought "outside the box" when he proved that he could stop most heart disease by putting people on a vegetarian diet and adding exercise, etc.  I was so excited when he was on various shows as this proved what vegetarians have been saying for so long.  I naively thought this would put an end to most heart surgeries--sadly, few have advertised this success story and I don't see anyone in our government promoting his program even though it works.  I had to helplessly watch my own brother go through heart surgery recently.  I had tried to educate my own family about this information but my ideas are still considered "out there."  After my brother's surgery, the surgeon told us he was never to eat any animal products again -- never, or he would be right back into the hospital or worse.  He was an honest surgeon but to my shock the hospital served my brother meat as his first meal -- the surest way to put him right back in the hospital or kill him.  Since my brother doesn't hear about vegetarianism from his regular doctor or our government or the press he went right back to eating meat.  I may lose my brother one day due to the greed and ignorance and arrogance of our government and the health care industry in this country.  It is so tragic that we are digging our own graves with our forks!

For you, Ms. Saunders, to refer to our movement as a "dubious educational trend" is a travesty of intelligence -- mainly yours.  Throughout history verbal abuse has often been lobbied against those who had "righteous" beliefs -- slavery, freedom, child labor, tribes that used live human sacrifices, women's issues, etc.  My own personal belief is that we are doing God's work.  If humans would quit messing with the perfect system that He set up and we would stop eating creatures that our bodies were not designed to eat -- all of our children would be healthier and live longer.  Vegetarians have dramatically lower incidents of most of the major diseases.

I am not naive enough to think that we have not made any medical progress using animals in the past but the Nazis used people for medical experiments -- that didn't make it right.  I personally believe it is morally reprehensible to torture another creature simply because we have the might to do so.  Lab animals are not covered under humane laws in most cases.  The point is we can and should do better.  We now have the technology to do so.  Instead of wasting important research money on animal experimentation we could be using that money to save lives by teaching prevention.  The difference with people who really care about other species is that we hear and feel their pain as others do not.  I believe in my heart, my intellect and every fiber of my being that we are doing God's important work--speaking out for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Mark Twain said:  "Whenever you find you are on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect."  I sincerely hope and pray, Ms. Saunders, that you will take more time to do proper research, think "outside the box" and also pause and reflect.

For more information on this important subject contact:

The Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine:   (I have learned more about my health from this organization than all my doctor visits put together!)

Americans for Medical Advancement:

or the National Anti-Vivisection Society:
Credible Answers For a Cruelty-Free World

Suggested Reading:

1.Sacred Cows and Golden Geese - The Human Cost of Experiments on Animals by Dr. Ray Greek and Dr. Jean Swingle Greek
2. Animal Experimentation-A Harvest of Shame by Dr. Moneim A. Fadali

Staff:  Animals in Print  (free online animal publication)

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