Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Beastly Questions

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Beastly Questions

Article excerpt

Beastly Questions

We wept and watched, my wife and I, as a little girl fought for her life. She was tiny, frail, helpless, and so very vulnerable. Motionless except as her chest rose and fell spasmodically, there lay Lauren, our first grandchild, born so prematurely that each breath was a desperate and failing effort. We wept, our hearts torn by the growing realization that Lauren might not live. The next day she died. The best care that medicine could offer was not enough. The research on baby lambs and kittens that has given life to many premature infants such as Lauren was still in the future and would come too late for her.

In time, two grandsons, Jonathan and Bryan, were born. Premature babies, they also had to struggle for life. Our pain of uncertainty and of waiting was all to be endured twice again. But the little boys lived. The knowledge gained through research on lambs and kittens gave them life, a gift that Lauren could not have.

The memories of despair and grief at the death of one grandchild and of relief and hope and joy at the life of two others, all of these memories came back to me as I sat at my desk preparing to write this essay in defense of the moral and scientific necessity for the use of animals in medical research. And as I thought of the numerous advances in medical care that would have been impossible without experiments on cats and sheep and baby lambs, on dogs and pigs and monkeys and mice, on cows and horses and even armadillos, as I thought of all these advances in medical care that have given health and life to countless people, including my grandsons, my mind was flooded by a host of memories.

First was the memory of an esteemed colleague whose recovery from a near-fatal heart attack was made possible by the use of a newly discovered enzyme that dissolved the clot that fouled his arteries. Later he was restored to nearly perfect health by a coronary arteriogram and a percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty. He owes his life to scores of dogs on whom the studies were done to perfect the use of streptokinase, the enzyme that was used to dissolve the clotted blood from his coronary arteries. And he also owes his life to yet other dogs on whom the techniques of coronary arteriography and angioplasty were developed and perfected.

Another colleague whom I recently saw at a medical meeting came next to mind. He had developed disabling arthritis of one hip, but now was able to walk again, thanks to the surgical replacement of his crippled joint. He now walks with a limp, but he walks--only because of dogs that were operated on in the course of research that developed and perfected the artificial hip.

One memory evoked another and then another and then another. I recalled patients who were devastated by poliomyelitis in the terrible epidemic of the 1940s, an epidemic in which one of my closest friends and colleagues contracted the disease and nearly died. He survived miraculously after being confined for many days in a respirator, or, as it was called in those days, an iron lung.

And then came memories from the 1950s when I helped give Salk vaccine to the children in a small town in New England. The little ones howled when I approached them with the syringe and needle. A few years later such children were immunized without screams of fear and pain because by then vaccination against poliomyelitis involved nothing more than sucking on a little cube of sugar containing a few drops of vaccine. In his very moving history of the development of the oral vaccine against poliomyelitis, Albert Sabin gave a graphic description of the thirty years of research that were needed to develop his highly effective vaccine. He made clear that this outstanding contribution to the welfare of mankind would not have been possible without experiments on "many thousands of monkeys and hundreds of chimpanzees."(1) Dr. Sabin's vaccine, since its introduction in 1960, has provided nearly complete protection against poliomyelitis to hundreds of millions of people all over the world. …

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