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There has been a great deal of emphasis on the value of research in moving the massage profession forward. One of the things that is rarely discussed in massage circles in relation to research is where we stand on the use of animals in medical research (much of which may benefit our profession directly). Recently I wrote a blog post about animal research. You can view it at:
http://www.omeri.com/blog/an-end-to-animal-research/

I would be curious to hear what other massage therapists think about the use of animals in medical research-- in particular, how it relates to things that may directly benefit our profession. Is it OK to engage in animal research if there is some "benefit" for the health care fields such as massage?

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Whitney wrote in his blog: But we must recognize that it is really time to end the use of ALL animal research.
I wholeheartedly agree with Whitney. It is time to end the use of ALL animal research.

Ariana Vincent, Ariana Institute, Austin, Texas
Thank you for sharing that post. With all the technology we possess, it does look like there could be an alternative to animal torture. Some people say that there are so many unwanted animals that are euthanized, that it is better to have them used to our benefit for research than just killing them, but the animal doesn't get to make that choice.
Ya know, Whit, questions like this make my head explode! It is so easy to see the outrage in animal torture and suggest that therefore all animal research is inappropriate. Easy - yes, logical – I think not. This brings up soooo many ethical issues. Is there a variance or “pecking order” on the importance of life? Is it appropriate to sacrifice one for the benefit of many? Is there a striation of species that enables a cutoff of acceptable research subjects? In reality this question begs the bigger questions on how “life” is defined, and even the appropriateness of abortion and stem cell research. I know I sure don’t have answers to most of these – only opinions.

If it’s not OK to use animals on research, is it then perfectly OK to use humans for that same research? If that’s OK, what humans are chosen . . .only ones who volunteer? Or is it acceptable to pick terminal elderly? How about death row prisoners? Maybe research subjects could be more equitably chosen like jurors, from voting records! What about the unborn? When I explore my feelings about these choices it seems very OK to me to choose animals instead!

We are really dealing in an almost infinite number of shades of gray here. Is it OK for a botanist to research and develop a new strain of kumquat by cloning and/or engineering? Is a tomato a living thing until it is picked from the vine? Did we kill it when we picked it? If a plant isn’t “life” and therefore “OK” for research, what about a guppy? How about an earthworm? If that life form is acceptable to use in research, can the gray extend to a lizard or rodent? Is it OK to use eggs in the development of vaccines? If earthworms and chicken eggs are OK, is it such a stretch to extend research to white mice and rats? It’s only a step further to include cats and dogs, and another hop and skip to do testing on chimps and other primates. Where is the line appropriately drawn?

Personally, I put “people” in a category “more worthy” than the others. When I was a child I remember a friend of my father’s was involved in a horrific auto accident. He lived because a synthetic artery was tested in a dog before they inserted it in his body. I still remember asking my father about the dog (who died!) and while upset about the dog, was very pleased to be able to walk in the woods with my father and his friend on Saturday mornings. I do think the trade-off of dog vs. friend was worthwhile. I’m delighted that Yale-New Haven had the foresight to test that artery before taking a flier and hoping it would work. I remember the anti-vivisectionists of the time were less delighted! So my thoughts have a personal basis (bias?), and it’s easy for me to extrapolate from that childhood experience that it’s OK to trade the life of a dog, cat, or chimp for, say, one of my grandchildren should the need arise. I guess I’ve defined my “pecking order” out of the gray. I don’t expect my yardstick to be universally accepted! I do think the discourse is important, though!
Hi Whitney.

This is an interesting question that I think about quite a lot myself. In my teaching, I often have occasion to tell my students that I feel lucky my own research does not require nonhuman animal subjects, because I can see the issue from both sides - a lot has been learned from animal research, but at the same time I have serious qualms about some of it.

One thing I would like to point out before going further is this - not all nonhuman animal research is cruel. There are plenty of examples of research using animals where the animals are not harmed, are well-cared for, and where it could reasonably be concluded that their "laboratory lives" were as good or better as a life in the wild would have been. Let us remember, too, that life in the wild is no picnic for many animals.

Now, as for nonhuman animal research that does harm the research subjects - it's tough for me to decide where the lines should be drawn. Maybe that's a copout - I'm not taking a position here, at least not yet - but I've thought about the issue quite a lot and I haven't yet reached a clear conclusion for myself.

Maybe it would be interesting if you gave us an example? You said you've frequently come across examples in the studies you read. Do you have any that fall in the gray area you'd like to tell us about?

-CM

P.S. I have a similar issue with being a carnivore - on one hand I think I should seriously consider being a vegetarian for ethical reasons, but I haven't tried it...
Thanks everyone for the great comments and insight on this topic of animal research. I think I mentioned in my blog post that it was time to end all animal research and several of you have brought up interesting points that I think require me to clarify this position.

I realize there are some aspects of animal research where we may be studying animal behavior or doing some medical procedures with animals that would otherwise be injured or killed if experimental procedures were not performed on them. This seems to be a little bit of a different area.

My primary point of objection is the use of animals in research situations when they clearly have no say in the participation of the research activity. We may say that some research treats them better than they would be treated in the wild because life is much harder out there. But we are still making that decision for them and I am not convinced that it is within our moral right as one species to determine what kind of life another species would prefer (especially when it is being done for our advantage).

Christopher asked for some examples of how this has impacted me. Here’s one that comes immediately to mind. I frequently quote this particular study where tendon dysfunction was deliberately induced in rat tail tendons.

Davidson, C. J., L. R. Ganion, et al. (1997). "Rat Tendon Morphologic and Functional-Changes Resulting from Soft-Tissue Mobilization." Med Sci Sport Exercise 29(3): 313-319.

This study has tremendous implications for massage, but I still disagree with the idea that animals (even rats) were subjected to this deliberate and inflicted harm so we could learn more about tendon dysfunction. It is a sticky issue to deal with, but one that as Cliff mentioned, is important that we have some discourse about so we can formulate appropriate and balanced perspectives.
Good example of a study that provides valuable information and simultaneously raises the ethical dilemma, Whitney.

Speaking only for myself, I don't think I could do that kind of research. But something that really interests me is that I implicitly support such research when I read it, learn from it, or attend a talk in which the scientist presents it. In other words, that research perpetuates itself - i.e., "look what we've learned, we have to do more..."

Technology may eventually present us with more ethical solutions. Eventually it may be possible to use stem cells to make the tendon without making the organism! But until that happens, I'm just not sure how to weigh the ethical issues, for myself, in animal research.

All my subjects are humans, and I never hurt them - they almost always get massage! Unlike just about every other psychologist, I NEVER have a problem getting people to be in my studies. I sometimes have to keep them out.

-CM

Whitney Lowe said:
Thanks everyone for the great comments and insight on this topic of animal research. I think I mentioned in my blog post that it was time to end all animal research and several of you have brought up interesting points that I think require me to clarify this position.

I realize there are some aspects of animal research where we may be studying animal behavior or doing some medical procedures with animals that would otherwise be injured or killed if experimental procedures were not performed on them. This seems to be a little bit of a different area.

My primary point of objection is the use of animals in research situations when they clearly have no say in the participation of the research activity. We may say that some research treats them better than they would be treated in the wild because life is much harder out there. But we are still making that decision for them and I am not convinced that it is within our moral right as one species to determine what kind of life another species would prefer (especially when it is being done for our advantage).

Christopher asked for some examples of how this has impacted me. Here’s one that comes immediately to mind. I frequently quote this particular study where tendon dysfunction was deliberately induced in rat tail tendons.

Davidson, C. J., L. R. Ganion, et al. (1997). "Rat Tendon Morphologic and Functional-Changes Resulting from Soft-Tissue Mobilization." Med Sci Sport Exercise 29(3): 313-319.

This study has tremendous implications for massage, but I still disagree with the idea that animals (even rats) were subjected to this deliberate and inflicted harm so we could learn more about tendon dysfunction. It is a sticky issue to deal with, but one that as Cliff mentioned, is important that we have some discourse about so we can formulate appropriate and balanced perspectives.
Whitney: I'm curious what you would have veterinary medicine base its research activities on. Additionally, I'm curious how you feel about botanists and casual gardeners who prune and uproot living flora.

Having lived on farms and ranches and worked in the food processing industry, this issue causes me to wonder what the typical city dwelling American thinks is the source of their daily "bread" and how it's processed on the way to their table. Can reasonable people disagree regarding what is both humane and necessary research/slaughter?

Given that after "White Supremacists" it has been reported that "Animal Rights Activists" are the second most active terrorist group in the USA today, I look forward to your response regarding this highly emotional issue.
I know you asked for Whitney's response, but I hope it's O.K. to add mine. Regarding botany and gardening, there is no reason to believe plants are sentient. They do not have a nervous system.

I'm not well acquainted with IRB standards for animal research, but I do know that generally a distinction is made between vertebrates and invertebrates. Presumably, the idea is that vertebrates, as a category, are likely to have richer conscious experience.

-CM

Noel Norwick said:
Whitney: I'm curious what you would have veterinary medicine base its research activities on. Additionally, I'm curious how you feel about botanists and casual gardeners who prune and uproot living flora.

Having lived on farms and ranches and worked in the food processing industry, this issue causes me to wonder what the typical city dwelling American thinks is the source of their daily "bread" and how it's processed on the way to their table. Can reasonable people disagree regarding what is both humane and necessary research/slaughter?

Given that after "White Supremacists" it has been reported that "Animal Rights Activists" are the second most active terrorist group in the USA today, I look forward to your response regarding this highly emotional issue.
I'm curious about everyone's opinion, so yours is most welcome. For what it's worth, based on my 62 years of life experience, I disagree with your belief that there is no reason to believe that flora are not sentient.

I believe that all life is sentient and "should" be treated with respect at all times. The belief that invertebrate, flora, bacteria, viruses, etc are to be viewed as "not sentient" calls into question how one one who lives within a "system" and survives/thrives by consuming other life forms within it can, without the appearance of "conflict of interest" define sentience to justify indiscriminate slaughter/research.

Christopher A. Moyer said:
I know you asked for Whitney's response, but I hope it's O.K. to add mine. Regarding botany and gardening, there is no reason to believe plants are sentient. They do not have a nervous system.

I'm not well acquainted with IRB standards for animal research, but I do know that generally a distinction is made between vertebrates and invertebrates. Presumably, the idea is that vertebrates, as a category, are likely to have richer conscious experience.

-CM

Noel Norwick said:
Whitney: I'm curious what you would have veterinary medicine base its research activities on. Additionally, I'm curious how you feel about botanists and casual gardeners who prune and uproot living flora.

Having lived on farms and ranches and worked in the food processing industry, this issue causes me to wonder what the typical city dwelling American thinks is the source of their daily "bread" and how it's processed on the way to their table. Can reasonable people disagree regarding what is both humane and necessary research/slaughter?

Given that after "White Supremacists" it has been reported that "Animal Rights Activists" are the second most active terrorist group in the USA today, I look forward to your response regarding this highly emotional issue.
Noel:
I understand that veterinary medicine certainly has to deal with animals in a different way. There is a great deal that may be learned from working with animals who are ill and this information can certainly be applied to working with others. The issue that I am bringing up is related to whether we choose to take healthy animals and subject them to research (for either our benefit or for veterinary medicine as you mention).

The question you bring up about pruning plants is also interesting. As Christopher mentions, plants don't have a nervous system as we know it but I don't know that I feel comfortable saying they are aren't sentient. If I remember correctly there are some research studies that have shown plants to be able to respond to certain human emotions/energies, so I honestly don't know if that would be the same. I think this is an interesting idea to pursue as well.

You mentioned food processing and to me that is a completely different subject. We all have to eat and we will either eat plant material, animal material, or both. So organisms will be killed for all of us to eat. We do have to look at how to do this in a humane way, but that is a different issue than research which is a voluntary effort to subject animals to certain experiences. Research is not a direct part of our momentary survival (as is eating), so to me there is a substantial difference.

The issue of animal rights activists being labeled as the "second most active terrorist group" is much more of a political issue that is separate from this discussion. You have to look at who it is that has labeled them a "terrorist group". This has a lot more to do with preventing harm to corporate profits of agribusiness than it does in protecting the public. I realize that animal rights activists engage in many destructive practices that I don't necessarily condone, but I honestly can't get behind the idea that this is a "dangerous" group of terrorists.


Noel Norwick said:
Whitney: I'm curious what you would have veterinary medicine base its research activities on. Additionally, I'm curious how you feel about botanists and casual gardeners who prune and uproot living flora.

Having lived on farms and ranches and worked in the food processing industry, this issue causes me to wonder what the typical city dwelling American thinks is the source of their daily "bread" and how it's processed on the way to their table. Can reasonable people disagree regarding what is both humane and necessary research/slaughter?

Given that after "White Supremacists" it has been reported that "Animal Rights Activists" are the second most active terrorist group in the USA today, I look forward to your response regarding this highly emotional issue.
Thanks for your considered response.
1. FYI - Animal Right Activists currently being ranked # 2 is not a political judgement, it's based on police/FBI statistical reporting of violent acts committed. Prior to our current President's election they were #1.

2. Re healthy animals subjected to traumatic/fatal experiments for the potential future benefit of humans and other other animals. My perspective is based on several propositions:
a. Humans appear genetically programmed with a bias for survival in the moment rather than to seek constantly more accuracy and efficiency in any task we undertake
b. Because we don't know what we don't know, those humans motivated to consider making the world a better place in the foreseeable future must pursue their curiosity. Thus, it seems to me that wide ranging research is not voluntary (at least if we truly want to benefit from progress/advancements in knowledge) and that research methodologies have commonly/historically troubled the roughly 85% of humanity who are firmly focused on the present (and among those with religious concerns, the after life).

3. While you perceive food processing as a completely different issue, having worked in the industry, I simply cannot separate the two. Humane treatment of all of our sources of food (indeed our entire universe as well) seems to me to be just as worthy an ideal as humane treatment of research subjects. Should you consider learning more about humane treatment of livestock, I suggest a book by Temple Grandin & Catherine Johnson entitled "Animals in Translation, Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior." Ms. Grandin (who is both autistic and a PhD) is one of the leading authorities on raising autistic human children and on designing humane feedlots, slaughter houses, etc.
.

Whitney Lowe said:
Noel:
I understand that veterinary medicine certainly has to deal with animals in a different way. There is a great deal that may be learned from working with animals who are ill and this information can certainly be applied to working with others. The issue that I am bringing up is related to whether we choose to take healthy animals and subject them to research (for either our benefit or for veterinary medicine as you mention). The question you bring up about pruning plants is also interesting. As Christopher mentions, plants don't have a nervous system as we know it but I don't know that I feel comfortable saying they are aren't sentient. If I remember correctly there are some research studies that have shown plants to be able to respond to certain human emotions/energies, so I honestly don't know if that would be the same. I think this is an interesting idea to pursue as well.

You mentioned food processing and to me that is a completely different subject. We all have to eat and we will either eat plant material, animal material, or both. So organisms will be killed for all of us to eat. We do have to look at how to do this in a humane way, but that is a different issue than research which is a voluntary effort to subject animals to certain experiences. Research is not a direct part of our momentary survival (as is eating), so to me there is a substantial difference.

The issue of animal rights activists being labeled as the "second most active terrorist group" is much more of a political issue that is separate from this discussion. You have to look at who it is that has labeled them a "terrorist group". This has a lot more to do with preventing harm to corporate profits of agribusiness than it does in protecting the public. I realize that animal rights activists engage in many destructive practices that I don't necessarily condone, but I honestly can't get behind the idea that this is a "dangerous" group of terrorists.


Noel Norwick said:
Whitney: I'm curious what you would have veterinary medicine base its research activities on. Additionally, I'm curious how you feel about botanists and casual gardeners who prune and uproot living flora.

Having lived on farms and ranches and worked in the food processing industry, this issue causes me to wonder what the typical city dwelling American thinks is the source of their daily "bread" and how it's processed on the way to their table. Can reasonable people disagree regarding what is both humane and necessary research/slaughter? Given that after "White Supremacists" it has been reported that "Animal Rights Activists" are the second most active terrorist group in the USA today, I look forward to your response regarding this highly emotional issue.
Well, as long as we are discussing this, where would you draw the line? Do you have qualms about disinfecting your kitchen countertop, because of the thousands of microorganisms you will kill? About taking antibiotics? Sex for other than procreational purposes? Et cetera. "Life" and "sentience" are not one and the same, and all of us are in the habit of killing thousands of things a day. But only some of the things we kill have nervous systems.

To date, there is little evidence to suggest that plants have consciousness. As you and Whitney correctly point out, it has been demonstrated that plants respond to their environment and to stressors like damage, temperature fluctuations, etc. But that does not mean they are sentient. Is it possible they could be? I guess so, but where does that logic end?

The best available evidence suggests that sentience depends on a complex nervous system. Until some different evidence comes along, that's what I'm going with. :) That still leaves open the issue of "how complex" does it need to be, and there are related issues that are interesting - i.e., how much loss of nervous system functioning must there be before a person is no longer "in there."

One of the hardest books I have tried to read in recent months is a book by Daniel Dennett entitled "Consciousness Explained". I do think this is the first book that I have started twice without finishing! I will finish it, eventually, but even without finishing it, I was able to learn a lot from it. One of the key points, which is very convincing, is that our experience of consciousness is probably very different from the structure of consciousness. Where am I going with this? I guess what I am trying to say is that it is very difficult to say, with any precision, just what "consciousness" is and what/who has it.

And, as long as we are discussing this, let me add that in most respects I think we are similar and agree on this issue. Apart from being carnivorous, which I have some qualms about (but not too many qualms, I guess!), I do almost anything I can to spare living creatures from harm. For example, I will take considerable effort to capture an insect and set it outside, rather than kill it, if it is in the house when it shouldn't be.

But I eat plants with impunity. :)

-CM

Noel Norwick said:
I'm curious about everyone's opinion, so yours is most welcome. For what it's worth, based on my 62 years of life experience, I disagree with your belief that there is no reason to believe that flora are not sentient.

I believe that all life is sentient and "should" be treated with respect at all times. The belief that invertebrate, flora, bacteria, viruses, etc are to be viewed as "not sentient" calls into question how one one who lives within a "system" and survives/thrives by consuming other life forms within it can, without the appearance of "conflict of interest" define sentience to justify indiscriminate slaughter/research.

Christopher A. Moyer said:
I know you asked for Whitney's response, but I hope it's O.K. to add mine. Regarding botany and gardening, there is no reason to believe plants are sentient. They do not have a nervous system.

I'm not well acquainted with IRB standards for animal research, but I do know that generally a distinction is made between vertebrates and invertebrates. Presumably, the idea is that vertebrates, as a category, are likely to have richer conscious experience.

-CM

Noel Norwick said:
Whitney: I'm curious what you would have veterinary medicine base its research activities on. Additionally, I'm curious how you feel about botanists and casual gardeners who prune and uproot living flora.

Having lived on farms and ranches and worked in the food processing industry, this issue causes me to wonder what the typical city dwelling American thinks is the source of their daily "bread" and how it's processed on the way to their table. Can reasonable people disagree regarding what is both humane and necessary research/slaughter?

Given that after "White Supremacists" it has been reported that "Animal Rights Activists" are the second most active terrorist group in the USA today, I look forward to your response regarding this highly emotional issue.

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