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 Please Help Me - Animal Research 
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Joined: January 3rd, 2011, 5:48 pm
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Hello,

I am writing because I have a moral conundrum. I have just secured my first job in Science and it involves animal research (specifically, working with mice). Most of the things that the mice are involved with are completely benign, however once the mice are no longer needed they are sacrificed. The methods used to sacrifice the mice are designed to be as instantaneous and painless as possible, so as to reduce suffering experienced by the animal to an absolute minimum (e.g. overdose of anaesthesia). Upon accepting the job offer, I knew that it would involve working with animals. However, I have recently been asked to learn how to sacrifice mice. My supervisor has assured me that this is optional, so I do not have to do it. However, I am aware that if I do not learn how to do this, I will have to rely on other people to carry it out on my behalf. Also, I get the impression that although this is not absolutely compulsory, that my fellow employees and superiors would prefer that I do learn this, so as to be able to work autonomously and, I suppose, to be less of a burden on them. I too would like to be able to work independently. However, I have reservations with killing any living creature - I grew up saving shrews and birds from the grip of my pet cats and setting them free at the local pond. I came into Science precisely to do good - to benefit humanity (and preferably not to harm any living being in the process). I understand that it is necessary to create in vivo models so as to be better able to understand disease and ultimately to help treat disease. In this sense, perhaps animal research can be considered a sacrifice for the greater good. However, when I consider the potential outcomes of the Project with which I am involved, I do not think that it is likely to produce a substantial benefit to humanity in these terms. It certainly is unlikely to reduce mortality to any significant degree, even in the long term. Granted, it may well substantially reduce morbidity in the medium- to long- term. In the meantime, hundreds of animal lives will be lost. On balance, I am not sure that it is morally justifiable. I am not a vegetarian and broadly accept animal research, however I feel unable to carry this out. Mostly, I am confused. Am I just being a hypocrite? Would I just be making my colleagues' lives more difficult by not doing this? Or should I listen to my conscience? I have thought about this at some length and so far I have concluded that ultimately, I only have to answer to myself. The problem is, if I do sacrifice mice, I am not sure that I would be able to look myself in the mirror without feeling guilt and shame. I am not sure that I would be able to forgive myself.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. What do you think I should do? Any advice, comments or help would be greatly appreciated.

Lost_One.


January 3rd, 2011, 6:02 pm
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hi Lost One - as you are not actually required to do this sacrificing yourself, and presumably other staff are already doing it, I think you could reasonably save your own distaste and conscience by declining to do it. If you do this, you are still no more a hypocrite than are the vast majority of us who depend on medicines and do not spend too much time thinking about these aspects. The main thing is that the mice are not actually suffering; also, their presumably brief lives are producing some benefit, from what you say. You may eventually find it less of a problem and be able to perform these procedures, but I think there is no purpose in saddling yourself with an extra worry at this stage.

Sorry - welcome to this forum!


January 3rd, 2011, 6:19 pm
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First of all, Lost_One, welcome to the forum :D

Though I too would not like to kill mice, I do not think there is a moral problem with what you are being asked to do. The mice are (probably) being bred for experimentation, without which they would have had no life at all. When I was at school, mice were bred for dissection in class. (And stored in the deep freeze, and frequently thrown at the unsuspecting. Kids, eh?) So long as their death is humane, (the mice, that is, not kids) I think you should steel yourself. Not to do so for ethical reasons would also have implications for the ethics of your job too. But if you can get away with not doing it, then try it. I can't help feeling you'll have to face it later, though. Is there any possibility that the dead mice could be used to feed other creatures? Owls or snakes, perhaps?


January 3rd, 2011, 6:24 pm
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Greetings, Lost One - I think I recognise this sort of problem.

I agree with animist. But in the final outcome it is only your personal values that can really decide the outcome. I hope that merely writing it down helps also, but do not fall into the trap of doing so to many people or organisations, that only adds to the confusion rather than finding a consensus that suits you.

I would offer one suggestion: write out "bullet points", a "plus" set and a "minus" set, just short sentences. Then do not look at them for 24 hours. When you do look at them do so critically - did you really mean what you wrote in either list? What is left may be as close to being objective as you can manage with such a dilemma.

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January 3rd, 2011, 6:31 pm
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I note you say you're not a vegetarian. (Neither am I.) So your moral objection to causing the death of an animal is not total, is it? Are you sure it is a moral objection, and not just squeamishness?

PS: :welcome:


January 3rd, 2011, 6:51 pm
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For me, the only reason that morality would enter into it is the method of killing. If it is indeed quick and painless, no problems from an ethical standpoint. Remember that mice presumably have no fear of death; it's all instinctual in them. The reason murder is so terrible for humans is that we think about death, we are afraid of it, even though it's kind of illogical, since there's no pain or mental anguish once we're deceased. For other animals, the moral equation is different.

From the standpoint of squeamishness, I sympathize. From the standpoint of empathy for the little critters, I sympathize. From the moral standpoint, I absolve you. Three Hail Marys and two Our Fathers.


January 3rd, 2011, 7:05 pm
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Quote:
Wilson
Remember that mice presumably have no fear of death;
I don't believe that, surely all sentient animals have a fear of death, otherwise why would the mouse run from the cat? The gazelle run from the lion? The rabbit run from the dog? Et al.
Quote:
Lost_One
What do you think I should do?
Paragraph breaks would be good :wink:

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January 3rd, 2011, 8:36 pm
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Alan C. wrote:
Quote:
Wilson
Remember that mice presumably have no fear of death;
I don't believe that, surely all sentient animals have a fear of death, otherwise why would the mouse run from the cat? The gazelle run from the lion? The rabbit run from the dog? Et al.
but they would not think that nice big gentle scientists (like maybe Lost One) were about to euthanise them, would they?


January 3rd, 2011, 8:41 pm
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Alan C. wrote:
Quote:
Wilson
Remember that mice presumably have no fear of death;
I don't believe that, surely all sentient animals have a fear of death, otherwise why would the mouse run from the cat? The gazelle run from the lion? The rabbit run from the dog? Et al.
Quote:
Lost_One
What do you think I should do?
Paragraph breaks would be good :wink:
Are you sure that is sentience, Alan, and not simply evolutionary programmed instinctive behaviour? If you are correct please do not swat bluebottles, they fly away from a threat so are they not also sentient by your definition?

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January 3rd, 2011, 9:05 pm
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:wave: and welcome Lost_One.

I can understand this is hard for you - you've passed the exams, gained the dream job, and yet still there's more hoops to go through...

Thundril makes sense to me on this one. Would you eat meat (which I also do) if you had to kill it as painlessly and humanely as possible yourself? (I still would but less often :) ). Perhaps Nick's idea of feeding them to owls or snakes (but they have to be live for the latter, another moral conundrum?) could mollify the necessity? Has anyone from there ever talked to the local zoos and snakey folk? I do apologise for not having the right word currently

I think perhaps in your shoes I would have a few coffees with colleagues and chat to them how they felt about it initially, and how they feel now they are doing it. It would be surprising if no new team members had qualms, and their insight and experience could help you make up your mind, as well as giving you insight into your new colleagues.

I do also wonder if it's some sort of rite of passage within the organisation. You don't mention your gender nor the gender balance of your work, but could you being "tested" in some way?

Sacrificing seems a word slightly out of place to me, is that really what it's called?

crossposted with animist and dave


January 3rd, 2011, 9:11 pm
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Quote:
If you are correct please do not swat bluebottles,
I don't Dave, I open a window and shepherd them out, likewise bees in the poly tunnels, they come in for the nectar then can't find their way out, so I catch them in a jar and release them outside, I also check the shower curtain for spiders before turning on the water.
I believe every living thing with a brain and a nervous system has a fear of death, or at least an instinct for self preservation.

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January 3rd, 2011, 9:22 pm
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Quote:
. . . . instinct for self preservation.
I believe that "instinct" is the critical word there, Alan - not sentience. I will admit that the wanton killing, even of vermin that carry disease, is questionable. Bees and spiders (along with wasps) I try to preserve especially.

But I also believe that we humans have a purely instinctive side, despite what the boffins claim!

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January 3rd, 2011, 9:28 pm
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Alan C. wrote:
Quote:
If you are correct please do not swat bluebottles,
I don't Dave, I open a window and shepherd them out, likewise bees in the poly tunnels, they come in for the nectar then can't find their way out, so I catch them in a jar and release them outside, I also check the shower curtain for spiders before turning on the water.
I believe every living thing with a brain and a nervous system has a fear of death, or at least an instinct for self preservation.

Speaking as an axe-murderer, I'm feeling somewhat self-conscious..... :wink:

Many moons ago, I read that we humans have only two natural fears, a fear of heights and fear of a loud noise. All the others (eg spiders, fire, eternal damnation etc.,) are learned. Whether that is completely right, I am not in a position to say. However, I'm sure a baby has no concept of death as such, nor does a fox being chased. It does have a learned fear of pain and a sense of danger, however. How much of that is instinctive, I don't know. Time to "Ask a biologist".


January 3rd, 2011, 10:11 pm
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I was thinking about things that may have been programmed in since our primitive days. There are certain common responses to an itch etc. that I do not think are learned but have a definite pattern. The "slap-scratch" is to kill whatever bug was causing the itch/bite then remove the remains from the skin and maybe squeeze out/scrape off any injected nasties. There are other such instinctive reactions that may be purely programmed with a survival value, that beat the conscious thought. No time for analysis and tactic selection when life is under threat. But you can practice actions until they appear instinctive if you have enough brain cells and time to spare.

This is not helping our new friend though.

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January 3rd, 2011, 10:29 pm
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Thank you all for replying. Dear Animist, I would very much like to take your advice right now on just declining to do it. And you are right, Nick, the mice are being bred specifically for this purpose and otherwise would not have been born. So on the one hand, I can see how this might go some way to justifying the sacrifice. However, on the other hand, once that life has been created, it is very really at our discretion whether or not to allow the life to continue, or to end it. I do not believe in God per se (I am agnostic), but it does smack a bit of 'playing God'; I am not sure that I want that kind of responsibility on my shoulders. [And yes, I am a big gentle Scientist :wink: ].

I hadn't considered the possibility of using the cadavers as food for other animals, I could look into this. I did ask to see whether or not the mice could simply be freed, or even taken home as pets, apparently they can so long as the mice are wild type and have had no procedures done on them. Unfortunately, pretty well all of the mice are genetically modified and/or have undergone experimental procedures.

I also had not considered Thundril's point that perhaps this is just a case of squeamishness. I have no difficulty with performing a dissection on a cadaver, it just seems to be the in-between part that I can't handle. But it still remains possible that squeamishness has something to do with it.

I agree with you Wilson that the mice's practical lack of suffering somewhat makes the sacrifice more justifiable; however, it would still involve making an absolute decision about the life or death of another creature. Who am I to make that sort of a decision? The only reason that my doing so would be deemed acceptable is, presumably, because I am a human and a mouse is a mouse. Do we not each have equal life and a beating heart, consciousness and feelings? The mouse has just as much life as I do. Why should I get to decide the mouse's demise? It just seems wrong. And I know that I am essentially making exactly the same decision every time I eat meat. Maybe I should become a vegetarian.

And to Fia, one of my colleague's has talked to me about her experience and reservations with sacrificing mice. I think that she has done it in the past, and still does do it occasionally herself, however oftentimes she asks other members of staff to do it for her, whom don't seem to mind too much. She told me that she 'never thought she would be able to sacrifice mice'. Perhaps my colleagues do consider it a rite of passage, I don't know. I am female, by the way. The gender split seems to be pretty much 50:50. How might I be being tested? It is called sacrificing, it is also more commonly called culling. Sacrifice just seems nicer.

Sorry Alan for the lack of paragraph breaks, I just wanted to get my (muddled) ideas down as quickly as possible. I know the ordering and structure were, non-existent.

I still have not decided what to do, so I am going to take your advice Dave and make a list to try and think somewhat objectively about the situation.

Having thought about it some more, I don't think that the resistance is really coming from any intellectual argument. I think it is a physical emotional reaction that I have to personally being responsible for the death of a living creature...

Lost_One.


January 3rd, 2011, 11:54 pm
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if a "person" or animal can experience pain and suffering then we owe it to the other to give some proper consideration to its overall welfare.

it is slightly irrelevant whether they were born for experimentation or in the wild. afterall, who would seek to justify breeding humans and killing them for experiments ?

the same applies to pain - killing animals is not necessarily acceptable simply because the the means of death is painless. that is ignoring other obvious duties of care towards them.

if you work with animals you will be aware that there are moral issue in experimenting on animals

you will also clearly be aware that non-trivial experiments have the potential to advance medical science and lead to new treatments which may reduce suffering

it is for you to decide where the balance of right and wrong lies in this case

it seems to me that the killing of control groups via anaesthesia is also dependent on the broader issue of whether the experiments are justified. if you feel that they are then you might decide to go ahead with the anaesthesia.

if the experiments are not in any way justifiable then you will have to decide whether you are able to continue with them even though you believe it to be unethical.


January 4th, 2011, 2:09 am
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To quote Johnnywas, it is for you to decide where the balance of right and wrong lies in this case, I say that the clear thinking we clever humans expect each other to have is not possible. The crucial word is 'balance'. There is no pure right or wrong; it is a balance between the two.
If killing any animal at any time was wrong we would only do it in self defence. We would not do it to eat.
If one is an omnivore, or uses medicine that has been tested on animals - or cosmetics etc then one accepts that animals die. They die whether one gives it any thought or not; they die whether one is prepared to do the killing oneself or not.

So what one is facing in such circumstances is not a moral issue but a personal choice issue. Can you bare to do it or not?
You either have to give it a try and then either struggle on with it or walk away from it - or you do not give it a try and just walk away.
I think I know what you will do. Best wishes, Lost One.


January 4th, 2011, 7:26 am
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Alan C. wrote:
I don't believe that, surely all sentient animals have a fear of death, otherwise why would the mouse run from the cat? The gazelle run from the lion? The rabbit run from the dog? Et al.


I misspoke. What I meant to say was that mice and probably all other non-humans have no concept of death. Presumably they don't ruminate on non-existence. They have fear, of course, as a protective mechanism to ensure survival of the species. My point was that with animals, if the killing is swift and unexpected, there is no emotional trauma, and seems to me to be okay from a moral standpoint. In fact, it would be ideal if we didn't think about death and worry about death, and then one day after my alloted time, a lightning bolt snuffed me out in an instant.


January 4th, 2011, 10:09 pm
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Nick wrote:
Speaking as an axe-murderer, I'm feeling somewhat self-conscious..... :wink:
well, your name is Nick, after all :hilarity:


January 5th, 2011, 4:20 pm
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I'm a bit late responding to this one, but it's an interesting dilemma so I feel the urge to join in. Hello, Lost_One, and welcome.

I think that by knowingly accepting a job that involves experimentation on animals you have already agreed to take your share of the responsibility for what happens to them. Of course animals were going to be killed as a consequence of the work. I hate to say it, but it was naive of you if you thought otherwise. I cannot see any justification for you to decide not to learn how to kill the mice for "moral" reasons, if those moral reasons were not enough to stop you taking the job, or dissecting animals that someone else has killed, or eating meat. Such a stance does strike me as somewhat hypocritical.

I can certainly understand your squeamishness, however. And I don't think squeamishness is a bad thing. I suppose there's a chance that if you did learn to kill the mice you might actually lose that squeamishness, perhaps even to the extent that you become blasé about the whole thing, and that would be a shame. From what you've said, though, it seems more likely that you would continue to feel uncomfortable about killing the mice, and compassion for them, and that you would strive to carry out that procedure as carefully as possible, with the object of causing them as little pain as possible. And that would be a good thing. Sometimes vets are required to put down healthy animals, and I'm sure that many of them find that very distressing. Surely it's better, though, that such animals be killed by compassionate vets than by those who don't really give a damn.

If I were in your shoes, and had made the decisions you've already made, I think I would want to learn the procedure. Although, of course, I can't be certain of that. I am squeamish. And I am a vegetarian. Vegan, in fact. Though I still occasionally use medicines that have been tested on animals, so, as animist says, I have to take my share of the responsibility, too. But because I am uncomfortable with the whole idea of research, even medical research, on sentient animals, I think it is important to support efforts to find alternative methods — for example, the work of the Dr Hadwen Trust. Perhaps one day you'll be able to find work in research that does not entail animal experimentation.

Anyway, whatever you do, good luck!

Emma


January 5th, 2011, 5:34 pm
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