PETA recently sounded the alarm on cruel experiments on cats up at UW-Madison, and many of my Facebook friends have expressed shock, anger, and disgust about the news. I didn't even read the details, and I already wanted to cry at work. So, I didn't read it yet, and it slipped my mind by the time I got home.
(I welcome comments and thoughts on this, with a couple of rules. Be nice, and don't attack people. Focus on the issue. All comments that are abusive will be deleted.)
Today, I finally took a look at the Change.org petition, thinking about signing it. I'm always suspicious of PETA, because they have a poor track record when it comes to animals, themselves. I looked at the picture. Poor kitty, with steel rods in his head. What are those things on the side? Wait...those are cochlear implant processors.
They looked like the Nucleus Freedom from Cochlear Americas. They were my previous kind of processors (I'm on the Nucleus 5 now.) Then I remembered that Dr. Graeme Clark experimented on cats when he was inventing the cochlear implant, before he finally implanted it in a human. I'm not 100% sure why cats of all animals, but I'm not surprised that they're continuing to experiment on them, carrying on Dr. Clark's legacy.
Those poor cats, with the stupid effing implanted things on their heads.
But it is those experiments that help me to hear better. It helped this 29 year old woman hear herself for the first time. It helped this adorable little boy hear his mom again. It helped a friend's daughter hear. For the people whose deafness require cochlear implants over hearing aids, it has been incredibly helpful.
Animal experimentation also has helped scientists develop the bone-anchored and auditory brainstem implants. It's helping to develop hearing aid implants that go directly onto the brain. It's helping to develop implants that will help blind people see. Animal experimentation also helped to develop a whole host of medical procedures and discoveries that save and improve lives. Wikipedia only scratches the surface with some of the more important discoveries.
Can a balance be struck between animal experimentation and human lives?
It is an ethical debate of the ages, for the ages. And I accidentally fell smack in the middle of it. Is it ever okay to ever test on animals? Or can testing be justified if it is limited to the fewest number of animals and the least invasive types of tests, for the benefit of millions of people?
Somehow, I thought that cats who wore experimental cochlear implants romped around with a headband like little babies wear, that keeps the processors on. I didn't know they wore a freakish metal thing on their heads like something out of a bad sci-fi movie.
The metal thing on the head would be less grotesque if the cats were adequately cared for--which UW-Madison seems to suck at. Seriously--open wounds that fester, ossified external implants that get rejected, starving cats for days to ensure cooperation with tests, and then...off with their heads! No wonder PETA is protesting.
Yet I shudder at the idea of halting all cat experiments. I understand some may hate me for this, but I still think a balance can be possible. It may be more expensive, it may take longer, but it will hopefully be more humane. And it will still let advances be found in a way that does not sacrifice human lives and well-being.
Which brings me to ask--is it possible to make the experiments more like what I imagined? Some thoughts:
Is it possible for the researchers to greatly reduce the size of that thing on their head? Eliminate it altogether? Remove it if the poor kitty's body shows signs of rejecting it? It seems to be a means of attaching the processors to the kitties--there are such things as headbands and body-worn processors. Try those.
I do know it is possible to let cats who have received the implants to heal BEFORE any testing. In humans, you have to wait at least a month before you can put on the processor for the first time. I suspect, with the open woulds festering, that the scientists aren't letting the cats heal properly.
Are the cats being given anesthesia and pain medication while they heal? You know--like human recipients get? Photos show anesthesia tubes, but I can't tell about pain meds. The photos are grotesque, but if you look at the video and photos of human cochlear implants, it's also yucky.
I do know one side effect of the implant is facial twitches, because of the grounding wire. I didn't get the twitch, but some people do. I can see why some cats faced that side effect, too. Even removing it doesn't necessarily get rid of the twitch or side effect. It is a side effect faced by people, too.
Are the cats getting love from people? A chance to play? A chance to get out of the cage for a little while? The depression some of the cats fell into is NOT right.
I do know that there is absolutely NO reason to starve a cat for days. Yes, there's the fast period that cats need before surgery and some tests--but that's a necessary short term measure. Is starvation necessary for sound localization tests? NO. In fact, if a cat goes too long without eating, they quickly get fatty liver and other complications. Our pets must go to the vet if they refuse to eat for a couple of days. I can't imagine not feeding the cat for SIX DAYS.
I do know that the cats need more care for wounds, which UW-Madison keeps failing at.. What happened to some of the cats is inexcusable. If it happened in a hospital and with human subjects, what would testers do? They have to stop and treat the person, perhaps even calling off any further testing on that one individual. Do the same for the kitties.
How can one secure permission from cats for the tests? Some people argue that it is not humane to test on animals that can't give their consent, but then again, how can consent be garnered? Could we do it in the way that we conduct experiments on children? Parents and guardians must give the consent on behalf of the children for any tests, procedures, or experiments. Perhaps we should appoint guardians on behalf of the cats who can make the final say as to whether the cats can be experimented with on any given day. This would help make sure that the cats get healing time with those open wounds, and if they are getting depressed, to go to a cat home because, clearly, they're done with the tests.
Are those search coils (tiny coils that go in the eye to track eye movement) necessary, or can their eyes be tracked using cameras instead? Judging from this example video of the sound localization tests, it seems easy enough to track eye movement without surgery on the eyes.
I do know that euthanization is a tough decision, done when it can ease intractable pain for cats. But the rate of euthanization for lab mistakes is inexcusable. Really, when the cat reaches the end of its usefulness for the experiments because of age or illness, the kitties should be moved to a hospice or other home that will let them live out their lives happily, loved and fed. THEN, when they do die, either of natural causes or when euthanasia is necessary, can the scientists dissect the head to examine the long-term effect of the implant.
With changes like these, I think it might be possible to continue the testing in a more humane manner.
What do you think? (Again, be civil and kind.)