Students weigh in on animal testing

Debates surrounding animal-testing circle the globe with different reactions and ethical reasonings. Some individuals, including VCU students, however, continue to question their uses in experiments.

“We treat these animals like…they have no feelings, no emotions,” said Ryan Pupa, a junior mass communications major. “They feel pain…That would be the biggest reason why I am against testing.”

Ryan Jones, a sophomore who hasn’t decided on a major, said he, too, cannot fully grasp why such research becomes necessary.

“So you (the student) dissect a frog. You find out what a frog looks like on the inside,” he said. “So the next time you go to a pond, you can see a frog and say, ‘You know his aorta is a little wider than I would have expected it to be.’ ”

Still, Jenna Rice a junior forensic-science major, views testing as necessary but she remains concerned about animals rights:

“We have to use the testing if we want to progress with medicine, but at the same time it is wrong because we don’t really know how it is affecting the animals.”

Wayne Barbee, chairman of VCU’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, or IACUC, said animal testing has been involved in almost all of the major medical advances in the past 100 years.

“There is a difference between animal rights and animal welfare,” he said. “The institution (VCU) is concerned with animal welfare.”

Nicole Lewitzke, a senior biology major, agreed that animal testing and dissections are necessary.

“You can only learn so much from a book,” she said. “Some people need that hands-on experience,” she said.

Barbee, who said that the animal care and use committee regulates only the usage of live animals, considers evaluations like Lewitzke’s correct because a person cannot use a computer model or program to duplicate meticulous procedures used by physicians.

“There are things that you can see and do with a live animal that you will never learn from a cadaver or computer model,” he said.

Besides some VCU students, animal-rights activists contend that testing on animals is inhumane and unnecessary. Such groups as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals argue that testing on animals is irrelevant because of the differences in human biology and animal biology.

Thus, VCU’s animal care and use committee has a long list of regulations and protocol that must be reviewed and analyzed before conducting any experiment.

“There are 16 pages of forms, and you must answer all of the questions before you can even order an animal at all,” said Jennifer Stewart, an associate professor of biology who serves on the animal care and usage internal committee at VCU. Stewart said simple tests like drawing blood from a lab mouse requires at least a month to be reviewed.

Even though time and thought go into the care and ethical treatment of animals, some students still refer to the classes where they and their peers dissect frogs and fetal pigs as inhumane.

“With each course,” Barbee said, “the instructor needs to consider the course objectives and what the student needs to get out of that course.”

Regardless, some students reportedly were advised that they must witness the dissection to receive credit. They call such witnessing “insensitive” to them as human beings.

“I told my professor that I was vegetarian. And I asked him if there was any other alternative, or if I could just not have to do any dissection. He said ‘No.’ I had to do the dissection,” said Shana O’Leary, a junior psychology major.

Other students interviewed about in-class lab dissections, said their labs involved dissecting a fetal pig or frog. Each section of those classes had a 1-4 or 1-5 ratio of fetal pigs or frogs to students, which one student, Ryan Jones, considers important.

“There should just be a level of civility and good taste. You can’t slaughter a million frogs so that every certain kid has a frog to dissect in bio class,” he said.

Barbee said VCU has no set policy regarding animal dissections. Nonetheless, some students recommended that animal dissection classes be reserved for students who know they want to become biology students rather than for everyone who completes it as a general-education course. They suggest that students, disinterested in biology as a major or a career not have to participate in sections involving dissections.

“If you know that you are not going to be a biology student, then it just doesn’t seem relevant,” Jones said, ” ’cause it seems like your learning curve is lost cause most of the time you’re worried about ‘how gross is what I am about to touch?’

“If it were more relevant to the curriculum then it should be included.”

Barbee said VCU retains the highest standards of animal-care and-use and is a member of the organization that accredits universities.

“We just underwent a site visit this past spring, and we received full accreditations with no mandatory items (to be corrected), only suggestions” Barbee said, adding that he considers this an achievement.

On the other hand, animal dissection, not accreditation remained the issue for students. Eric Raezer, a senior medical-illustration major, for instance, agreed that dissections should be limited to biology-related majors only.

“If you’re not premed, then I don’t think it’s necessary,” he said.

(Bailey Stephens, editor of Powhatan High School’s newspaper, contributed to this report.)

Examples of the forms that the experimenters use are available online at http://www.orsp.vcu.edu/IACUC-DOCS/IACUC_form.doc.

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