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Canadian Council on Animal Care

Rats Get Priority Over Human

 By Dr. Gifford Jones  Thursday, October 7, 2010

Why write about rats as we start 2002? Surely there are more relevant topics to discuss. But as we begin another year I wonder why rats receive more humane treatment than humans! Will we ever get our priorities straight?

Let’s assume you’re a scientist using rats to find a cure for diabetes. How you conduct your research and handle rats is governed by the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC). This organization was established in 1968 to make certain all animals were treated in a humane way.

The CCAC inspects research premises to ensure animals are housed in clean quarters with qualified personnel to care for them.

It’s an organization with teeth and they’re prepared to bite if they discover something negligence. Lo and behold the researcher who strays from the guidelines. He or she suddenly finds that research funds are no longer available.

I agree that research on animals must be necessary, scientifically sound, and that animals are not subjected to undue pain or harm. How could anyone disagree with these rules?

But such strict guidelines still do not please all animal activists. Some want to stop all animal experimentation and they know how to play hard ball.

For instance, during a trip to England I interviewed one of the world’s renowned researchers on organ transplantation. Today the demand for hearts, kidneys and lungs cannot be filled by human donors.

Consequently, for several years this researcher has been conducting experiments on pigs. It’s his hope that pig kidneys can be genetically modified so they can be used for human transplantation. Then thousands of patient could then be taken off renal dialysis machines.

But even though we kill pigs for the dining room table some people object to this research. So what happened? While he was away one weekend activists climbed the roof of his home, inserted a hose into the chimney and turned on the water. Not a very friendly act.

Now what about humans? First, there’s no CCAC to look after us. To be sure, researchers do not experiment on us in the same manner as rats. But human experimentation exists in a number of different ways.

For example, for years surgeons mutilated women’s bodies by insisting on radical mastectomies to treat breast cancer. This in spite of the fact that it had been known for years that simple lumpectomy often gave the same results. A Canadian Council on Human Care (CCHC) would have ended this practice years earlier.

What about chemotherapy? It undoubtedly cures some types of malignancy. But for many it merely prolongs misery in their final days without extending decent life. A CCHC would take a much more critical look at who receives chemotherapy particularly when there’s minimal chance of recovery.

Every year I receive letters from families who complain about terminal care. How a loved one with days to live was subjected to needless treatments and tests when it was obvious to all that the end was near. They ask me, “Why didn’t the doctors use common sense? Why did they insist on useless and painful treatment to the last drop of blood?”

Others ask why a loved one with unrelenting terminal cancer pain was prescribed Tylenol #3. They question, “Why did the doctors worry about addiction when there were only days to live?”

Tragedies such as these would never be tolerated by a CCAC. If a rat or a pig were treated this way animal activists would howl from one end of this country to another. And the cruelty would end with the speed lightning.

I don’t agree that animal research should be stopped. Nor do I agree when some activists break into and trash animal research centers. But whether or not you like their tactics animals today are treated in a humane way. And fear of retaliation is the driving factor for this custom.

As Dr. Howard Dickson, Professor of Anatomy at Dalhousie University, says, “The last thing we want is animal activists camped out at our front doors saying we’re torturing animals.”

I doubt that the President of the CCAC is going to take on the cause of humans. Possibly this organization feels humans are wise enough to care for themselves. Regrettably our track record shows otherwise.

I have no idea when human care will catch up with that of rats. But in 2001 there was some progress in California. A jury in Alameda County awarded $1.5 million to the family of a man who accused his doctor of not prescribing enough pain medication during a battle with lung cancer. The jury found the doctor had committed “elder abuse”.

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Dr. Gifford Jones  Bio
Dr. Gifford Jones Most recent columns

W. Gifford-Jones M.D is the pen name of Dr. Ken Walker graduate of The Harvard Medical School. He’s been a ship’s surgeon, hotel physician and family doctor and later trained in surgery at McGill in Montreal, University of Rochester N.Y. and Harvard. His medical column is published by 60 Canadian newspapers and several in the U.S. He is the author of seven books. Dr. Walker has a medical practice in Toronto. His Web site is: http://www.mydoctor.ca/gifford-jones

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