Does a mouse’s suffering matter?

A shocking incident has been discovered at the University of Eastern Finland: Despite being told several times to end the mice’s suffering, a researcher at the university had refused. The magazine Seura reported on the story on 7th May 2020. The police began a criminal investigation but it was dropped almost immediately.

The incident took place in spring 2018. According to Seura, in May of the same year staff at the Lab Animal Centre discovered that some of the mice involved in gene therapy research had developed injuries causing such severe pain that they ought to be euthanized immediately. The mice had been gnawing at their limbs and necrosis had resulted in parts of their legs falling off.

The researcher refused to euthanise the animals. They also forbade other staff to euthanise them. At the Lab Animal Centre’s insistence, the mice received pain medication for a few days, until the researcher wanted to significantly cut down on the medication as well. The mice began to bite their limbs again.

The researcher and the Lab Animal Centre had a long struggle over euthanising the mice. Eventually the researcher reported having euthanised the animals, but it was left unclear how long the mice had been subjected to severe pain. And it was not even the first time this researcher was in a similar situation: A year earlier the same researcher had refused to euthanise a test rabbit that had sustained injuries to its leg. The rabbit was not euthanised by anyone else, either.

Animal testing takes place in strictly closed facilities. Without any neighbours – to say nothing of casual visitors – monitoring them, everything that takes place there rests on the morality and boldness of the staff. Who has the courage to intervene if they discover that the boundaries of an animal testing licence have been breached? The animal technicians in charge of daily care of the animals? They would be opposing a researcher who may be in a high position in the university hierarchy. If the researcher will not obey the laboratory animal facility’s manager, who is the ultimate authority in these facilities? Self-monitoring or faith in people’s own morality are in no way sufficient when dealing with the care of instrumentalised animals – this was made shockingly evident once again.

We usually want to believe in the inherent goodness of other people. If laboratory animal researchers assure us that the animals are given the best possible care, being valuable instruments of scientific research, we are inclined to believe that. Unfortunately, ambitions, desire for financial gain and sheer indifference to animal suffering are also harshly evident in animal testing. The way the police dealt with the matter also implies that laboratory animals’ suffering has no significance. One can not help thinking that this incident is again just the tip of the iceberg.

Yet, the biggest problem is not what takes place inside the testing facilities. The biggest problem is that we continue to allow animal testing in the first place. There is an EU directive with a clear demand to do away with animal testing. Our journey toward this goal is, however, frustratingly slow, as enough common desire, not to mention funding, only seems to exist on paper.

We can no longer help these mice. Still, we can have an impact on how many laboratory animals are used in experiments in future, and on animal testing one day being banned altogether.  Today, more than 100,000 animals suffer and die in animal research in Finland each year. Animalia demands that animal tests now be markedly reduced in the manner called for by the EU directive. Also, the government must substantially increase funding for alternative, non-animal research methods. You can help by signing our petition. The link can be found below this article.

Image: Adobe Stock

Translation: Satu Ranta

References (each link will open in a new tab)

Animalia petition for reducing animal tests and increasing funding for non-animal approaches

Seura (7th May 2020). Pienten koe-eläinten kohtelusta nousi iso riita Itä-Suomen yliopistossa – Syyttäjä määräsi poliisin tutkimaan, kärsivätkö jalkansa menettäneet hiiret liikaa 

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