Animal use deters potential scientists from pursuing their ambitions

It has been suggested that the prospect of harming animals in their education has deterred passionate and creative students from pursuing a career in science, when they could have made a considerable contribution to the field if their learning objectives were achieved without animal use.

The following account has been provided to Humane Research Australia as a recent example.

My path to scientific research and why I chose to abandon it

Scientific research is often heralded as the solution to the problems we, as human beings, face in today’s world. However, oftentimes we forget the animals that suffer needlessly in the name of scientific research. Animals like rats, mice, rabbits, and even beagles. 

I, like many other young people, wanted to pursue a career in cancer research. I had known this was what I wanted to do since Year 10. I collected articles from newspapers and magazines about every new discovery in science from the age of about 14. I was interested in science immensely and was adamant I wanted to become a researcher and find a cure for cancer. 

After Year 12, I was accepted into a biomedical science course. I wasn’t required to test on live animals. I was required to analyse animals that had already been killed for us. However I didn’t see that as ethical either. 

After my initial doubts, I decided to look into cancer research online. It was a year of awakening for me because I realised that if you had ambitions of becoming a scientific researcher, you had to test on animals. It is customary practice in the scientific industry. For example, rats and mice are usually tested on in biomedical science research and pharmaceutical research. 

I only pursued this course for one year, when I decided that becoming a researcher wasn’t for me. I saw and still see testing on animals as an unethical practice. Also, I didn’t see myself having a career within a laboratory setting for the rest of my life. I was still really interested in science. Being young I still hadn’t decided exactly what I wanted to do in my career. It was only after I started my new course, the Bachelor of Science, that I realised there was the use of animals in three-hour-long practical lessons, if not more than in my previous course. 

In my final year, I studied zoology. In zoology the animals we had to dissect and analyse ranged from sea stars and cane toads to larger animals. In second year, it was expected we knew how to dissect dead animals and find the animal’s organs, such as heart, lungs, and stomach, as well as identify the cardiovascular system, the digestive system, the reproductive system, and the respiratory system. We were tested on this during exams. 

If you have ever dissected an animal, you will know that it is not a pleasant experience. Although some may argue that dissecting an animal is the best way of teaching how these systems work within an animal structure, I would argue that there are better methods for this. 

Throughout my degree, I was never aware that there were alternatives to animal dissection. As students, it was never brought to our attention by the academic teaching staff. I guess also that being a quieter person, I was scared of speaking up on behalf of myself and other people who shared my beliefs of not harming animals for teaching and research. Consequently, I went through my whole degree using animal subjects. 

Although I am proud of my achievements at university, reflecting back on my experience, I wasn’t really happy in my course. Because we already know so much about animals and how their bodies work, alternatives, such as computer programs or software, videos, diagrams, and clay models, can all be used to teach students equally as effectively. 

Within a primary school and high school setting, even observing animals in their natural environment is effective teaching. Within a tertiary setting, it is important to perhaps make students aware that they have a choice in whether they want to use animals within practical lessons or not. I think it is important to make that clear to students from day one of classes. I think that there is still a long way to go in terms of educating the scientific and cancer research community that ethical alternatives to animal testing exist and can be just as effective.

For me, I have abandoned the idea of ever doing scientific research. Not because I don't want to help cure cancer, but because of animal testing that is routine in this industry. I have now focused my attention to a completely different sector and am glad I made this choice.


Name Withheld, February 2016

You can get more information about Conscientious Objection, and to learn what your university's policy is here.
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