Mouse Pain vs. Human Pain

Today I sacrificed a laboratory mouse. Unlike most of the mice in my current study, this one lost its implanted electrode, leaving him with exposed skull and brain tissue. This is not a healthy situation, so I had to euthanize him for his own well-being. Specifically, this involved CO2 administration followed by cervical dislocation (to remove any doubt). I did not enjoy this.

Incidentally, the topic mouse pain figures prominently in this month’s Harper’s, which features an article about the mouse’s ascent within the modern biomedical research industry. Although the article is locked behind a subscription wall, I recommend picking up a hard copy. In the meantime, here’s what I learned from it:

  • The United States consumes 80 million rats and mice per year. Of the newborn male mice, 70% are euthanized because of their aggressive tendencies.
  • Neither mice nor rats are covered by the Animal Welfare Act, a law enforced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that is meant to protect research animals.
  • The scientific community’s prime mouse vendor – Jackson Laboratories – was founded by Clarence Little, who developed his first mouse lines while still an undergraduate at Harvard. Some of them, such as the Dilute, Brown and non-Agouti (DBA) strain, are in continued use today.
  • Jackson laboratories is currently developing ways to reduce the excessive consumption of mice by preserving sperm on ice and then producing strains on request.

The article advocates the inclusion of mice in future revisions of the Animal Welfare Act, which certainly seems like a good idea to me. Nonetheless, as one of many scientists that uses mice on a daily basis, I can assure you that we use the utmost restraint in mouse experimentation. We recognize their valuable role in curing disease and respect them as fellow animals.

Regardless, I think any researcher must subscribe at some level to the premise that human life is somehow worth more than mouse life. Call it speciesism, call it whatever you want, but I’d certainly rather 100 mice died than God forbid someone in my family. I view animal sacrifices as a necessary cost in the search for cures. Far from being merely hypothetical, life-saving cures discovered with mice are already here.

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2 responses to “Mouse Pain vs. Human Pain

  1. Pingback: Schizodoxe | le blog des mutations : sciences, technologie, robotique, culture, video, news, infos, analyses...

  2. If you’re using animals with chronically implanted electrodes, then I’d guess you’re using few enough that euthanasia via an overdose of pentobarb or similar may be a practical alternative if you want to avoid all that upsetting skittering-about you get with CO2.

    And you may or may not choose to take some comfort in the ongoing argument between Lynn Sneddon and Gary Rose about the capacity for fishes to experience pain. Rose, in my view, makes a compelling argument that they cannot. While it’s true that mice ain’t fish, at the very least, Rose draws the important distinction between nociception and pain and makes the point that while nociceptors are well-conserved and widely expressed among chordates, the same cannot be said for the neural equipment required for the emotional, anticipatory, and self-aware dimensions of pain, and thus its subjective quality may vary at least as much as its neural substrates. How far that argument can be taken with mice, I’ll leave to people who know more about mice brains than I.

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