What Happens to the Animals When Research Is Interrupted?

Nathan Herschler, November 15, 2018

Our thoughts are with all the people and animals affected by the fires ravaging California this week. In this series we continue to look at the suffering experienced by animals trapped in labs when disasters strike. In our last blog post, we looked at the impacts of hurricanes on animals in labs and learned that many of the animals who initially survive disasters are still killed by animal researchers when their research is “interrupted.”

What happens to animals when an experiment or study ends?

When a research experiment or study is completed or interrupted by a disaster, the animals are generally euthanized. This happens because the animals are suffering and no longer in good health due to the experiment, or because there is simply no place to house the animals. Additionally, it may be difficult to re-home or move laboratory animals to sanctuary because they are often injured or diseased as a result of scientific testing. If animals are not euthanized, this is usually because they are being used again for other studies and experiments. It’s only a lucky few, like Emma the chimpanzee at Project Chimps, who make their way to sanctuary after testing.

Why are animals euthanized in research experiments and studies?

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) sets guidelines for animal euthanasia in research experiments. Though the AVMA does not set specific standards for when an animal should be killed, they note that, “[E]uthanasia may be considered to be the right course to spare the animal from what is to come . . . , if medical intervention would only prolong a terminal condition, or if current health conditions cannot be successfully mitigated.” “Death, in this case, may be a welcome event and euthanasia helps to bring this about, because the animal’s life is not worth living but, rather, is worth avoiding.”

How do researchers determine when an animal should be killed?

Though there are no specific guidelines, the AVMA notes that it is appropriate to kill an animal when he or she “no longer continues to enjoy good welfare . . . [or] no longer has a life worth living.” The AVMA further suggests it is also appropriate to euthanize when animals are not showing present signs of suffering, but in order to prevent future harm.

It is shocking that the AVMA suggests welfare is the reason to euthanize animals when it supports their use in testing despite the welfare ramifications. It may also be surprising to the public that there are not laws governing the decision to euthanize laboratory animals and that the AVMA guidelines (which are not enforceable by citizens) allow substantial room for laboratories to decide when and how to euthanize animals. This results in horrific abuses like the kitten slaughterhouse run by USDA.

How are animals euthanized?

Animals may be euthanized by gases such as Halothane, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide; or by physical methods including cervical dislocation, decapitation, and focused beam microwave irradiation. We will be exploring the suffering caused by these euthanasia methods in future blog posts.

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