The Shutdown’s Smallest Victims


Lab animals:

The government shutdown is likely to mean an early death for thousands of mice used in research on diseases such as diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s. Federal research centers including the National Institutes of Health will have to kill some mice to avoid overcrowding, researchers say. Others will die because it is impossible to maintain certain lines of genetically altered mice without constant monitoring by scientists. And most federal scientists have been banned from their own labs since Oct. 1.

Fallows isn’t pleased:

Under shutdown rules, the animals still get food and water and are kept alive. But because most researchers are forbidden to work with them, the crucial moments for tests and measurements may pass; experimental conditions may change; and in other ways projects that had been months or years in preparing may be interrupted or completely ruined.

Yes, I realize that lab animals’ situation is precarious in the best of circumstances. But their lives and deaths have more purpose as part of biomedical discovery than in their current pointless captivity.

A government scientist, interviewed anonymously in Wired, reports that euthanasia is inevitable:

It’s not a matter of feeding the animals and cleaning their cages. These animals used for research are used in intricate experiments, involving treatments and collection of data performed by hundreds of individual scientists with each project. An animal caretaker can’t continue that.

Given that, you can imagine what has to happen. You cannot maintain colonies for no reason. It’s very expensive — and if they’re useless for research, what are you going to do? And mice and rats breed like crazy. An exponential expansion of the population that will rapidly fill all the cages. Every lab I know already works to maximum capacity. You can’t leave animals for somebody to feed and water.

The researcher adds:

We only take the life of an animal if it’s justified to provide new insight that will lead to basic understandings in science, or new treatments in human disease. We understand and appreciate that. We don’t do it lightly. We do it deliberately. There’s a difference between using an animal to obtain knowledge of human disease, and just having to engage in a mercy killing for no outcome, and with an enormous loss to science and to resources. It’s a waste of money, a waste of time, a waste of people, a waste of animals.

(Photo: Janet Stephens/National Cancer Institute)