Animal experiments in higher education
The Hippocratic oath which is valid for all medical doctors obliges to preserve life. Most veterinary surgeons take up this profession to heal animals. The motivation for the studies of biology is the interest in nature with all its life-forms. But the basic principle of the great respect for life is breached, when students are forced to take part in animal experiments - against their conscience.
Dissections of animals and organs, but also experiments on living animals are supposed to teach the students the basic concepts of the anatomy of animals and the function of organs. As an example, in the zoological course rats, snails, insects and other animals are killed and dissected to learn about appearance and position of the organs. Animal experiments are widely conducted in the physiology courses. Here we can find the notorious "frog experiments". The head of a frog is cut off, then organs including nerves, muscles or the heart are removed. The organs still react to electrical stimuli or the application of certain drugs, even when the organs are already detached from the body.
If a student conscientiously objects to take part in this animal use, he or she will not be able to complete the studies successfully. Due to years of constant protests of students against the obligatory participation in animal use, the range of teaching methods without using animals has increased massively over the years. Today, many medical schools in Germany do without animal use or at least do not make the animal use compulsory for the students. Still, these experiments are regarded as indispensable at most universities mainly in the field of biology.
The pros and cons
"Natural sciences can not only be learnt by books and films."
The practical part of the training is in fact very important and is very much neglected in most studies anyway. But experience should be gained on animal and human patients, not on animals killed for this purpose.
"Knowledge from experiments is easily remembered."
For example, students who have to draw the internal organs of an earthworm often do this by using illustrations of books, without looking at the readily dissected earthworm where they can hardly recognize anything anyway. Video films in slow motion or close-up have the advantage, in contrary to the experiment, that they can be repeated again and again. By this the chances of remembering is much higher than in an experiment which often fails anyway. Besides, the learning success will not be great, if a person is forced to do something against his/her conscience.
"Before certain operations on patients can be carried out, the skills must be learned on animals."
In the beginning, a surgeon learns to operate by exercising on dead animals, who died in a natural way or have been put down for medical reasons. The newly graduated surgeon then learns by watching and assisting an experienced surgeon, until he or she has finally gained the skills to operate on a patient - first of course under supervision. This is the only way to learn surgery.
"Students, especially veterinary students, have to get over their scruple of killing and they lso have to learn to suffer."
A student certainly does not learn to suffer by carrying out animal experiments, but the opposite is the case. The ability to feel compassion and sympathy gets often destroyed within the first study year when students participate in animal experiments. Animal experiments lead to brutalisation, bluntness or indifference towards life and suffering.
"Animal experiments are an indisputable part of the academic freedom."
The academic freedom has to end where the infringement of the law begins, not only since the animal protection has been included in the German Constitution. The Animal Protection Law requires a reasonable reason for animal experiments or the killing of animals. The decision, if such a reason is given, cannot be left with the lecturers only.
"The historical way of the researcher has to be followed."
Research methods of the past decades can be followed without carrying them out (for example studies of history). Besides, the future should be more important than the past.
Teaching methods without using animals
Today, a huge variety of modern animal-free teaching tools exist which convey the teaching objectives in a memorable, didactically meaningful and ethical manner. The database of InterNICHE alone lists more than 1,200 films, computer simulations, manikins and other animal-free models.
Video films of experiments or demonstrations are the easiest and most basic alternative. Important sections can be repeated and explained in a close-up or in slow motion any time.
Physiological experiments can be mimicked remarkably realistically by modern computer programs. Data of experiments are processed on the computer. A graph, for example for the stimulus frequency, is now not plotted by the twitching frog muscle, but by the virtual laboratory on the computer. Many programs are highly interactive and demand active cooperation of the students, so they can easily remember the teaching objectives. Computer simulation are not only useful for physiological experiments, but also for dissections, pharmacological experiments and many more.
Emergency situations can be practiced with the "Traumaman" and similar simulators. The "patient" breathes, has heart rate and pulse, he is bleeding, and responds to treatment measures. For veterinary training, there are similar dummies, e.g. Bitch ‘Alberta’ of the American company SynDaver. Veterinary students can practice all sorts of interventions, including intubation, castration, tumour removal and bone surgery.
Virtual reality for surgeons works like a flight simulator in pilot training. It’s a real-time simulation with video recordings from real operations and haptic perception, in that the surgeon feels when he touches or cuts the tissues with the instruments. The simulation program converts the haptic sensation and presents corresponding images from a huge video database.
The physiology can be experienced on your own body by harmless experiments on yourself - a teaching technique with a very high memory factor. For example, muscle and nerve functions can be examined on a student’s arm instead of using a frog muscle.
Naturally died animals
It is absolutely not necessary to kill animals for dissection purposes. Instead, animals from veterinary clinics, which have died or have been put down due to medical indications can be used for this purpose. There are no objections to this from the legal point of view (epidemiological law). Insects, earthworms and other animals, which were found dead are suitable for biology students.
Plastination is a process of transferring animals or organs into a rubber-like, long lasting condition without losing its form and colour. Plastic models of animals and organs illustrate the basic anatomy. Silicone models are suitable for learning how to give injections, to take blood samples or for surgical procedures.
Students of veterinary medicine can be taught treatment and diagnostic examinations (ECG, giving injections, reflexes etc.) on animal patients like it is common in human medicine.
Basic changes within the training are necessary
The Witten/Herdecke medical school teaches a holistic view of medicine. From the first year of their study, the students accompany an experienced physician and learn how to translate interdisciplinary thinking into practice. Animal experiments are incompatible with such training.
The legal situation
The scope of the German Animal Protection Act (§7), covers procedures carried out for education and training purposes. This definition includes all animals, also invertebrates. According to §7a (2), it must be considered whether the purpose cannot be achieved by methods other than animal use.
Theoretically, therefore, all university teachers who include animal dissections or experiments in their curricula are in breach with the German Animal Protection Act, since the purpose can of course be achieved by other methods.
Exceptions in 5 Federal States
Students at universities in 5 Federal States (Bremen, Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saarland, Thuringia) have the possibility to be exempted from participating in harmful animal use on the basis of the respective State University Law. Sample application forms are available on the website of PeTA.
Since experiments on animals for teaching purposes began, there has also been a resistance against these. Thanks to the tireless protests from students, an increasing number of universities have turned towards animal friendly teaching methodsmainly in human medicine. Today, at about half of the German medical school, students can study without harmful use of animals. Unfortunately, in biology hardly anything has changed over the last 3 decades. (Detailed information in the PDF brochure "SATIS University Ranking" (in German))
The fight against animal use in higher education gathered speed when in 1988 SATIS in Germany (Student workshop against animal use in higher education) and EuroNICHE (European Network for Humane Education) were founded. Both organizations brought together students, teachers and developers of animal-free teaching tools, gathered and distributed information, and supported conscientiously objecting students with information and expertise. EuroNICHE developed into the International Network InterNICHE and SATIS later became a project of the German NGO People for Animal Rights.
Why animal use in education persists
Despite countless student protests and public outcry, despite a huge variety of cutting edge and inexpensive animal-free teaching tools, and despite animal protection regulations that prohibit such procedures, many teachers are still unwilling to move away from the status quo.
The main reason for desperately sticking to the animal curricula - some of which have remained unchanged for centuries – and forcing students to take part in these, can only be explained by an intended and deliberate blunting affect which students must go through. For many teachers, it is not only the animal use in education that is jeopardized, but the standard method of animal experiments as such. Future physicians and scientists are forced to learn to accept animal experimentation as a ‘natural part’ of science and scientific research. Critical thinking by students is undesirable.
Therefore, it is crucial that critical students of biology, human and veterinary medicine stand up for a humane education without animal use. The vicious circle of violence at the universities must be interrupted. Ultimately, a legal ban on animal use in education is needed.
Eastern Europe Project
While there is still a lack of good will at many German universities, in some countries teachers only lack information and funding. Many university teachers in countries including Ukraine and Russia are open to modern, computer-aided teaching methods. The Eastern Europe project of Doctors Against Animal Experiments helps interested teachers to switch to animal-free teaching methods. Thus, many animal lives can be saved.
- SATIS www.satis-tierrechte.de (in German)
- InterNICHE www.interniche.org
- Eastern Europe Projetc of Doctors Against Animal Experiments >>
Dr. Corina Gericke V.D.M.
Dr. Martina Kuhtz-Boehnke V.D.M.