Category Archives: Science & Ethics


Animal Research, Human Abortion, & The Problem of Pain

Animal Research, Human Abortion, & the Problem of Pain
Many years ago, I had the distinct privilege of working under Dr. Andrew Whipple as his research assistant. Our goal was to harvest primary rat hepatocytes and then develop a serum free in vitro culture medium that sustained the cells. The purpose of serum free culture medium is that serum is a blood product. It varies greatly depending on the source, what the blood contributor has eaten, their physiological stress (hormones affect everything). Thus, there is an entire set of variables that cannot be accounted for while using serum in in vitro culturing. The elimination of the need for serum based medium allows researchers a greater opportunity to qualify and quantify exactly what is working in that carefully controlled environment. Needless to say, as an assistant, one of my jobs was the care and feeding of rats. That was one FUN summer job! In case you’ve never kept, cared for, fed, and cleaned up after fifty rats, there is no real way to describe the smell or the fun factor in that job. Mike Rowe-Come on over!

At any rate, we were careful and responsible for ensuring the animals did not suffer, that they had enough food and water and that we kept them in clean environments. I might have only gotten paid $5/hour, but I like to think I did my job well. All my friends know that I HATE urine and feces (I’m a little like the character Monk if I’m honest with myself.) and I took great care of them. When it came time to harvest the hepatocytes (a fancy word for liver cells), the animal was anesthetized and I inserted a canalula into the hepatic portal vein (the main vein that feeds into the liver), perfused a substance that liberated the cells from the matrix of the liver, and then extracted the liver within its capsule. Each rat died under anesthesia and pain free. I did not take the life of a rat lightly! Nor did my professor. We treated them with care and respect during the entire process. We would have operated in a pain free, humane manner as a matter of course because these are God’s creatures. However, there are laws that guide this process in America, although there are some deficiencies in the way the law is applied. At this time, there are proposals to modify the law to improve some of the lapses that have occurred.

Here is an excerpt from the text of the Animal Welfare Act: “AWA stipulates that researchers “… avoid or minimize discomfort, distress, and pain to the animals,” procedures that cause pain and distress merely require that the “principal investigator has considered alternatives to procedures that may cause more than momentary or slight pain or distress to the animals, and has provided a written narrative description of the methods and sources…used to determine that alternatives were not available.” While the AWA “requires researchers to provide anesthesia or pain-relieving medication [to regulated animals] to minimize the pain or distress caused by the experiment…,” they can withhold anesthetics, painkillers, and tranquilizers if deemed “scientifically necessary.” Please note that no such legislation exists for aborted children.

PETA versus People
I have friends (true friends!) who are anti animal testing. They deeply empathize with the pain and suffering of an animal and feel that it is immoral to take the life of an animal for our own purposes. While I appreciate their heart and concern, some of these same friends are completely pro abortion. How is it that we can protect, boycott, and trumpet from a perceived moral high ground about animal rights when we don’t even give the same care to an unborn child? From a logical standpoint, these two issues and logical arguments contradict one another. The Animal Welfare Act works to ensure that animals do not suffer in the process of research and/or death. Where is the same outrage for human children?

Proponents of abortion call it a health issue, and admittedly sometimes it is. I am for an abortion when the mother’s life is in danger. Although many of my Christian friends would disagree (respectfully I hope) with me on this matter, I am also for an abortion when a mother is pregnant with an anencephalic child. [The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) describes the presentation of this condition as follows: “A baby born with anencephaly is usually blind, deaf, unaware of its surroundings and unable to feel pain. Although some individuals with anencephaly may be born with a main brain stem, the lack of a functioning cerebrum permanently rules out the possibility of ever gaining awareness of their surroundings. Reflex actions such as breathing and responses to sound or touch may occur.”[4]]

However, the vast majority of abortions are the result of a decision about convenience. The argument is, “It’s MY body!” Actually, it isn’t your body. It is the body of your unborn child, and that is no small matter. The fact that someone else’s body is inside your body places a profound moral obligation upon each and every woman. It is even more imperative when we consider the indescribable pain these babies experience during abortion.

Planned Parenthood’s website describes in clinic abortions methods as: Aspiration and “Dilation & Evacuation.”(D&E) Aspiration is “a procedure that ends pregnancy by emptying the uterus with the gentle suction of a manual syringe or with machine-operated suction.” This procedure is used until up to four months of pregnancy. The Planned Parenthood website ‘could not find a definition for D&E. WebMd defines D&E as “Dilation and evacuation (D&E) is done in the second 12 weeks (second trimester) of pregnancy. It usually includes a combination of vacuum aspiration, dilation and curettage (D&C), and the use of surgical instruments (such as forceps). In both types of in-clinic, surgical abortion the baby is literally pulled apart from limb to limb without the benefit of any anesthesia. 2010 numbers from the Centers for Disease Control indicate there were 750,000 abortions! Where is the outrage and concern for all of these children who suffered a horrific, barbaric death?

I am certain that this will be deeply controversial on both sides of the political aisle. However, I believe that at the very least, we should propose and implement a law that provides for a pain free death for these little children who will never have a life and have no say in their own death. That should be our first push in legislation.

There is also a second area of dissonance. Many of the very people who are against animal testing are FOR using human embryonic tissue for medical testing. WHATTHEHECK? I am not going to lie. Human embryonic material is powerful stuff! It holds the opportunity to understand and cure diseases we’ve been fighting for years. What we really must ask ourselves is this: Do the ends justify the means? And, Is there another way? This is a rather strong statement, but consider this: much of the foundation for current medicine was developed during the holocaust; experiments performed on people that Hitler didn’t want. They were expendable. In that same way, we have objectified an entire population of people we don’t want, and we are using them to further our own medical interests. The whole “It’s for a good cause” just doesn’t wash here.

As a society, we need to examine our priorities and our logic. We must consider the contrast of how we applaud humane treatment of animals and then turn our backs on the suffering of unborn children. This is an issue that deadens our approach to life and leads to a life of selfishness with little or no regard for the suffering of others. Abortion is a weighty issue, and it deserves serious thought.