Savages, Drunks, And Lab Animals: The Researcher’s Perception Of Pain
Historically, treatment for pain relief has varied according to the social status of the sufferer. A similar tendency to make arbitrary distinctions affecting pain relief was found in an ethnographic study of animal research laboratories. The administration of pain-relieving drugs for animals in laboratories differed from standard practice for humans and, perhaps, for companion animals. Although anesthesia was used routinely for surgical procedures, its administration was sometimes haphazard. Analgesics, however, were rarely used. Most researchers had never thought about using analgesics and did not consider the subject worthy of serious attention. Scientists interviewed for this study agreed readily that animals are capable of feeling pain, but such assertions were muted by an overriding view of lab animals Tas creatures existing solely for the purposes of research. [Excerpted from article]
A study of the use of anesthesia in veterinary surgery shows a pattern similar to that of the less privileged classes of humans. A brief historical outline of the development in this area is presented in the article. Currently, the use of anesthesia for all major human and animal surgery is routine. However, results from this three-year study show that administration of pain-relieving drugs to animals used in scientific experiments differs from the standards for human patients, as researchers tend to view lab animals as different from other animals.
No instances of surgery performed on unanesthetized animals were observed. Researchers generally felt it would be unacceptable to do so despite the existence of guidelines that allow scientists to withhold anesthesia when “scientifically necessary.”
The main reasons for adhering to the use of anesthesia include: fear of consequences of breaking rules and the reaction of animal advocates; the ease of operating on anesthetized animals; the potential for pain and stress to alter physiological functions and affect the validity of research results; and that major scientific journals will not publish results of painful research on unanesthetized animals.
There is also wide consensus among researchers that analgesics should be used in the same situations as they are currently used for humans, though in practice among the animal labs observed, they were rarely used.
Statistics compiled by the US Department of Agriculture from 1982-1986 show that a slight majority of research animals are not exposed to painful or distressing procedures: the percentage of animals in this category has ranged from about 58% to 62% in recent years. Of the others, most received “appropriate pain relief.” The percentage of animals reported to have actually experienced pain or distress, without any pain relief, ranges from about 6% to 8% each year.