"No Pain, No Distress, No Drugs" - and No Description

In their annual report under the Animal Welfare Act for 1976, Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratories listed the use of 2,538 animals of species reportable under the Act. Battelle specified that none of these animals, with ten exceptions, suffered any pain or distress nor needed any pain-relieving drugs. Since the Act requires no substantiation of the "no pain - no distress - no drugs" listings and, very regrettably, no description of the procedures involved, one can only marvel at how a large laboratory can use animals in the many ways one knows they are used and keep them all free of any distress. (USDA/APHIS,1976, Battelle Memorial Inst.).

Gastro-intestinal Poisoning from Radionuclide

The ten unhappy few among these were a group of beagle dogs noted under the heading "Pain-no drugs," and for this listing the laboratory's attending veterinarian, Stephen E. Rowe, supplied the required brief explanation. It is reproduced here to illustrate a test of toxicity of a radioactive substance - a type of testing to which many animals have been exposed and sacrificed over the years:

"In experiments to obtain dose-related data to predict the gastro- intestinal effects and gut-related radiation syndrome of accidental ingestion of a strong beta emitting radionuclide in man, 10 beagle dogs were given oral doses of 106 ru which caused gastrointestinal lesions, diarrhea and death. Analgesics were not used because they could be expected to alter gastrointestinal motility, passage time of 106 ru in the intestine, radiation dose to the gastrointestinal tract and other body functions to an extent that reliable dose-related data could not be obtained. To minimize pain the animals were sacrificed when clinical signs indicated death was imminent. To minimize the numbers of animals required for the experiments, the dose groups were completed in sequence so that data from one dose group could be used to plan sequential dose-groups." (Ibid.).


Fatal Radiation Pneumonitis

Another experiment, at the Lovelace Foundation, Albuquerque, New Mexico, subjected young beagles to inhalation of particles of Yttrium 90. Thirty-seven animals developed radiation pneumonitis and died from 7 1/2 to 277 days after exposure. Postmortem examination of the lungs of dogs who died after an acute illness showed an inflammatory reaction with vascular congestion, accumulation of fluid and occasionally tissue destruction in pulmonary blood vessels. With pathology like this, the dogs must have experienced increasing shortness of breath, coughing, choking and finally a suffocating death. (Slauson, D., 1976).

Fifty-four Monkeys in the Electric Chair

Since everyone nowadays is nervous about radiation exposure, there is plenty of money available for animal research in this area, especially through the Defense Nuclear Agency. For those investigators whose predilection is to rely heavily on conditioning via punishing electric shock, this must be a boon as well as a bonanza. It is not as easy as it used to be to shake the money tree for support of interminable rat-shocking experiments whose only justification is a vague promise that they will help us to "understand aggression." But by devising a procedure whereby an animal can be trained to escape painful shocks, then irradiated to the point of incapacitation....yes, the public will buy this because of the radiation angle, and even accept monkeys as the victims rather than the despised rat.

A. Bruner and associates at the Lovelace Foundation are prominent in this endeavor. In a typical experiment, they confined 54 rhesus monkeys to plastic restraining chairs, with heads also in restraint, from Monday morning to the following Friday afternoon. Electrodes were attached to the legs, and different intensities of shock applied to the feet, either "weak" shock, 6-13 milliamps, 0.5 sec., 60 Hz., "so as to produce a clear emotional reaction but without vigorous escape movements," or "strong shock, 10-15 mA, 0.75 sec., 60 Hz., set to evoke strong escape movements and vocalizations." (Parenthetically, 15 mA is excessively strong and painful shock - 4 to 5 mA is painful to humans, more than 6.5 is "unbearable." (Weisenberg, M.,1975, p.171). It seems incredible that such agony could be inflicted on a small monkey in restraint merely in a "training" procedure). (Bruner, A.,1975)

When the monkeys were sufficiently "shaped" in conditioning procedures to avoid foot shock by pressing a plastic button which interrupted the circuit, they were exposed to different levels of radiation to the whole body. In the next hour, like the rats in the previous experiment, they gradually,lost their ability to escape from shock, progressing from "performance decrement" to "early transient incapacitation" in proportion to the dose of radiation received.

Blood pressure and heart rate were measured in the experiments by means of a femoral arterial catheter extended into the abdominal aorta. This had been surgically implanted some days before irradiation, no doubt adding to the physical distress of the immobilized animals and, in fact, in several instances confusing the results of the experiment, since "a few of the animals were already debilitated prior to irradiation as a result of difficulties with their surgical implants." To this variable must be added two more: the usual retching and vomiting which naturally distracted some monkeys from their shock-avoiding maneuvers, and fear, which although totally ignored in the report, must inevitably have been caused by the painful nature of the monkeys' task.

In spite of the variables, the author satisfies himself with the aid of a complex "x2 contingency analysis" that lowered blood pressure shortly after irradiation "is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the occurrence of performance decrement [and/or] early transient incapacitation" in these monkeys. (Bruner, A,1977).

Experimenters Ignore Effects of Pain and Fear

Aside from the objection that the above experiments may be adding very little to what is already known about performance decrement in humans who have been accidentally exposed to various forms of acute irradiation, there is a real objection on scientific as well as humane grounds to the linking of the monkeys' task to painful electric shock. That pain and fear are variables which contaminate experimental results has been mentioned elsewhere in this book. I have cited Harold Hillman, S. Iverson and A. Heim, among others, and their criticism of procedures which gratuitously introduce these stresses. At the very least, procedures could have been devised in which the task is shaped by the withholding of reward rather than the avoidance of punishment, or through conditioning by positive reinforcement. Or, the performance decrement might have been observed in disturbances of normal physiological or behavioral rhythms (cf.p.77).

"Do You Have Any Idea How Miserable It Is to Die from Radiation Injury?"

Incidentally, in his 1977 experiment Bruner mentioned that one of the monkeys who received a high dose of radiation was permanently incapacitated and in fact died within an hour after exposure. The "difficulty with the surgical implants" may have been partly responsible, or perhaps the effect of the shocks: the investigator does not elaborate. However, a single death pales beside reports, from the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine, Brooks Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas, of a long-term project in which 501 two-year old rhesus monkeys were exposed to proton radiation. over a nine year period following irradiation this resulted in 279 deaths from chronic pneumonia, gangrenous skin necrosis, gastritis, acute leukemia and other painful conditions. (Krupp,J.,1976). Even more monkeys perished - 1,379 in the years 1972-1977, according to the Washington Post (June 22, 1977) -in tests simulating the effects of the neutron bomb at the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.

Donald Barnes, the psychologist already cited on p.128 and 133-134, who participated in experiments like the above at Brooks Air Force Base from 1964 until he left in 1980, commented as follows to the International Primate Protection League:

"Assuming the animals survive training (and many of them do not), my job was to determine their resistance to ionizing radiation, i.e. neutron, gamma, flash X-ray. In years past, I was ordered to keep a death watch on these irradiated subjects, which meant, simply, to see what happened until they died of radiation injury. Do you have any idea how miserable it is to die from radiation injury? I do, I've seen so many monkeys go through it.

At any rate, I finally got permission to sacrifice my subjects after the experiment proper was completed (from 1 to 12 hours as a rule). We injected them with a compound designed to slow the heart gradually, thereby supposedly minimizing pain. I often did this myself in order to minimize suffering occasioned by clumsiness or ineptitude of technicians: on each occasion, I felt more strongly that I didn't have the right to kill these innocent creatures. As I became familiar with the use of the data gained from these experiments, I discovered that the data was not used to help Man in the struggle against his environment-the data was (and is) used to generate more worthless experiments, thereby killing and crippling more animals. I finally objected to doing any more experiments in this area." (Anon., 1980f).

Monitoring the Human Mutation Rate

Some very pertinent comments on this subject were made by Norman Anderson and his son Leigh, respectively director and staff member of the Argonne National Laboratory's molecular anatomy program, in a letter to The New York Times, written April 20, 1979:

"Potential increases in the rate of mutation and the incidence of cancer and birth defects are the central concerns arising from nuclear energy, medical X-rays and environmental pollutants. A basic common denominator of these effects is genetic injury. We do not know if the human mutation rate is being increased, because it is not being measured."

Instead, they point out, the policy has been merely to measure the radiation received when humans are known to have been exposed, and to deduce possible effects by testing animal models similarly exposed.

"Unfortunately, men are not mice, and mouse data is now found to be of little value in pending court cases. No animal is exposed to the same schedule of all the pollutants (dietary and environmental), self-inflicted insults, drugs, X-rays or the same microclimate to which we are exposed. The sum total of these is what is of interest, and it decides the fate of the individual and of future generations .... New advances now make possible human mutation rate measurements."

Possible changes in it, they add, will provide an index of potential increases in both cancer and birth defects. (Anderson, N.G., 1979). To achieve this form of epidemiological study, large populations of two million or more have to be monitored, since the incidence of gene mutations in normal populations is very low, and these mutations are subject to periodic fluctuations in frequencies - thus data have to be collected over a number of years.

The changes looked for are variants of proteins indicating variant genes; chromosomal abnormalities in the blood of the newborn, and congenital anomalies such as achondroplasia (dwarfism with short legs and normal trunk). (,Grice, H., 1975). Once the background mutation rate has been determined, increases in it can be detected and the causes of these increases searched for.

The Checkered Human Condition Cannot be Copied in the Laboratory

In Apr. 1979 an article appeared in New Scientist entitled "How Dangerous is Low-level Radiation?" It was written by K.Z. Morgan, Neely Professor in the School of Nuclear Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta. (Morgan, K.,1979). Its message was that the risk of developing cancer from low-level ionizing radiation was much greater than had been imagined, and that the medical profession was responsible for over 90% of the man-made radiation delivered to the public. Professor Morgan's data have been largely derived from epidemiological and clinical studies on humans, including observations on the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and cancer statistics on workers in nuclear plants. He has reservations about the thousands of experiments conducted on animals and extrapolated "perhaps brazenly or at best with misgivings" to man. He mentions various reasons for these misgivings. Not only does the response to a given dose of radiation vary widely from species to species, it can also differ markedly within a species: for example, sensitivity to leukemia induction, and life expectation once the disease is established, vary greatly with different kinds of mice. Furthermore, these observations derive from carefully controlled, inbred healthy animals, whereas "man is a wild or heterogeneous animal living in many types of environment with various eating and drug habits, with many diseases and eccentricities, of various ages, and so on."

This checkered human condition cannot be copied in the laboratory, yet it seems increasingly probable that the onset of a malignancy or indeed other disease may be the consequence of many more events than merely a-measured dose of radiation such as is delivered to the thousands of beagles, monkeys and mice under experiment. For example, says Morgan, "a given type of leukemia may require as many as three successive events (like throwing three electrical switches connected in series). Some of these switches may be thrown by viruses, bacteria, chemicals, mechanical damage or radiation."

Prevention as an Alternative

In his recommendations for action Morgan says nothing about additional testing of animals since he considers much of it inapplicable. Instead, he emphasizes research programs to define more accurately the risk from human exposure to ionizing radiation.

Although Morgan does not describe these it should be noted parenthetically that, as an alternative to the experiments which seek to demonstrate the pathology occurring in the fetus or in germ cells through irradiation of the whole animal, it is now possible to study the potential damage of irradiation in humans through the use of cell cultures. The irradiated cells can be examined through an electron microscope and minute chromosomal aberrations detected. The nature of developmental defects can thus be predicted. (Federoff, S.,1975).

But Professor Morgan's main thrust is toward prevention, including the reduction of exposure from all sources, particularly the nuclear energy industry, and above all from the medical use of radiation. He estimates that " a reduction of only 1% in unnecessary diagnostic exposures in the U.S. would reduce the population dose of man-made radiation more than the elimination of the nuclear power industry to the year 2000."

Chapter Nine | Back to Table of Contents