Sunday May 03, 2015

An animal lover's 180 on animal testing

A laboratory mouse climbs on the gloved hand of a technician at the Jackson Laboratory, in Bar Harbor, Maine. Many people oppose cosmetic testing on animals, but what about testing cancer drugs? Or other pharmaceuticals?

A laboratory mouse climbs on the gloved hand of a technician at the Jackson Laboratory, in Bar Harbor, Maine. Many people oppose cosmetic testing on animals, but what about testing cancer drugs? Or other pharmaceuticals? (Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press)

Listen 11:40

Teva Harrison has cancer, and it has changed her life in a lot of ways. She is documenting some of them in a series of cartoons published in The Walrus. One of the latest is about her changing feelings on the subject of animal testing.

Animal testing cartoon

A cartoon by Teva Harrison, who has cancer, sums up her changing feelings about testing pharmaceuticals on animals. (Teva Harrison)

Harrison, who was raised as a vegetarian, says she's never recognized a hierarchy of the value of a human life over an that of an animal, and has always opposed lab tests on animals.

She says the diagnosis of cancer, and her subsequent enrolment in a clinical trial for an experimental treatment, has changed her views when it comes to potentially life-saving pharmaceuticals.

Harrison says she's gone from being opposed to the practice, to being grateful for it.

Clinical trial

During the course of learning about her treatment, she read up on the development of the drug she would be taking. There were tests in vitro (on cells suspended in culturing solutions), and in vivo (using living beings).

I believe in kindness where possible, and I don't think it's terribly kind to test drugs on animals. But I'm really glad we do it, which is a surprise to me. - Teva Harrison

She says the process of learning how much differently drugs can behave in these situations, meant she had to rethink the value of testing new pharmaceuticals on animals, even though it means introducing the disease or infection into their systems to begin with.

"I went from... the fear of taking an unknown drug that doesn't have a name yet, it only has a number, to a bit of relief knowing that animals had taken it prior to me," she explains. 

As a vocal vegan, she says she was anxious about how other vegetarians and animal advocates would react to her making her change of heart public in a cartoon.

She says many have stayed silent (she suspects they just don't want to be mean to her because she has cancer), but was pleasantly surprised at how even the most "hard-core animal rights" defenders in her life have been open to hearing her point of view.

Grey areas

Harrison says she has heard from researchers that they try to treat lab animals as humanely as possible, but admits its something that she finds difficult to dwell on.

"It's personal now," she says. "I think often to challenge our deeply held beliefs it has to be personal. I can only speak from my personal experience. We live in the grey areas, but our ideas are often black and white. This is leading me into a realm where it's all grey areas."