Medical school classes go to the dogs

Now, just wait a minute. Before you dismiss this side of the argument as completely reprehensible, immoral and pretty much ludicrous, take a moment to consider the more logical aspects of the dog-killing debate.

It is true that the UCSD School of Medicine is still using canines for experimentation in student labs. It’s quite simple to just brush off the whole matter as an archaic and cruel practice inflicted on poor, helpless, and not to mention adorable, puppies. Why would anyone be for it? Why would anyone short of Saddam Hussein want to keep murdering man’s best friend for the sake of science?

However, this perception is riddled with flaws that may inflame emotions rather than accurately inform. The issue is not a clear-cut matter of black and white or right and wrong, as many are led to believe.

Those advocating the end of dog labs at UCSD are noble in their intentions; however, they do not present the whole picture. The Web site of Doctors Against Dog Labs assaults the visitor with a plethora of information, studded with calendar-worthy, heartbreakingly endearing pictures of dogs. The very inclusion of these pictures misrepresents the complexity of the issue. Among the scads of articles and information are descriptions of the dog labs that clearly state that the animals used are privately bred, mixed-breed dogs that are sedated before any student sees them. This contrasts sharply with the photographs of purebred golden retriever puppies on the Web page, which seem to exist primarily for the purpose of incensing the casual visitor. This seemingly minor discrepancy depicts intense one-sidedness (rather than unbiased laying out of facts) and damages the credibility of the advocates.

It is easy to imagine skinny little Totos and Fidos locked up in cages awaiting their inevitable end, yet a more palatable scenario of humane treatment is much more likely. The dogs are not from the pound, and thus are not available for adoption. Also, as previously reported in the Guardian, the dogs are well-fed, treated civilly and fully anesthetized before students start vivisecting. When experimentation is through, the dogs are injected with potassium chloride, the same chemical used for lethal injection in prisons, which allows for a painless and quick death. The deceased dogs probably aren’t sloshed around with their innards and thrown into putrid piles for all the world to see, either.

In addition, the use of live animals for experimentation clearly holds some sort of educational value or schools would not have started using these procedures in the first place. While computer simulation models can somewhat adequately portray the techniques and observations of pharmacological and physiological processes, in these cases, the “”hands-on”” experience is lost. Students may learn a whole lot by seeing diagrams in chemistry or film classes, but hardly anything can replace working with actual chemicals and cameras. The counterargument to this may be that some students who have opted out of these labs have scored the equivalent, if not higher, scores on the material learned in labs. More power to them, but for those students who don’t want to add more laborious study onto their already heavy loads, the labs may still prove to be indispensable.

Also, as future doctors, medical students have to face moral dilemmas and queasy situations on a daily basis. The practice with dogs can hold more than mere medical usefulness. To be able to work with live animals in this condition can prepare students to deal with the necessary unpleasantness and controversy associated with everyday medical care and the profession itself.

Furthermore, students have the option of not participating, and in fact some have taken up this offer. As stated by a student in the Guardian, it’s likely that most students are pressured by fellow students and not by the school when they opt out of the lab. The school is not an evil organization forcing its students to either cut up canines or drop out.

Another argument against dog labs is that a good number of schools have decided to end dog labs, so UCSD should, too. While it is true that many schools have stopped using dog labs, that fact is not exactly indicative of vehement opposition. As professor of pharmacology and medicine Lawrence Brunton pointed out, the colleges may have opted out as a result of increased pressure from animal rights groups, and not directly from moral reasons or scientific advances.

It is extraordinarily easy to imagine hundreds of dogs being processed in UCSD labs like cows becoming beef at a ranch. Yet, for all the hubbub surrounding the issue, only about 24 dogs are experimented on each year. While it may seem that each life is precious, it can also be said that it is a relatively small amount of animal expense to student experience and research.

Animal abuse in this nation and around the world is no doubt a problem that should be focused on. The lab dogs’ fellow canines, greyhounds, are bred for racing and killed when they are no longer suitable for the spotlight. This travesty may seem comparable to the UCSD predicament; however, the dogs here are used for purpose rather than pleasure. Animals are killed all the time in the name of fashion — in the form of hairy carcasses masquerading as stylish coats. Perhaps remembering these actions sheds a more positive light on the dog experimentation at UCSD, where they are used to educate rather than adorn.

Dog owners of all stripes don’t relish the fact that students at our school slice open dogs for their education. But while dog labs may not be the most pleasant things to envision, they are not the needless massacre that they are currently portrayed to be.