Friday Shutdown Reader: The Impending Meaningless Deaths of Lab Animals

The prospect for research animals is grim at best. The shutdown removes all purpose from their sacrifice.  

Because I have many friends who work in medical research institutes, including several family members who have been or are involved in this field, I've been hearing all along about the precarious situation of research animals, mainly mice and rats, in federally affiliated laboratories.

Under shutdown rules, the animals still get food and water and are kept alive.  But because most researchers are forbidden to work with them, the crucial moments for tests and measurements may pass; experimental conditions may change; and in other ways projects that had been months or years in preparation may be interrupted or completely ruined. Yes, I realize that lab animals' situation is precarious in the best of circumstances. But their lives and deaths have more purpose as part of biomedical discovery than in their current pointless captivity.

NPR had a good and infuriating story about this yesterday, which began:

The government shutdown is likely to mean an early death for thousands of mice used in research on diseases such as diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer's.

Federal research centers including the National Institutes of Health will have to kill some mice to avoid overcrowding, researchers say. Others will die because it is impossible to maintain certain lines of genetically altered mice without constant monitoring by scientists. And most federal scientists have been banned from their own labs since Oct. 1.

A reader in Florida, himself with a technical background, sent a link to that story and added this: 

This senseless shutdown is causing years of research and millions of dollars go down the tube.

I come from India where even though our government is dysfunctional and corrupt, it still functions somehow. No other functioning democracy does something as foolish as this - squander away years of research just because one faction of one party does not like healthcare for all. What a bunch of petulant children and I blame the voters who send these unthinking troglodytes into Congress. 

This may soon be over, but the wanton damage should not be forgotten. As always on this theme we sign off with the words of our first Republican president:  "Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events." [Picture from here.]

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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