Friday Shutdown Reader: The Impending Meaningless Deaths of Lab Animals

By James Fallows

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.]

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/10/friday-shutdown-reader-the-impending-meaningless-deaths-of-lab-animals/280519/