A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Of Mice and Men – and Women

If you were a mouse in a laboratory, who would you rather have experimenting on you: a man or a woman?

Turns out that if it’s a man, you’ll have more stress but a bit less pain; if it’s a woman you’ll have less stress but more pain.

A new study shows that mice and rats who are left alone with a male researcher have a sharp spike in the stress hormone corticosterone. Same thing happens even if they just get a whiff of a T-shirt that’s been worn by a man. But they don’t have that reaction to a woman. And even if you just bring a woman into the lab while they’re being experimented on by a man, that also eases the stress.

But it doesn’t ease the pain. In fact, since the corticosterone also acts as an analgesic, they experience less physical pain in the presence of men.

The stress, however, is debilitating – “massive” according to Jeffrey Mogil of McGill University, one of the authors of the study. Equivalent to the stress that’s caused by “restraining the rodents for 15 minutes in a tube or forcing them to swim for three minutes.” (I’m guessing they must have tried out all manner of creative ways of subjecting mice to “massive” stress and then drawing blood to tabulate the results.)

Stress levels skew the results of all experiments on mice – and probably other animals. Dr. Mogil gives the example of a study on liver physiology, where the liver cells you’re examining come from a mouse who’s been killed by a man rather than a woman. You get a very different result from when the vivisector is a woman.

Mice and rats make up about 95 percent of all animals used in vivisection. No one knows the exact number because mice, rats and birds aren’t counted as “animals” in the provisions of the Animal Welfare Act, which means their numbers don’t even have to be reported. Most experts reckon it’s about 25 million, with some estimates as low as 13 million and others as high as 100 million. Not that the numbers mean a whole lot when you’re the mouse who’s swimming for her life, stressed out in a tube, or being killed by a man rather than a woman.

A 10-year study concluded that out of nearly 150 drugs that had passed their mouse trials, almost all of them had later failed in humans.Everyone in the vivisection industry insists that it’s all for a worthwhile, lifesaving cause. But last year, a 10-year study concluded that out of nearly 150 drugs that had passed their mouse trials, almost all of them had later failed in humans. The study raised major questions about the use of mice in researching almost any disease that involves the immune system, including cancer and heart disease:

The success rate is even worse for those trials in the field of inflammation, a condition present in many human diseases.

Overall, the authors reported that billions of dollars of research had gone down the drain – along with who-knows-how-many millions of mice.

A second report concluded that even though the sprays and detergents and shampoos and whatever that we routinely use have proved safe in mice, they’re not remotely as safe for humans as we’ve all been led to believe. According to Independent Science News:

New scientific research has cast grave doubt on the safety testing of hundreds of thousands of consumer products, food additives and industrial chemicals.

(Most of these are, of course, still on the shelves at your supermarket.)

Is any of this giving pause to the researchers? Not at all. This massive, multi-billion-dollar industry has a life of its own that includes breeding factories, multi-million-dollar research grants to major universities, big political lobbies and profits galore.

Like most other research scientists, Dr. Mogil (of the stress hormone study) doesn’t even question the value or morality of vivisection. He just offers a fix for the problem he’s uncovered:

The problem is easily solved by simple changes to experimental procedures. For example, since the effect of males’ presence diminishes over time, the male experimenter can stay in the room with the animals before starting testing. At the very least, published papers should state the gender of the experimenter who performed the behavioral testing.

In other words, every experiment will still begin with a “massive” spike in stress; and the man will just need to wait around until the mouse runs out of stress hormones and/or gives way to exhaustion.

All these new studies raise deeper questions, not only about vivisection but about the entire modern medical model. Just as every mouse is bred to serve a particular experiment, with researchers ordering up genetically customized mice to suit the experiment, so our modern maladies are also isolated down to ever more specific ailments for which cures can be produced and tailored. That’s the holy grail of medicine today: individualized treatments that are unique to our personal genetic makeup – and using mice and other animals who have been bred specifically for that patient. How come we now have more cancer than ever, more diabetes, more auto-immune diseases, more depression, more anxiety, and a host of other diseases endemic to modern civilization?

It all sounds very promising. And, after all, who wouldn’t want a customized alternative to, for example, the cut, poison and burn approach of surgery, chemo and radiation? And sure, modern medicine has its miracles – especially when it comes to treating emergencies.

But again, at some point you have to ask: How come we’re all getting more cancers than ever, more diabetes, more auto-immune diseases, more depression, more anxiety, and a host of other diseases that have become part of modern civilization? How often do we hear about yet another food, drug or household product that’s turned out to be carcinogenic? We’re even being poisoned by the water we drink and the air we breathe.

And again, at some point, you have to stop and ask: Aren’t all these individual diseases essentially side effects of the much deeper sickness that we call modern civilization – a sickness of separation in a society where we’re all becoming more and more alienated from each other, from our fellow animals, from our natural environment, and ultimately from our own true nature.

It’s a sickness that derives from treating the other animals, the land, the ocean and each other as little more than resources to feed, entertain and profit us, and to help alleviate the deep-down anxiety that’s brought on by our sense of separation from them in the first place.

But how can that kind of a sickness possibly be healed by treatments that are basically involve just more of the same – like the torture and killing of yet more millions and billions of other animals in laboratories? Isn’t that ultimately just making it all worse?

None of us – you, me, the mouse – can exist independent of our relationship to each other. You could even say that we only exist in relation to each other. And that means that the path to health and happiness lies not in what we take from each other, but from what we give to each other.

So, when a mouse becomes nothing more to us than a stressed-out resource in a cage on a shelf in a laboratory, then we, too, are on the path to becoming nothing more than stressed-out resources – perhaps in an office at a company that’s part of a rapacious conglomerate that’s consuming the planet as part of what we call human civilization.

But when our relationship to the mouse is that we treat her as a person in her own right, then we’re bringing health and healing into our own web of life.

And when we recognize that nature has given us the supreme gift of life, isn’t it time to stop asking what else we can take from nature, and to start asking what we can give back?