Dr. Kirshner Responds to the Journal of the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus Concerning Experimentation on Rabbits
Advancing the Interests of Animals: You wrote a letter to the editor of Journal of The American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus as a response to an article you found objectionable titled,
“Globe perforation during strabismus surgery in an animal model: Treatment versus observation.”
How did you become aware of the article? What specifically in the article by did you find objectionable?
Dr. Lori Kirshner: The thing that initially caught the attention of all of us, Peter, Dr. Larry Hansen and I was the sentence in the discussion section of the article, which reads,
"Due to anatomical differences between human and rabbit eyes, we cannot generalize the results of this study to human subjects.”
This was shocking to us because it effectively undermines the reason for the experiment on rabbits and the entire article. The title of the paper we replied to, as you mentioned above, is “Globe perforation during strabismus surgery in an animal model: Treatment versus observation.” You can’t with a straight face refer to a performing research on an animal model (meaning an animal model of human disease) and later say that you cannot generalize the results to humans. So it is simply appalling.
AIA: What was your motivation in submitting the letter?
LK: Well, after Peter and I decided a reply was appropriate, we asked Dr Hansen for his opinion and input. He is a Professor of Neuropathology at UCSD, and we knew he was opposed to unneeded research on animals. And he agreed that we should submit a letter, and provided his input. Our goal was to point out the absurdity of the research and that this well respected journal would publish this paper. Peter, as you know, is Pediatric Ophthalmologist and a member of the society which publishes this journal. We also wanted to bring attention to the issue of thoughtless vivisection to the medical community, which we feel is overall, fairly insulated to the various issues of efficacy and ethical concerns.
AIA: What was the reaction to the letter when it was published?
LK: Well, I have to say I think we really attracted the Journal’s attention! First, there was a written reply by the authors in which they offered the usual arguments for testing on animals, advancing science and so on. Then, and I was very excited when I initially saw this, there was an additional reply by the editor in chief, Dr David Hunter, also defending the article and its methods. That’s pretty rare, that an editor in chief chimes in to defend an article.
AIA: As an aside, do you know any of the authors or Dr. Hunter?
LK: No, I do not, but Peter has told me he is familiar with Dr. Hunter's work and role in the Pediatric Ophthalmology community. Remarkably, in Hunter's defense of the article, he claims that we took part of it out of context and did not read the sentence "Due to anatomical differences between human and rabbit eyes, we cannot generalize the results of this study to human subjects.” as it should have been read. Well, in my opinion, this really brings out the desperation of their defensiveness.
If the whole thing hinges on taking the essential part of our objection out of context, then as Editor in Chief, Dr. Hunter could have and should have simply dismissed our letter as not worthy of publication. But he could not because there was more to the issue that taking a sentence out of context. We were questioning the thinking and rationale behind the research. Plus, if the sentence in question is so problematic, why did the reviewers or editors not correct it? Well, I am going to guess (and I mean guess) that the reviewers failed to recognize the problem because they are not tuned into the animal welfare elements involved in vivisection.
AIA: What do you think you achieved? Did you win a battle here?
LK: Well, one does not win these skirmishes. I doubt anyone will close down his or her animal lab after reading our letter. But I am hopeful that perhaps we may spark a greater sense of thoughtfulness when performing research on non-human animals. Why am I doing this research on animals? Is this research important? Will the results of this research advance science in a meaningful way? These are questions that I believe ought to be carefully considered by those who perform scientific research on non-human animals and to me it is evident the authors of the present paper did not ask these questions.
AIA: Do you oppose all research on animals?
LK: Let me say that I strongly believe we do way too much research on animals. I think a lot of it is unneeded. I think the Bagheri study is an example of this. No matter what this study found, it would not change anyone’s practice of surgery on a human. So the authors state they are advancing science; that is their rationale. Dr. Hunter assures the readers that the animals were treated appropriately. Well, maybe. My view is that if you are going to torture and kill sentient beings in the name of science, you should be doing better science. But if the value you place on the life of a rabbit is zero, then it doesn’t matter at all what you do to them. So even with institutional animal care and use committees, talk about the fox watching the henhouse, this is the current reality of medical research.
And of course the other huge issue of efficacy - I have to mention that. The use of animals as models for human disease, especially in drug development, frequently leads us astray and causes harm to people, as in the case of Vioxx. Merck paid more than 3,000 claims to families of people killed an injured by Vioxx – that’s almost 5 billion dollars! What did animal experimentation accomplish in this case? It gave false assurances that Vioxx would be safe and effective for humans, thereby causing an estimated 27,000 to 55,000 preventable deaths! So, I hope for a time in the near future when we will look back upon the practice of vivisection as an ancient cruelty from unenlightened times, like slavery and torture.
AIA: The article cited is Bagheri A, Erfanian-Salim R, Ahmadieh H, et al. Globe perforation during strabismus surgery in an animal model: Treatment versus observation. J AAPOS 2011:15:144-147.
The citation for the letter by Drs. Kirshner, Spiegel and Hansen is: Globe Perforation during strabismus surgery in an animal model. J AAPOS 2012;16:217-218.
The author’s reply to our letter may be found here: J AAPOS 2012;16:217-218.
Dr. Hunter’s Editor’s note’s citation is: J AAPOS 2012;218-219.