I’ve been a journalist for close to 10 years, so it pains me to read this Badger Herald article on a University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh professor who trapped ground squirrels and began breeding them for eye research. Apparently the eyes of ground squirrels are similar to humans, making them useful for opthamology (eye disease) research. But the article makes no mention of animal rights issues.
The National Eye Institute “will be investigating the mechanisms of neuroprotection and how the tissue of squirrel’s eye protects itself from damage.” Reading between the lines, this means that the squirrels’ eyes will have to be damaged in order to study the protective factors.
Sounds a bit like torture to me.
But the article fails to mention any sort of ethical issues here, leading me to only hope that the assumption is that of course they will treat the squirrels humanely and take steps to make sure the squirrels are given adequate pain control and do not suffer.
Note: While I am a huge animal lover (I have a squirrel blog, for gosh’s sake), I do recognize that human diseases would not be cured without the benefit of animal research. But it’s important that everyone — especially journalists, including college-aged journalists — make sure the tough questions are asked.
Just because it’s a person with a doctoral degree conducting the research, and just because it’s affiliated with a trustworthy organization like the National Eye Institute does not mean you can assume that the squirrels are safe from harm. Just as we would not want a smarter species landing on our planet and shipping us off for painful medical experiments, the ground squirrels do not want to be a part of this research. At the very least, we should make sure they don’t suffer.