The ethics of science and animals (Day 425)

Is the rororoach ethically wrong?

Today’s Diary Entry is sponsored by Pet Webinars

So at the end of last week I came across the RoboRoach, an “educational” kit that is to be used to teach children about neuroscience. Now this was welcomed by TEDGlobal a few months ago at the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh, however since then more details have come to light and I got a rather negative reaction from twitter when I posted about it.

Now as a vet student I have a need to understand the science of the body, how things work and what happens when things go wrong. This kit however instructs children to sandpaper a cockroach, stick needles into the thorax and cut of the antenna of a cockroach. They use the word “anesthetize” to describe placing the live insect into freezing cold water, just imagine how painful it is when you dip a hand into something cold, and then imagine that happening to your entire body. There recently has been discoveries that another animal that was common dropped in boiling water can feel pain (read about lobsters and pain here) so assuming something just because a animal is smaller then us is wrong.

Previously in veterinary medicine a lot of stuff was taught, things like the stannius ligature where thread is place around the heart of a live frog to demonstrate different electrical impulses, or the effect of different poisons for example. Both of these are no longer done, instead these are replaced, and indeed you can learn as much from watching this done on video (even if its black and white and tens of years old).

By mass producing this as commercial toy there is a value placed on the life of cockroaches as expendable. I know that within universities within the UK to even start to use live animals in any experiment you require ethical approval. I doubt drowning an animal in freezing water to “anesthetize” it would be acceptable, in fact the other day I stuck needles into the thorax of a horse under aseptic conditions, and using a rather generous dose of local anaesthetic (lidocaine) that is proven to remove pain perception.

I will come back and add to this later, however for now, I’d love to hear your opinions, you can watch a video of the “surgery” and find written instructions to torture a cockroach here.

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One thought on “The ethics of science and animals (Day 425)

  1. In the US a lot of those regulations also depend on what kind of animal it is. For school children animal use regulations really only apply in experimental studies to vertebrates. As a high-schooler I did an environmental study using crickets that didn’t require as much approval as colleagues who used mice. Unfortunately teaching kids one kind of animal is valuable while another isn’t without explaining whether there is reasonable science to back up why you treat them differently could be pretty confusing…

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