Veterinary Medical Science, 1996 - present
Norwegian College of Veterinary Medicine, Oslo

As a student of the Veterinary School in Norway, I was prepared to face harmful use of animals for educational purposes. I knew that I would have to do a lot of work and be clear about my position to have any hope of being able to do the courses without compromising my ethics. My position is the following: I do not want to cause animals suffering because of my education. This means also that I do not want to do experiment on animals, even if they do not physically suffer - as long as they are bought and kept in the experimental animal department only for the sake of the students. This is because I regard it as suffering to be kept in a sterile laboratory environment for one's whole life without ever having been outside, and with minimal opportunities for normal behaviour. However, I will agree to cause animal suffering as part of treatment in clinical work, provided the animal needs the treatment and will personally benefit from it in the end.

Neither do I want cause the death of an animal for the sake of my education. This includes dissecting animals bought for use of the students - even if this is only a demonstration (such as 60 students on one animal). However, I do not object to using slaughterhouse offal, and animals killed in the hospital - even in cases where I as a veterinarian would not agree with putting the animal down. On the other hand, I do object to using slaughtered animals which are bought by the school and would otherwise be eaten; and so-called 'surplus' animals (which might actually be ordered just for student use). The logic here is that I, as a student, do not want to create a market for killed animals. I do not create such a market, however, if I take animals or biological material from the 'garbage bin'.

The first encounter with dissection of living animals was in the beginning of my second year. The first year's dissections were done on formalised dogs, having been put down in the clinic, mainly because of diseases, and where the owner had agreed to donate them to dissection. This was not a problem for me. In the second year, however, we were to dissect lambs that would otherwise be sent to the slaughterhouse. I had numerous discussions with the different teachers in anatomy, most of whom seemed unaccustomed to the issue of ethical problems within dissection. However, I sent a letter to the institute leader and to my great relief they allowed me to find a 'naturally dead' animal (of course with practical restrictions); I would have to take a test if I was not able to find the animals in time for the course.

Encouraged, I set out to acquire a naturally dead sheep - calling most sheep farmers in the areas nearest Oslo (55 in number), asking if they would be so kind as to tell me if one of their animals accidentally died... Surprisingly, many farmers expressed sympathy with the wish to spare animals lives by dissecting one that had died naturally. On the Sunday before the start of the course I got a call from a farmer saying that his biggest male lamb had suddenly died. In total I got 7 calls in 6 weeks from farmers offering me such sheep. I had to dissect the lamb in the pathology department, as the anatomy department was afraid of having foreign material in their dissection hall.

All the following dissections were done on slaughterhouse material, or we had the choice between slaughterhouse material and killed animals. However, there was an 'in situ' course where a killed pig, a horse, cows and hens were used. The Institute of Anatomy kept to their promise, and I was allowed to find ethically-sourced animals for this course as well. I called pig farmers, cattle farmers, stables and chicken owners. Their phone numbers were obtained through the various farmers' associations.

As I had dissected the lamb in the pathology department, I had also come in contact with the technical assistants there. I had been allowed to attend autopsies of animals, put down because of illness and brought in from the clinic. I had left my phone number for them, so that they could tell me whether any animals of the species I needed were to have an autopsy performed on them. I attended two autopsies on horses, and one on a cow. But during the autopsies I was standing in the background with the pathology students, and was not able to do the dissection myself. I was allowed to dissect a horse on my own - the pathologists were only using one injured leg, and the rest was left untouched. I also dissected a calf that had died in its mother - who had to be put down because of severe oesophagus injury. I dissected two pigs that I fetched from farmers. After calling only 7 farmers I got 4 offers in one week. I also got a hen which had died in an accident.

There was also a course where fish were killed and dissected. I suggested a video of a fish dissection as an alternative - but it was not accepted. To find an ethically sourced dead fish was the most difficult task. I finally got a fish that was not to be sold and eaten from a fishing boat at the bay in Oslo - but I was not really satisfied with the solution. Finally I passed my anatomy exam and got 11 out of 12 as a mark, along with written confirmation that the courses with ethically-sourced animals were approved of.

The animals used in the physiology courses are a totally different issue. The experiments are: the frog nerve / muscle; the guinea pig ileum; mouse metabolism / temperature; a sex hormone experiment, including castration and killing; and a circulation / respiration / rumen physiology demonstration on a sheep.

At first we were four students who wanted to refuse the frog nerve / muscle experiment. Two professors had a meeting with us. Their attitude turned out to be very different from that of the anatomy professors. They delivered all the usual arguments - from the "necessity" of touching a "slimy and disgusting" frog preparation, to the "outstanding well being" of the animals used. However, they agreed to look at the multimedia computer simulation 'SimNerve', which was provided by us through the InterNICHE Alternatives Loan System, and we also delivered a written application for exemption from taking part in animal experiments.

After some time both professors gave their reaction. They thought the computer program was not good enough, and boring. We also got a written reply stating that they insisted on us doing the experiment. We sent a letter of complaint, offering suggestions for a different alternative: the simulation 'SimMuscle' in combination with a student self-experiment that was being done in the physiology course at the biology faculty.

A long time passed and we did not get an answer to our complaint. Finally I was approached by one of the professors, telling me that they had reached their final conclusion. It was the same as before. They did not comment on the new suggestion on alternatives. One also told me that I would face a hard time with the opinions I have. He said I would have to do the experiments or take the consequences.

In the meantime I had approached the biology professors and asked them if I could participate in this course as an observer. I was allowed to do this but when I also asked on behalf of the other three students, the biology faculty would not allow them to come with me.

On the day of the frog experiment two of us actually performed it. The other two of us wrote a complaint to the rector. The answer we got was rather vague, basically saying that the decision had to be left to the physiology professors and that he would not evaluate the situation as he trusted their judgement.

We also wrote an appeal to the professors, with extensive suggestions of alternatives to the remaining animal experiments. Six students signed the letter, but I was the only one not to take part in the experiment. There was no answer to this letter, but I got a warning that my exam would not be valid as I had not taken part in the courses. Due to changes in the curriculum, the physiology semester was a very busy one for both students and teachers, so I realised that it would not be the appropriate time to organise a final meeting with the professors and rector about my case. I was allowed to do my exam, and got the grade 10 out of 12. However my exam is not valid because of the courses I didn't attend.

During the whole case I have tried to collect letters of support and signatures for a petition, from professors and veterinarians in Norway and other countries. I have also collected scientific reports about the educational value of alternatives. Within the animal rights organisation NOAH, I also created a student group against animal experiments. This group applied for money from the Alternatives Fund in Norway - money with which we bought 'SimMuscle'.

As one of the animal experiments is the castration and killing of a rat, I asked two vets I know to let me participate in castration / sterilisation of animals in their clinic. I participated in the castration of two rabbits and a cat, and the sterilisation of a female cat. They were all homeless animals that I had taken care of for re-homing. Therefore I was able to see to them not only during the operation, but also be responsible for the post-operative care and recovery. I see this as far more useful for a veterinary student than castrating and killing an experimental animal. I got confirmation of my participation from the vets - but I still do not know if this will be approved of by my physiology professors.

I am still working to get my exam validated, and I am not sure what measures I will have to take. As the physiology professors seem to be unwilling to change their minds, my next move is to approach student organisations, the college board, and eventually the Department of Education, with my information on alternatives and my request for a humane education.


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