What do Head Start, services for kids with disabilities, health services for Native Americans, upkeep for national parks and Forest Service firefighters have in common? Sequestration, the $85 billion in automatic budget cuts that went into effect March 1, which has meant the reduction or the elimination of funding for all of these.
As a result of sequestration, the NIH lost 5 percent of its budget, a total of $1.55 billion that had been used to fund medical research including the development of better cancer drugs, a universal flu vaccine and treatments for Alzheimer’s. Halting research will have long-term consequences: some five million Americans are affected by Alzheimer’s and about $200 billion is spent on their care, a huge strain on families and the health care system.
Another scientist, Michael Garvin of the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries who has developed technology to assist in the conservation of wildlife in Alaska and other polar regions, explained to the Huffington Post that sequestration has meant the disappearance of opportunities for him to continue his work under federal agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey.
Blind Lab Rabbits Killed Due to Lack of Funding
Robert E. Marc, a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Utah School of Medicine, told the Huffington Post how sequestration meant he had to euthanize lab rabbits:
I have riffed one postdoctoral fellow and euthanized many beautiful, rare and expensive transgenic rabbits that were new, exciting models for testing new therapies for human retinal degenerations. We petted them, played with them, fed them treats. Now they are dead. I blame Congress directly for that.
Marc had spent more than $25,000 to create a “colony of animals who have a progressive age dependent blindness” — a colony of blind rabbits, essentially. Unable to pay for equipment, service contracts on the equipment and other lab resources, he concluded that the only thing to do was to euthanize the rabbits before finishing the treatment study.
While saving $4,000 for this year’s budget, the total costs due to having to abandon research before it was completed add up to wasting “5x more money than the sequester saved,” says Marc. Should the funding situation not improve in the near future, Marc says he’ll give up on the blindness research, retire early and shut down his lab. As a result, the fifteen people who work there could lose their jobs.
The use of rabbits, rodents and other animals for scientific experiments and testing is troubling enough as report after report about animals dying cruel deaths and/or subjected to extensive suffering has too often revealed. Did the genetically modified rabbits in Marc’s lab have to be killed? Were any alternatives such as offering them for donation considered?
At a time when funding for scientific research is being cut, it is more than time to reconsider the use of animals in experiments. The costs incurred in breeding and caring for animals like rabbits who have been genetically engineered to have “progressive age dependent blindness” are known. Rather than create such rabbits only to have to euthanize them, the budgets cuts from sequestration ought to be an impetus to seek out other ways to conduct research.
I suspect a scientist can offer a myriad of reasons why such is not viable. But as Marc and other scientists have made very clear, there are simply fewer research dollars to go around. With this in mind, it is more important than ever that those dollars are used not only wisely but humanely.
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