Written by Sarah Cavanaugh, Ph.D.
Nine or ten shots of hard liquor in an hour is enough to cause anyone harm. Including sheep. In one of the stranger experiments performed on animals in the name of “science,” Texas A&M University is injecting pregnant sheep near the end of their pregnancies with massive amounts of alcohol in an attempt to simulate the effects of binge drinking in pregnant women.
The baby lambs never even get a chance to experience life. Before they’re born, they are cut out of their mothers’ bodies and killed so that their brains can be dissected. Their mothers are killed, too.
These experiments aren’t new—they’ve been going on for more than 17 years. It started in 1997. Yet they haven’t produced any useful information.
We already know a lot about fetal alcohol syndrome. The first reports of this disease were 40 years ago. Researchers have already extensively studied it in humans. We know that alcohol consumption during pregnancy is linked to a range of serious developmental defects and that we need to do everything we can to prevent this disease.
These experiments at Texas A&M are funded with $5 million in federal grant money from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism—part of the National Institutes of Health. This is an agency that can and should be using this funding to focus on preventing fetal alcohol syndrome—a disease that is 100 percent preventable.
With the overwhelming evidence from the human literature, even the surgeon general has acknowledged that fetal alcohol syndrome is completely preventable and has recommended that women who are pregnant or may become pregnant should avoid alcohol consumption. In fact, we know there is no safe amount of alcohol to consume during pregnancy.
So why waste more money and lives? Texas A&M is likely continuing this study just because they have the money to do so—not because they think that after 17 years of conducting the same experiments they will suddenly reveal new information on fetal alcohol syndrome. This is the case with many other animal experiments, where researchers and institutions defend failed experiments so they can get more money.
Texas A&M is not only hurting sheep—they’re harming at-risk women and their future children by distracting attention and funding from efforts to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome.
We already know how fetal alcohol syndrome affects human babies, and we also know the steps we need to take to reduce the rate of fetal alcohol syndrome. We need to implement and carefully test interventions to prevent alcohol use during pregnancy, biomarkers and imaging techniques to detect fetal alcohol syndrome as early as possible, and treatment and support measures for individuals and families affected by the disease.
While Texas A&M’s experiments waste lives, these human-relevant approaches save lives. And as long as limited funding is wasted on these experiments instead of channeled to proactive prevention efforts, babies will continue to be born with fetal alcohol syndrome.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) is working hard to stop these experiments. We’ve flooded Texas A&M with petitions, we’ve met with decision makers, and we’re getting the facts out through two billboards outside the campus.
Sarah Cavanaugh, Ph.D., is a medical research specialist with the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (www.PCRM.org).
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