Class procedures accused of animal cruelty

  • PETA filed a complaint against Marquette University alleging that animals were treated inhumanely in an experimental physiology course
  • The group contends that the course euthanized animals in manners that violate standards the university claims to uphold
  • A student's mother contacted PETA with concerns and the student provided PETA with accounts of the course and lab sheets detailing procedures done in the course
  • Edward Blumenthal, professor of the course in question, disputes the claims of both PETA and the student and maintains that proper protocol was followed
  • The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has filed a complaint against Marquette University, alleging that animals were both treated and killed inhumanely in a physiology course.

    In the complaint, PETA also contends that the killings violated regulations to which the university states it adheres.

    A student in the fall 2008 class BIOL 171, Experimental Physiology, alerted PETA to the use of animals and provided the organization with lab sheets that verified how the animals were euthanized and used, according to Justin Goodman, a research associate supervisor in PETA's lab investigation project.

    Laboratory worksheets from the course said that turtles used in the class were anesthetized and then killed with a hammer blow to the head.

    The complaint cites the Marquette Animal Care Manual, which states that all methods of euthanizing animals must comply with American Veterinarian Medical Association standards. PETA says using a hammer blow to the head to euthanize an animal is not an accepted method of the AVMA.

    However, Edward Blumenthal, an assistant professor of biological sciences who taught the course in question, said that PETA's claims are untrue.

    "We follow these guidelines very closely," Blumenthal said. He described PETA's interpretation "a misrepresentation of AVMA guidelines."

    Blumenthal said he anesthetized turtles and struck them dead with a hammer before class.

    In the complaint, PETA cites an instance, as relayed to them by the student, when a turtle tried to walk and coughed up blood after being struck with a hammer.

    The student said that Blumenthal had already struck the turtle with a hammer before class, and then in class used it to demonstrate a procedure involving cutting through its shell in order to see the turtle's heart.

    In a Tribune interview, the student, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences who did not want to be identified, said the turtle was clearly not brain dead.

    "It was coughing up blood and squirming," she said. "The turtle just kept trying to crawl, it just kept coughing. It just didn't seem brain dead to anyone."

    Blumenthal disputes the account.

    "It couldn't have happened," he said. "The turtles were anesthetized. (The student) may have seen something (she) misinterpreted."

    The student said one member of the lab class fainted from seeing this.

    Blumenthal said that one student did faint, but he was not certain that it was related to the lab, nor did she complain afterward about the procedure with the turtle.

    "She didn't express any discomfort in the lab," he said.

    Catherine Cable, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, said she did not see any instance of a turtle coughing up blood or squirming during a procedure.

    The class was a weekly lecture with two separate lab sections. Cable said it was possible what happened with the turtle was in the other lab section.

    PETA became aware of the alleged turtle incident after the student told her mother, who in turn contacted PETA.

    "Everyone in the class was kind of concerned (about how the animals were treated)," she said, "but I don't think we knew what to do about it."

    Cable said Blumenthal was receptive to student concerns, and that students "just had to speak up" if they were uncomfortable.

    "He made it a comfortable environment," Cable said.

    Other procedures completed in the lab included pithing, which involved sticking a needle in the brain of a frog and scrambling its brains, and various surgeries done on rats. In all instances, the animals were anesthetized, Blumenthal said.

    Blumenthal stressed that the class itself was an elective, and students knew ahead of time that animals would be used in the course. Students could also drop the class if they decided they were uncomfortable with the procedures.

    "The very first day of class I talk about how we are going to be handling animals," he said. "The students know what's coming."

    Cable agreed that Blumenthal made the nature of the course clear.

    "Dr. Blumenthal was clear on the first day of lecture that we were going to be working with animals," Cable said.

    The complaint also questioned whether undergraduate students were qualified to administer anesthesia to and perform surgery on rats, something else PETA states was done in the course.

    In a statement, the university said Marquette "complies with all applicable provisions of the Animal Welfare Act and other federal statutes and regulations related to animals."

    "In all instances cited in the PETA complaint, the animals were anesthetized," it said.

    The statement said that following PETA's complaint, the university reviewed the BIOL 171 course and concluded that proper protocol was followed.

    PETA is asking the university to eliminate all uses of animals in the classroom and instead move to alternatives such as various software programs that simulate experiments with animals.

    The complaint was originally sent to Marquette on Nov. 21. The university responded on Dec. 16 with what Goodman referred to as a "cursory response."

    While PETA alleges Marquette is not following proper protocol for euthanizing animals, its greater concern, according to Goodman, is that animals are being used at all.

    "It's especially egregious when animals are being used when there are (alternatives)," he said.

    The complaint came with a five-page brief on alternatives to using animals in the lab.

    Blumenthal said these alternatives simply could not compare to the actual use of animals.

    "If you want to teach a student about research and experiments, you have to actually do experiments," he said.

    Cable also found the use of live animals to be a crucial component of the class.

    "There's no other way to study systems we were studying without live specimens," she said.

    The student whose mother approached PETA is not a member of the organization and is not opposed to using animals in the lab. She only believes that the way they were used in that specific class was unnecessary.

    "I think there are experiments that are useful," she said. "There's just so many animals (that were killed). I don't think any of us got enough out of it."

    She did not blame Blumenthal personally for what happened in the class.

    "I don't have anything against him," she said.

    If Marquette does not cease using animals in the lab, Goodman suggested PETA might take on a "more local campaign."

    Goodman said subsequent requests for Marquette to discontinue its use of animals in the lab after the initial complaint went unanswered.

    However, the university's statement said William Wiener, vice provost for research and dean of the graduate school, replied to PETA two different times.