Popular Science Monthly/Volume 23/June 1883/Vivisection in the State of New York
By BURT G. WILDER, M. D.
"I know that physiology can not possibly progress except by means of experiments on living animals, and I feel the deepest conviction that he who retards the progress of physiology commits a crime against mankind."—Charles Darwin.
THE objects of this article are—1. To enlarge the slender store of published facts respecting vivisection in the United States. 2. To discuss briefly certain general aspects of the question. 3. To examine the existing and proposed laws concerning it. 4. To consider Mr. Henry Bergh's fitness to initiate such legislation. 5. To express what seems to be the sentiment of most well-informed, humane persons regarding experimentation upon animals.
I. Aside from editorial articles and resolutions of medical societies, public discussion of vivisection in this, the State in which it is already somewhat limited by law, has been nearly confined to four gentlemen besides the present writer. Mr. Bergh's single contribution will be more conveniently considered later. Professor J. C. Dalton has contented himself hitherto with the general statement that "the exhibition of pain in an experimental laboratory is an exceptional occurrence. As a rule, all the cutting operations are performed under the influence of ether. . . . This is because the infliction of pain is generally no part of the experimenter's object, and on every account it is preferable for him to avoid it." The foregoing refers directly only to laboratory investigations, and it may undoubtedly be inferred that, among the experiments before classes in the lecture-room, the painful constitute a still smaller minority. What they have been is shown by Dr. A. J. Leffingwell in quotations from the larger physiological treatises of Professors Dalton and Flint. Among the numerous illustrative operations mentioned as performed by these teachers in two of the largest medical schools in the country, there appear to be seven in which anæsthetics are not always employed; in them, there is reason to believe that the pain inflicted is either brief or not very severe. There is also reason for believing that there is an annual decrease in the number of such demonstrations.
Mr. Bergh wishes to suppress vivisection by act of Legislature. Dr. Leffingwell would legally restrict painful experiments to original research under rigid surveillance. Professor Dalton seems to think no discussion of the subject is required. Dr. L. S. Pilcher believes it only necessary that "the public should be informed of the truth relating to vivisection in order that there should be secured to science every advantage and privilege which its advancement may need." The writer's communication of two years ago, together with opinions which will be repeated at the close of this article, stated that he had taught physiology for twelve years in a university, and for half that time in a medical school, and yet had never performed a painful vivisection.
Since Cornell University owes its existence largely to the action of the State Legislature, and is bound by its charter to "receive, without charge for tuition, one student annually from each Assembly district," there are peculiar reasons for making known the exact condition of sentiment and practice therein with regard to vivisection. Aside from practical work in the laboratory, the physiological teaching comprises two courses of lectures, special and general. In the former, those who intend to become physicians, or to teach physiology, are made familiar with the details of experimental manipulation. In the latter, the verbal instruction is illustrated by experiments differing little from what are performed in some medical schools. The following are fair selections from these experiments:
1. A frog is killed by "pithing" with a sharp knife, and the brain is destroyed with a piece of wire. The mucous membrane of the roof of the mouth is removed, and the action of the cilia shown in various ways. 2. A frog is rendered motionless by the injection of a little curare under the skin. Two of the toes are tied apart, so as to stretch the intervening "web." The circulation of the blood is then observed under a microscope. Since it is not certain that sensibility is abrogated by curare, the animal is treated just as if it were in its normal condition, to which it commonly returns after a short time. 3. A pithed frog is employed for the demonstration of nervous, muscular, and reflex actions. Although the animal is dead as a whole, the irritability of its muscles and nerves and spinal cord persists for some time after the brain is destroyed or the head cut off. 4. From an anæsthetized frog the brain proper is removed. So long as the medulla remains, the respiratory movements continue; when it is destroyed, they cease. 5. A cat is etherized, inhaling the anæsthetic slowly and without apparent discomfort in a glass box made for the purpose. The trachea is opened, and a glass tube inserted. This is then connected with a U-shaped tube partly filled with a colored liquid; the effect of the respiratory movements in expanding the lungs is shown by the oscillation of the liquid. 6. With an etherized cat the trachea is connected with a pair of bellows. The medulla is cut and the lungs are artificially inflated with the bellows. In this way the heart is kept beating while the entire ventral wall of the chest is removed and the heart exposed to view. If removed from the body, the heart soon ceases to beat. 7. With a cat, anæsthetized and then pithed, the respiratory muscles are stimulated directly or through their nerves. 8. From an anaesthetized frog the cerebral hemispheres are removed. After recovering from the operation, such a frog may remain for weeks in a stupid condition, neither moving nor feeding voluntarily, although it can swim, balance itself on the edge of a board, and swallow food placed in the throat. It thus approximately exemplifies the life of some idiots. 9. A cat is etherized, and part of the right hemisphere exposed. A light interrupted current of electricity is applied to certain spots, and the invariable response is by definite movements of the limbs of the opposite side. Other regions give no response at all. 10. With an etherized cat the vagus nerves are exposed in the neck. A large needle, with a head of red wax, is passed through the skin and muscles, so that its point is fixed in the heart, the pulsations of which are then indicated by the oscillations of the head. When a somewhat strong interrupted current of electricity is sent through one or both of the nerves, the heart beats more slowly, or stops altogether. The current is stopped, and the pulsations recommence. The nerves are then cut, and the heart beats more rapidly, but the respiratory movements are slowed. In this, as in all other experiments under anæsthetics, the animal is killed before revival.
The significance of these and similar experiments may be ascertained from any physiological treatise or well-educated physician. Only the first and the last can be commented on here. Cilia are minute filaments of protoplasm which, among other localities, cover the surface of the membrane which lines the air-passages. Independently of the will they keep up a rapid lashing movement, more forcible in one direction, so that the dust inhaled with the air is continually swept from the smaller tubes into the larger, and so to the larynx, whence it is voluntarily expelled. If we reflect upon the inevitable consequences of a vacation, or "strike," of these millions of irresponsible "sweeps," we shall feel it well worth while to inform ourselves as to their appearance and mode of action, even though the acquisition of this knowledge costs the lives of many frogs. The last experiment affords some clew to the nervous mechanism through which the action of the heart may be accelerated or retarded, or wholly checked on account of violent physical or mental impressions. Who that has felt his heart "flutter," or "stand still," would not, even in a slight degree, fathom the mystery which still surrounds the relations of our bodily organs to each other and to the mind?
Those who denounce all vivisection as "barbarous" are asked to note that the performance of the ten experiments above described involves only the pain of a hypodermic injection or of pithing, since, whenever the animal is alive during the operation, complete insensibility is produced by anæsthetics. Most of the experiments, however, are done upon dead animals—that is, a man treated in like manner would be legally defunct. In the ordinary sense of the word, therefore, such experiments are not vivisections at all, although they are so by virtue of the persistence of vitality in certain organs and tissues. According to information from various sources, it is probable that the large majority of experiments in this State, whether in medical colleges or other institutions, whether for research or for teaching, are, like those described above, performed upon animals completely anæsthetized or actually dead.
II. Many persons find it difficult to dissociate the word vivisection from the sufferings which were, perhaps, unavoidable before the discovery of ether and chloroform, and from those which are inflicted at the present day by careless or unfeeling experimenters. The proposed laws likewise ignore the difference between experiments in respect to pain. In England the question has been similarly befogged by the use of a single term for two different ideas. In the face of the official reports showing, according to Dr. Gerald Yeo's later estimate, that only twenty-five out of one hundred experiments caused any pain at all, Frances Power Cobbe has the hardihood to say, "We find it practically impossible to separate torturing from non-torturing vivisection." In view of all this ambiguity, whether due to ignorance or design, I have ventured to suggest that painful vivisection be known as sentisection, and painless vivisection as callisection. The desirability of some verbal distinction was presented to Mr. Bergh, both in the article referred to and in private letters, dated February, 1880, and October 1882. His only reply is the following, dated November 3, 1882: "Pardon me for saying that 'if the rose would smell as sweet by any other name,' surely the blood of tortured animals would also retain its repulsive odor under any other designation." Perhaps Mr. Bergh and Miss Cobbe vaguely apprehend that, should the intelligent people of their respective lands once realize that three fourths or more of what are indiscriminately stigmatized as vivisections are absolutely painless, their denunciations would have little weight, their occupations would be gone.
Specific repressive legislation is commonly directed against the ignorant or the vicious. Laws for the suppression of vivisection stand almost alone as aimed against those who are charged with the mental and physical welfare of the community, and whose official positions and social relations would enable them to further materially the general objects of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I am not aware of any action upon the part of the teachers of this State respecting Mr. Bergh's efforts to deprive them of the most effective means of illustrating physiology, but the sentiment of the medical profession has been clearly expressed. As stated by Dr. Dalton, and in the "Medical Record" for February 28, 1880, and February 10, 1883, Resolutions affirming the value of experiments upon animals, and deprecating legislative interference therewith, have been adopted by seven medical schools of the State, by the State Medical Society, and by sixteen organizations representing various localities or special branches of the science. It is hardly to be expected that many physicians or teachers will enroll themselves under the banner of humanity to animals so long as the same staff carries the black flag of anti-vivisection, which in their eyes is inhumanity to man.
Few educated persons doubt that experimental physiology has practically contributed something to human welfare, and the probability or even possibility that knowledge so gained might save the life or the health of a single child must be felt, at least by the parents of that child, to justify the sacrifice of "a wilderness of monkeys," not to mention lower forms. Naturally, therefore, among the writers in favor of vivisection, nearly all have confined their arguments to the medical and surgical advances which have been made or aided thereby. Some (Dalton, Foster, Leffingwell, and Yeo) have implied, perhaps unintentionally, that physiology appertains only to medical science; while others (Owen, Tait, etc.), defenders as well as opposers of vivisection, exclude it from the category of appliances for instruction. Yielding to none in my conviction of the indispensableness of experiments on animals to the prevention and healing of disease and injury, I believe that a higher and broader ground should be taken. "The knowledge of the human body," whether gained by dissection or by experiment, "belongs to every man, woman, and child, and has no more exclusive connection with physic than with law, engineering, or architecture." Consequently, had vivisection accomplished absolutely nothing for medicine or surgery, nevertheless experiments upon animals, necessarily painful in some cases, should be performed by competent persons for the advancement of physiological knowledge, just as experiments are done in chemical and physical research, and experiments, commonly painless, should be constantly employed in physiological teaching, simply because the information so imparted is more interesting, more intelligible, and more lasting than what is given in any other way The spirit and methods of modern scientific teaching are well conveyed in the motto, "Iter longum per præcepta, breve per exempla," to which may be added the metric imitation of a familiar proverb, "A gramme of experiment is worth a kilogramme of talk." Logically, indeed, unless it be wrong to kill animals for the sake of mental acquisition, the exclusion of painless experiments from physiological teaching would be comparable with the abolition of museums, models, and vivaria of all kinds because most animals have been figured and described. On this point most persons will admit the force of Dr. Bartholow's query, "If animals are sacrificed for the support of men's bodies, why should they not contribute to the improvement of men's minds?"
III. "An act for the more effectual prevention of cruelty to animals," passed April 12, 1867, embraces two sections relating to experimentation upon animals:
Section 1. If any person shall overdrive, overload, torture, torment, deprive of necessary sustenance, or unnecessarily or cruelly beat, or needlessly mutilate or kill, or cause or procure to be overdriven, . . . or needlessly mutilated or killed, as aforesaid, any living creature, every such offender shall, for every such offense, be guilty of a misdemeanor. . . .
Sec. 10. Nothing in this act shall be construed to prohibit or interfere with any properly conducted scientific experiments or investigations, which experiments shall be performed only under the authority of some regularly incorporated medical college or university of the State of New York.
The following is the bill for the total suppression of vivisection which has been introduced, at the instance of Mr. Bergh, at the last three sessions of the Legislature:
Section 1. Every person who shall perform, or cause to be performed, or assist in performing, in or upon any living animal, an act of vivisection, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
Sec 2. The term vivisection used in this act shall include every investigation, experiment, or demonstration, producing, or of a nature to produce, pain or disease in any living animal, including the cutting, wounding, or poisoning thereof; except when the same is for the purpose of curing or alleviating some physical suffering or disease in such living animal, or in order to deprive it of life when incurable.
Whether or not this law would, or is designed to, interfere with the slaughtering of animals for food, or with the extermination of pests, or even with the drowning or suffocation of impounded dogs under the supervision of Mr. Bergh's Society, does not especially concern physiologists; but the points indicated by the italicized words are worthy of consideration. In the law of 1867, the words needlessly and properly are used. In the absence of specification as to who shall determine what is needless or proper, would not the decision rest with the administrators and executors of the law? If so, might not the first section be so interpreted as to permit any amount of pain as "needful" for scientific purposes? Other magistrates and police, on the contrary, might deny the "propriety" of any experiment upon living creatures, and thus interdict everything of the kind under the tenth and apparently permissive section. The tenth section expressly restricts even "properly conducted experiments" to medical colleges and universities. Pending the elimination of this impediment to the advancement and diffusion of physiological knowledge by private individuals and by the teachers in the normal and other schools, it is to be hoped that the clause may be interpreted as liberally as are the Sunday laws of the "New Penal Code." The peroration of Mr. Bergh's vivisection address puts the following words into the mouth of a "victim": "If my life be necessary to you, take it." The most natural interpretation of this sentence is that, in the mind of its author, the advancement or dissemination of human knowledge is sufficient justification for putting an animal to death. But his proposed law permits no cutting, wounding, or poisoning excepting for the sake of the animal itself. What are we to understand upon this fundamental question?
Respecting the last section of the law of 1867, Mr. Bergh says, "So long as this remains unrepealed, these scientific horrors, which I hold to he an insult to the Deity and to the civilization of our generation, will proceed." Let us see what facts Mr. Bergh has to offer in support of so decided a condemnation. Of his Vivisection Address, several pages are occupied with descriptions of more or less cruel European experiments, and with lurid comments thereon; a single page is devoted to a single New York case. Immediately after dwelling at some length upon the atrocities perpetrated in the veterinary school at Alfort, in France, he says: "Those of you who have Been able to listen to the recitals I have just made, will, perchance, experience a glow of national pride at the thought that such devilish deeds are impossible in this happy land of yours; but your self-gratulation is but partially true, as I have lately had occasion to verify. On the 19th of December, 1879, I dispatched an officer of the society I represent to attend an exhibition of a similar sort at one of the colleges of the city of New York. . . . A live dog was brought in, said to be under the influence of an anæsthetic." The rest of the description indicates that the experiment was the same as No. 6 of those mentioned upon page 171. So far, therefore, as depends upon the evidence furnished by Mr. Bergh, to evoke the law for the suppression of vivisection in the State of New York, because formerly anæsthetics were unknown, and because in France they are still too often unemployed, is as if an army were summoned for the extermination of the panthers in the "North Woods," upon the pleas that they were numerous and dangerous not many years ago, and that at the present time in India thousands of people are annually slain by tigers.
So far as I can ascertain, Mr. Bergh is not only the originator and instigator of the anti-vivisection legislation in this State, but almost its sole supporter. No articles by members of his society have come to my notice. According to the "Medical Record" for March 13, 1880 (page 292), in that year but a single vote was cast in the Assembly against the acceptance of the adverse report of the committee to which his bill had been referred. Its fate at the last session is thus announced in the Annual Report of his Society: "That sum of all physiological villainy, vivisection, which I again recommended to the consideration of that sapient State congress which was characterized by a portion of the press as a 'mob,' has been remorselessly, and at the bidding of a heartless and opinionated medical faculty, disrespectfully slaughtered as before."
Nevertheless, in a letter dated November 24, 1882, Mr. Bergh says, "I am not quite sure whether I shall introduce a vivisection bill at the ensuing session"; and in view of what has taken place in England, at first sight a most unlikely nursery for any movement in behalf of animals, it may be well to consider somewhat carefully his qualifications for leadership in a movement of such importance.
IV. The experiment above mentioned is characterized by Mr. Bergh as "the crucifixion of a sentient, unoffending being, . . . an immortal work of the Deity." The grave question of the immortality of animals need not be discussed here. The adjective unoffending is objectionable merely because, like so many other words used by the same writer, it tends to throw a sentimental film over the eyes of logic and severe justice through which the whole matter should be viewed, and it is altogether probable that the dog thus utilized for the exemplification of several important physiological truths was, like most vivisection "subjects," a worthless street cur whose death, in the manner described, was a relief to the community, and a positive deliverance from a worse fate through hunger or cold, or at the hands of ill-regulated boys. But, in the entire absence of evidence that the animal was conscious, the use of the words sentient, crucifixion, and exhibition of a similar sort constitutes an exaggeration so great and so mischievous that it can not be lightly passed. It is akin to affirmations in other parts of the address: "The effect of curare in itself is horrible beyond conception; . . . it is an error to suppose that anaesthetics subdue completely the pain of operations; . . . the hands of the preceptors in our medical colleges are daily incarnated with the warm blood of tortured animals ruthlessly slaughtered." If, with Huxley, we hold that "the assertion that outstrips evidence is not only a blunder but a crime," the offenses of Mr. Bergh are too many for enumeration here.
The "quotations" upon which Mr. Bergh bases the surprising claim that "vivisection has been the subject of universal condemnation by the more eminent members of the medical profession in Europe," have been scrutinized by Dr. Dalton. After showing that Professor W. B. Carpenter expressly repudiates the views attributed to him, Dr. Dalton inquires: "What shall we call this manipulation of the facts used to convey an impression at variance with the reality? If we did not know that it came from a professional philanthropist, we should be inclined to give it a very awkward name." Again: "If confinement in State-prison were the legal penalty for tampering with an author's opinions and falsifying his language, I am afraid Mr. Bergh would have been there long ago."
It can hardly be denied that, taken by themselves, some of Mr. Bergh's affirmations and accusations suggest that his hatred of vivisection is stronger than his love for courtesy and truth, and if the argument sævus in Europa, scevus in America, which is really all he has to offer against New York physiologists, were turned against him in the original form of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, the advocates of unlimited dog-fights and cocking-mains might well object to the recognition of such a witness against their favorite sports. But, when all else is considered, the evidence proves too much. The man of pure and upright life; the heroic defender of the weak against the brutal; the tireless organizer of a society, for the main object of which he has secured legislative and legal co-operation, and the sympathy of the better part of the community, surely such a man can not be a common scold and an habitual liar.
Is there a less harsh alternative? After thoughtful consideration of nearly all Mr. Bergh's published writings, and of several courteous private letters, I conclude that, in regard to experimentation upon animals he is not morally perverse, but mentally incapacitated for accurate observation, correct quotation, logical argument, or legitimate conclusion; that, in short, so far as vivisection is concerned, he is of unsound mind. This charitable view of his character may serve to explain passages like the following: "As another proof of the profane extremes to which these dissectors of living animals will go, Robert McDonald, M. D., declared that he had opened the veins of a dying person, remember, and had injected the blood of an animal into them, many times, and had met with brilliant success. In other words, this potentate has discovered the means of thwarting the decrees of Providence, where a person was dying, and snatching away from its Maker a soul which he had called away from earth."
In view of all these things, is Mr. Bergh's single-handed crusade against practical physiology anything more than an unintentional burlesque of reform? Is it compatible with the highest usefulness of the society which he represents or with the dignity of the Legislature of a great State that he should be permitted to repeat the fiasco? Should he persist, in open disregard of his own dictum, "Laws can not precede public opinion, but must be the outgrowth of that opinion," the interests of humanity in its widest sense would certainly be promoted in this State by the authoritative assurance that his extreme views are not shared by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
V. The concluding division of this article combines: A. A summary of the facts and views already presented; B. A brief statement of certain matters which could not be fully discussed on this occasion; C. An expression of what I believe to be the sentiment of unprejudiced, humane, well-informed persons respecting the legitimacy of experiments upon animals and the desirability of legal interference therewith.
1. The object of an experiment may be the advancement of knowledge by research, or its diffusion by teaching.
2. In respect to the infliction of pain and death, experiments are of four kinds: (1.) The animal has been recently killed; (2.) The animal is rendered insensible by anæsthetics and killed before revival; (3.) Anæsthetics are used during the experiment, but the animal revives and endures the healing of wounds; (4.) Without anæsthetics, the animal is subjected to cutting operations, or to the effects of poisons or of insufficient food.
3. All experiments at Cornell University belong to the first two groups. Of all the experiments performed during the past year in the State of New York, whether for research or instruction, probably less than one tenth would come under the fourth class, and not more than one tenth under the third. In view of what is learned from these experiments, the total amount of pain and death inflicted is insignificant.
4. It is desirable to make a verbal distinction between painful and painless experiments, and to adopt a single term in place of the phrase experimentation upon animals.
5. Over and above the utilitarian argument drawn from its subserviency to medical science, physiology should be pursued and illustrated experimentally like chemistry or physics, because it is a most interesting and suggestive branch of knowledge.
6. In the State of New York are very few men whose natural and acquired powers of body and mind qualify them to determine when painful experiments are required, to perform them successfully, and to wisely interpret the results. Such men, deserving alike of the highest honor and the deepest pity, should exercise their solemn office not only unrestrained by law, but upheld by public sentiment.
7. All teachers of physiology, from primary schools to universities, should illustrate their instruction by experiments upon animals, chiefly if not wholly painless.
8. All experiments should indirectly inculcate humanity to animals. The victims should be treated with respect on account of what is learned from them, and with gentleness because "cruelty to animals is the beginning of cruelty to man." Even the administration of anaesthetics should cause the least possible discomfort.
9. The abolition of vivisection in the State of New York is demanded by a single individual, who has not as yet displayed the necessary qualifications for dealing with so large a problem. The laws proposed by him are vaguely framed, and inconsistent with his own utterances upon the subject.
10. A single physician has advocated legal restriction of painful experiments. Otherwise, so far as appears from published resolutions, legislative interference is opposed by the medical profession of this State.
11. Judging from English experience, the interdiction of all vivisection would seriously impede the progress of physiology in this State.
12. While physiologists justly resent attacks grounded in ignorance and maudlin sentimentality, they should avoid and discountenance even the appearance of bravado and indifference to the suffering of animals.
13. So long as the people and the Legislature are satisfied that physiological investigators and teachers regard the infliction of pain as undesirable on every account, no legal restrictions are likely to be put upon vivisection in the State of New York.