By Leah Moniz

tumblr_m9uegvCNaz1qhnl7dAnimal rights have been hugely debated for decades, but very little is ever exposed to the general public about lab animals. We might understand that rescuing an animal from the Humane Society is better than buying one from a breeder, or that buying cosmetics which have not been tested on animals makes for an ethical purchase. However, little is ever said about the experimentation done on animals within science. Maximum Tolerated Dose (2012) provides an interesting look into the secrecy that surrounds the industry of lab animals, but while it is refreshing to see someone bring this subject to the big screen, this film only really scratches the surface. This film was made by a Toronto filmmaker and is grounded in experience rather than statistics, telling stories about the people and animals who have worked in labs from different corners of the world. While it was made in the West, this activist film falls directly into a marginalised cinema that speaks about the global situation on animal testing. The director’s goal was not to debate the controversial issue, but to ignite a conversation about it through a series of heartfelt, real-life stories. Maximum Tolerated Dose does indeed start a conversation on animal rights but my reaction to this film was not to want to stop testing on animals but to ask more questions, such as what good has come out of tests done on animals, which is something this film fails to address.

Although the director acknowledges that this is not a scientific film and it does not address many issues, the danger with delivering a one-sided message is that many people will be manipulated and vulnerable to believe what they are told without doing further research to develop their own opinion. We repeatedly hear from people who eventually walked away because their ethical values did not align with the treatment of these animals. We hear of the close relationships these lab workers developed with the animals and that AIDS is not the problem of a monkey but a human problem. However, nothing is said about any ground-breaking results that have come out of experimenting with animals. Nothing was offered as an alternative but the film repeatedly claims that these tests are unnecessary and questionable. So I wonder, would animal activists prefer if these life-threatening tests were done on humans instead, or that we simply ignored vicious diseases that are killing our populations?

Recently I worked for an academic institution within a department of surgery. I was employed as an Executive Assistant to the Head of Department, but my eyes were opened into the world of science and medicine through a range of friends who worked on animals in our labs. From flies to mice, these people are working for the greater good of science and medicine in an effort to find ground-breaking evidence. I had an opportunity to go into the animal house, and it was very similar to how it is depicted in the film in that you need to of course scrub in, everything is highly sanitized and controlled, and there are no windows. However, what I did not agree with based on my experience was the film’s claim that the difference between an animal house and an animal lab is that an animal house is situated miles away from anybody and far away from the scientists themselves. This was not the case for this animal house, which was only 5 meters behind the hospital where the scientists worked, and between the scientists and lab technicians the animal house was visited at all times. A statement such as this makes me distrust films like Maximum Tolerated Dose, who are doing a very good job at delivering a highly valid argument, but are doing so dangerously by not investigating it thoroughly.

While this film does raise many good points, Dr. Lynda Birke was the only person in this film to contextualise this issue and touch upon very real feelings, such as how many scientists do not enjoy doing what they do to animals but they do it for the greater good of science, and that many draw the line at rodents. I can completely understand this feeling even though I have never worked on animals myself, and I too see no problem doing this work on rodents but it perhaps stretches a bit too far when dogs and monkeys are involved. However, I still do not know enough in order to make such a statement and this is just simply my initial gut instinct. On the topic of rodents, Erika who is a former student from The University of Guelph talks about her undergraduate nutrition course in this film. Students were taught to experiment with rats and later chickens to develop nutritional findings, and at the end of the semester the students could either keep the animal or it would be euthanised. Firstly, I was very surprised to hear this was happening at The University of Guelph, which is famously known for its veterinary program. One would assume that an institution such as this would not be encouraging unnecessary tests on animals. Erika made a good point in saying that this course has been going on for years and the same data is produced over and over, making it unnecessary to put these animals through the program over and over again. If no new ground-breaking research is being made, then using animals for educational purposes where the research has already been done is immoral. However, Erika, who managed to save a rat from this course, also makes a very irrelevant point when she says that so many of the poor animals will never know what it would have been like to sleep in a hammock or eat fresh vegetables. This was such an odd statement because rats generally live in sewers, and I am fairly certain there are not many hammocks or fresh vegetables down there. Erika shared her residence bed at university with her new pet rat, implying that animals to her are just like people, and this is where this argument weakens.

While unnecessary tests on animals needs to be rectified globally, if these tests are improving the outcomes of medicine then they need to continue. It is a necessary evil, but so is slaughtering the cows, chickens, lambs and another animals that we eat. A further investigation needs to be had to understand which animals really need to be used for lab experiments, and if it can be reduced to rodents then that would be a first step in the right direction. Rodents are not meant to share your bed with you, they are an animal, and in the great wild they will either die in the hands of a cat or grip of a snake, or live in the damp and dirty sewers of our cities and subways. It does not mean that I do not care about animals, but that I do not have a devotion to rodents and if the use of rodents will lead to improving the outcomes of life-threatening medicine like transplantation or cancer or AIDS, then let it be.