The Ethics of Testing Cancer Treatments on Dogs

“Dogs get cancer at the same rate as people,” says Dr. Bruce Smith

Cancer is terrible. And humans aren’t the only species to suffer its effects—man’s best friend are among the casualties.

And like their human masters, cancer is just as difficult to eradicate for our four-legged companions.

Yesterday, I stumbled onto a video featured by Digg, in which Daisy Rosario of Mic examines a new venture in the war against cancer.

The main players? Dogs.

Here’s Bruce F Smith, VMD, PhD, the Director of Auburn University Research Initiative in Cancer:

The survival rate with [the] current standard of care—amputation and chemotherapy—is less than 10% dogs live past a yearDr. Smith has been using oncolytic viruses to attack the cancer cells in dogs for some time:

In our trial, we’re getting closer to 25% survival beyond a year. And one of those dogs lived 26 months—well over 2 years.

25% is a substantial differential. Not bad. But according to Rosario, it’s “not good enough for humans.” (Yet.)

So Dr. Smith teamed up with Andrew Hessel, Distinguished Research Scientist, Autodesk, to use 3D printed DNA in tailoring the oncolytic viruses to each specific patient (dog).

Though their work is essentially still in the preliminary stages, it seems promising enough.

What should be made of this?

It will come as no surprise to you that I don’t really like the idea of using animals as testbeds for human innovations. (Why should they have to suffer so we can have longer-lasting mascara?)

Admittedly, my views are quite radical: I don’t think animals should be subjugated to any of the atrocities humans regularly commit against them. (You should think twice about eating that burger or having that steak.)

“Well, what if testing on the animals leads to a new treatment option for a sick human?”

Ah, the classic “the ends justify the means” philosophy.

Not completely without merit, right? It seems completely logical to sacrifice other species for the betterment of the human species, doesn’t it?

Logical sure, but it’s also particularly Vulcan—and not in a good way.

Put plainly: what gives humans the right to grow animals solely for the purpose of testing against intended-for-human innovations? Create life, only to predestine that being to a life of glorified [science-sanctioned] torture?

I’m not an often Bible-quoter, but I do occasionally like to throw this one out there in refutation of many conservatives’ assertion that it was bestowed upon humanity some god-like dominion over the Earth:

Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend [dress, KJV] and keep it (Genesis 2:15)

Again, if you’re into Judeo-Christian religiosity, “Dress and keep it,” sure sounds an awful like “take care of.”


Does “taking care of” animals involve exposing them to potentially harmful chemicals and toxins, just so that humans might have a better [insert human desire here]?

Eh. What do I know?

To be clear: what Dr. Smith and Hessel are doing—using experimental human treatments on animals—is way less morally apprehensible than everything I’ve mentioned previously. Why? Because in this scenario, the animals themselves may benefit. Dr. Smith and Hessel can’t properly test oncolytic viruses unless the host organisms have cancer. If Dr. Smith and Hessel weren’t testing their remedies on these afflicted dogs, the dogs would probably die anyways. Why not test experimental human remedies on dogs? They have nothing to lose. They only stand to gain.

I look forward to the day when humans forego all of our inclinations toward animal cruelty—animal testing included. As depressing as the situation is for animal advocates, I am encouraged by our progress. Everyday, humanity take small steps toward true stewardship of the planet. Bible-belief or not, that’s the way it should be.