The development of animal protections has surely reduced suffering in the laboratory. Yet our safeguards have also served to quarantine the ethical debate. The protocols for painful experiments are approved by institutional committees, and the welfare of lab animals has become a topic for obscure scientific measurements. Few outside science get to see what happens inside the laboratory or consider its costs and benefits. (My recent visit with Clayton was itself unusual; primate labs are rarely so welcoming to members of the press.
Pepper brought us through the laboratory door 40 years ago and generated enough public engagement to pass the Animal Welfare Act. Someone's pet—a member of the family—had gotten lost in the enormous enterprise of biomedicine, and we all went in after her. But scientists today no longer need to pluck stray dogs from country roads. Today's lab animals are professionals—life-long civil servants like Clayton, toiling away in the back rooms of a public institution; or else they're disposable commodities, like the millions of rats and mice that ship out from breeding centers every year. Theirs is a closed ecosystem of universities, hospitals, and breeders—a world behind doors with electronic locks.
Will anyone bother to look inside?