HAVANA TIMES — The guillotine was dull. That is why we had to use scissors to cut the heads off.
One is hard pressed to find anyone willing to have their head cut off with a pair of scissors just like that, so they taught us a technique.
We had to hold the rat by its tail and start twisting it, so that the body would turn like a sling.
When the rat began spinning fast enough, its head was made to collide with the edge of the lab table.
The rat would be knocked unconscious, making it possible for us to cut its head off.
With the same pair of scissors, the top of the skull would be removed and the brain extracted.
A part of the brain, the striatum, would then be carefully extirpated and subjected to a complex process to reveal its biochemical components.
This was a standard procedure at a research center where I did lab work at the end of the second year of my career.
When I look back on those cruel practices, I find it hard to understand why I didn’t flee from that laboratory on ethical grounds, or how I managed to fall in love with a beautiful girl there, a place of torture for some of the life-forms that coexisted with us there.
Lab rats are beautiful animals. One need only look at them, observe them closely….Incidentally, is there such a thing as an ugly animal?
After that experience, I worked in a state-of-the-art laboratory for six years. I performed transgenetic experiments on plants. Because of the procedure described above, I have always enjoyed doing research with plants more than with animals. In most biological research, animals tend to suffer. There is no indication of such suffering when you deal with plants.
But there was also a problem there.
We used antibodies in our experiments.
Antibodies are commonly produced in rabbits and mice.
To do this, they were injected with a solution. Blood was later drawn from them.
While building up these antibodies, the animals probably experience fevers – it is the way an organism normally reacts to an immunological challenge.
But that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part is the way in which blood is drawn from the mice.
We didn’t get to see that, it happened somewhere far from us. Our job consisted in taking the work orders and test tubes to the personnel at the vivarium, which is where all work with animals was conducted. The test tubes would then be returned to us.
Once, an Eppendorf pipette full of blood came with a mouse eye inside. I recall the harmony of those, my first scientific data: a group of curves on the graph rose up almost exponentially, while the control values remained stuck to the horizontal axis.
Impressive, even beautiful! A patent even came out of those results, and another researcher did his PhD thesis with them. I remember it still, and cannot help but remember the mice whose blood was used to calculate that blessed curve.
How many of our successes and joys in life depend on the pain of other beings who remain in the shadows?
How often do we look away and choose not to think about these beings, keeping our hands clean and maintaining our purity, our love for justice and the good, while we place the processes that cause us displeasure (but whose existence we are well aware of) in places that aren’t so far away but are nonetheless virtually invisible?
How many non-human, but also human beings provide those of us who live well with our comforts through their pain?
Vivariums, jails, sweat-shops, training camps, police stations, “developing countries”, it’s all the same – they are beings who either “deserve what they get”, “don’t even have the installed capacity to deserve anything” or we are simply indifferent to, even when like to think otherwise.
In view of this, does anyone in the world have any right to smile?