Groups representing disabled veterans and medical researchers warned this week that legislation banning most medical experimentation on dogs at the Department of Veterans Affairs would deprive veterans of needed medical breakthroughs, and thus represents a dangerous policy change for America's war heroes.
It's a tricky argument for the groups, in part because it pits two worthy and popular causes against each other: animal rights, and ensuring that injured U.S. soldiers get the best medical treatment possible.
Last week, those seeking improved treatment for animals had their say. Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., proposed an amendment to a package of four spending bills for the next fiscal year, which included VA funding.
Brat's amendment banned any VA funding for testing or other activities that bring certain levels of pain to dogs. The amendment passed overwhelmingly, in a voice vote, after a debate in which no one spoke against it.
That easy vote took opponents of the language by surprise, but some have indicated they will work to stop or amend it. They are starting with the argument that the amendment discounts the wounded veterans who stand to benefit from research on animals.
"When House members voted on July 26, 2017 to ban all VA medical testing that causes pain to animals, specifically targeting VA's canine research program, it was the first step toward a complete devaluation of the lives of catastrophically injured veterans," said Sherman Gillums Jr., executive director of Paralyzed Veterans of America, in an op-ed Tuesday.
Gillums appears to be backed by the VA itself. The VA hasn't taken a formal position on the bill, but the VA's own website indicates strong support for continued animal testing for the sake of helping veterans.
"VA's animal research program has saved lives in the past and will save lives in the future," said Dr. Michael Fallon, the VA's chief veterinary medical officer. "It's important for people to recognize that canine research is essential to developing crucial medical advancements to help veterans and non-veterans alike."
Fallon stressed that just 0.05 percent of its animal testing involves dogs, and he and other medical professionals say testing on dogs is often necessary at certain stages of research.
The VA's stated position is backed by outside medical experts who say dogs are still needed in certain cases.
Cindy Buckmaster, board chairperson for Americans for Medical Progress, told the Washington Examiner that dogs have cardiovascular systems that are similar to those found in humans. She said many of the medical techniques used to help treat people for diabetes and cardiovascular disease were worked out through testing on dogs, which she said shows the value of continuing, at the VA and elsewhere.
Supporters of the research ban dismiss this line of thinking, and argue there is simply no need in the modern era to subject animals to any testing, especially tests the inflict pain. But she and Paula Clifford, executive director for Americans for Medical Progress, took issue with claims that there are other ways to research medical treatments without using animals.
"The bill based on idea that the work isn't necessary," Clifford said. "That's not true, the work is necessary."
The two sides are also feuding over what happened at the VA clinic in Richmond, Va., that prompted Brat to introduce his amendment.
During last week's debate in the House, Brat said the VA was needlessly inflicting pain on test canines, and that a report from the VA's Office of Research Oversight showed that dogs were being subjected to abuse.
"From what I read, the type of work they were doing was on the level of torture," he said. "In Richmond, this included inducing heart attacks. At other labs, the VA was giving methamphetamine to narcoleptic Dobermans."
But Buckmaster said reports of excessive cruelty are unfounded. The VA's oversight report, released at the end of May, said officials could not "conclusively determine" signs of negligence or incompetence at the VA, even though it found a case in which a sedative was inappropriately administered to a dog.
It also found no evidence that the VA was trying to hide its use of dogs in medical research, as some charged, or that the VA kept shoddy medical records.
Given these findings, opponents of Brat's language say it's an extreme solution to a moderate problem, one that would eradicate most of the VA's substantial research with dogs that is used to better the lives of veterans.
Under his amendment, all studies resulting in pain to dogs in categories D or E, as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, would not be allowed. Buckmaster said category D procedures, which typically involve surgeries that cause pain that can be relieved through anesthesia or other means, are the most common performed by the VA, and said ending those procedures would essentially end most of the VA's work.
In a statement to the Washington Examiner, Brat defended the language by saying it would prevent "only the most painful and distressing procedures" at the VA.
"Experiments that use procedures that are non-painful or slightly discomforting for dogs will continue," he said.
The immediate goal for opponents of Brat's amendment is to keep it out of a final spending bill for the VA, something that Congress will work on when it gets back from the August break.
Gillums of Paralyzed Veterans of America said his group will argue that the bill goes too far by banning all medical research on dogs, even when the pain can be mitigated by anesthetics.
"This would significantly limit research potential and cures for profoundly disabling conditions, in both humans and animals, for which there's presently no relief," he told the Washington Examiner. "It could also lead to interpretations of the bill that ban all animal research."
He said educating lawmakers is key, and said Brat's use of the word "torture" on the House floor "distracts from the benefits of this research." He said the VA already has strict rules in place for this research, and that researchers should be held accountable if they actually torture animals or violate those standards in other ways.
"But banning all animal research without first gaining a full understanding of what the research community considers 'humane,' not politicians evoking images of helpless animals being subjected to claims of torture, is one way to ensure disabled persons who are hanging on to hope will have nothing left to hope for, if this bill passes," he said.
Gillums said a major challenge is teaching lawmakers how the research in question can help people with spinal cord injuries, circulatory problems and other treatable diseases.
"A good place to start might be to have them visit veterans who will face these conditions for the rest of their lives," he said. "Explain to them why a ban on certain types of animal research is necessary, even if it holds the key to potential breakthroughs that could change their lives."
- Spinal Cord Injury/Disorders Day Treatment Program ... - May 20th, 2019
- Acute Spinal Cord Injury | Johns Hopkins Medicine - May 20th, 2019
- Spinal Cord Injury - ACRM - May 20th, 2019
- Cervical Spinal Cord Injury | SpinalCord.com - May 12th, 2019
- Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury | SpinalCord.com - April 25th, 2019
- Spinal Cord Injury - Brooks Rehabilitation - March 15th, 2019
- Spinal Cord Injury - Diganosis, Symptoms, Treatment and ... - March 12th, 2019
- 3 of the Best Spinal Cord Injury Physiotherapy Treatments - March 2nd, 2019
- Spinal Cord Injury Treatment Arlington, TX | Mansfield ... - January 5th, 2019
- VA Spinal Cord Injury Centers | VetsFirst - January 5th, 2019
- Spinal cord injury - Diagnosis and treatment - Mayo Clinic - December 27th, 2018
- Spinal Cord Injury Information: Levels, Causes, Recovery - December 27th, 2018
- Spinal cord - Wikipedia - December 27th, 2018
- Spinal cord injury - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic - December 19th, 2018
- Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury Treatment & Rehab ... - December 9th, 2018
- Cure Spinal Cord injury Research, therapies, treatments, 2018 - December 9th, 2018
- Spinal Cord Injury Treatment Breakthrough - Epidural ... - November 27th, 2018
- Spinal Cord Injury Types of Injury, Diagnosis and Treatment - November 16th, 2018
- Treatment for Brain & Spinal Cord Injuries | SpinalCord.com - November 14th, 2018
- Disability Training Spinal Cord Injury Recovery (SCI ... - November 14th, 2018
- Spinal Cord Injury Explained - Mad Spaz Club - November 4th, 2018
- Spinal Cord Injury - Conditions - For Patients - UR ... - October 10th, 2018
- Stem Cell Treatment for Spinal Cord Injury ... - August 21st, 2018
- Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation - BrainAndSpinalCord.org ... - July 30th, 2018
- C3, C4, & C5 Vertebrae Spinal Cord Injury | SpinalCord.com - May 28th, 2018
- Spinal Cord Injury Presentation and Treatment | Bone and Spine - May 25th, 2018
- Spinal Cord Injury Zone! - April 17th, 2018
- Stem Cell Treatment for Spinal Cord Injury - Beike ... - April 17th, 2018
- Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation - BrainAndSpinalCord.org - April 12th, 2018
- Spinal Cord Injury | Paralyzed Veterans of America - April 10th, 2018
- Treatment for Spinal Cord Injury To Start Clinical Trial ... - March 23rd, 2018
- Spinal Cord Injury Fact Sheet | California's Stem Cell Agency - March 15th, 2018
- AANS | Spinal Cord Injury - March 15th, 2018
- Spinal Cord Injury Home - Brain and Spinal Cord - March 9th, 2018
- Levels of Spinal Cord Injury - Brain and Spinal Cord - March 7th, 2018
- Spinal Cord Injury Levels - BrainAndSpinalCord.org - Brain ... - March 7th, 2018
- Levels of Spinal Cord Injury Brain and Spinal - January 26th, 2018
- Spinal Cord Injuries - North American Spine Society - December 27th, 2017
- Spinal cord injury Treatments and drugs - Mayo Clinic - December 11th, 2017
- Spinal cord injury - Mayo Clinic - December 9th, 2017
- FSU Researcher Studying Ways To Treat Spinal Cord Injuries At Cellular Levels - Los Alamos Daily Post - September 4th, 2017
- InVivo slashes staff and ousts science chief - Boston Business Journal - Boston Business Journal - September 4th, 2017
- Emergency spending authorized for VA program, but is it enough? - Hometown Focus - August 25th, 2017
- Helmet improvements change the way paramedics, EMTs treat injured athletes on the sidelines - The Denver Post - August 19th, 2017
- Therapeutic Cocktail Could Restore Motor Skills After Spinal Cord Injury, Stroke - Bioscience Technology - August 19th, 2017
- Miracle chemical 'cocktail' could cure spinal cord damage - New York Post - August 16th, 2017
- New SpineScreen app helps parents detect signs of scoliosis in kids - Markets Insider - August 15th, 2017
- Man with spinal cord injury throws first pitch at Brewers game - Fox11online.com - August 14th, 2017
- Walker helps Brewers knock off Reds 7-4 - La Crosse Tribune - August 14th, 2017
- Veteran Goode back for Packers long snapper competition with rookie Hart - FOXSports.com - August 14th, 2017
- Got a Minute?: Keep active, but play it safe to prevent injuries - The Livingston County News - August 12th, 2017
- Spinal Myelopathy: A Slow and? ?Misdiagnosed Spinal Cord Injury - Kasmir Monitor - August 12th, 2017
- InVivo Therapeutics Provides Business Update and Reports 2017 Second Quarter Financial Results - Business Wire (press release) - August 9th, 2017
- Devaluing human life is no way to thank wounded veterans for their ... - The Hill (blog) - August 8th, 2017
- We're finally understanding how we can repair spinal cord injuries ... - ScienceAlert - August 6th, 2017
- 'Second Chance': Dodgers' Kyle Farmer, Alex Wood share a tattoo tribute to paralyzed former teammate - ESPN - August 4th, 2017
- New surgery may offer treatment for spinal injuries - Bel Marra Health - August 2nd, 2017
- Running out of cash and kicked out of its HQ by the landlord, PixarBio hunkers down and slashes staff - Endpoints News - August 2nd, 2017
- National Football League roundup - Eurosport.com - August 2nd, 2017
- InVivo halts trial of spine injury treatment after third patient dies - Boston Business Journal - August 1st, 2017
- Spinal cord injury: Baffour's story - GhanaWeb - August 1st, 2017
- My Republica - Over 17,000 receive medical treatment under PCMTP - Republica - August 1st, 2017
- A bold vision - UMN News - August 1st, 2017
- Drug aims to help treat spinal cord injuries - New Haven Register - July 31st, 2017
- Yale Scientist Aiming To Reverse Spinal Cord Injuries - Hartford Courant - July 31st, 2017
- Death in football: How can we save our kids? | KSDK.com - KSDK - July 31st, 2017
- Working around spinal injuries: Rehabilitation, drug treatment lets rats recover some involuntary movement - Medical Xpress - July 31st, 2017
- ReNetX Bio Launched to Advance Innovative Neuro-Regenerative ... - GlobeNewswire (press release) - July 31st, 2017
- Trump tells cops, 'Don't be too nice' when placing suspects in custody - Cecil Whig - July 31st, 2017
- InVivo Therapeutics Opens First Site in the United Kingdom for ... - Business Wire (press release) - July 12th, 2017
- InVivo Therapeutics Announces Stanford Medicine as New Site for ... - Business Wire (press release) - July 12th, 2017
- Beach mishaps can cause broken bones or paralysis - Santa Rosa Press Gazette - July 10th, 2017
- Invivo Therapeutics (NVIV) Names Richard Toselli, M.D. as CMO - StreetInsider.com - July 10th, 2017
- Scholar Rock and the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis Present ... - Business Wire (press release) - July 10th, 2017
- 'Part of our family': Shriners support of hospitals has changed local lives - Daytona Beach News-Journal - July 9th, 2017
- Man Uses BJJ To Treat Paralysis - Jiu-Jitsu Times - July 8th, 2017
- Jermichael Finley Says Leaving Football Is Hard But Coming Back ... - Deadspin - July 8th, 2017
- Private clinics' peddling of unproven stem cell treatments is unsafe and unethical - Medical Xpress - July 7th, 2017
- HEALTH MATTERS: Say goodbye to that pain in your neck - centraljersey.com - July 6th, 2017
- Injured AFD firefighter headed to special treatment center - KTUU.com - July 6th, 2017