Massey University Institute of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, Bachelor of Veterinary Science
1998 – 2002
 

 In 2001 one third year veterinary student at Massey University’s Institute of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences conscientiously objected to participating in physiology vivisection laboratories in which sheep were killed. She was initially denied alternatives, but, after other third year students voiced similar concerns, Massey decided to allow conscientious objection to the labs. Fourth year student Jessica Beer, who had previously seen and experienced how little herself and her classmates had learnt from the labs, gained permission to survey the opinions of third, fourth and fifth year students on how much they believed they had learnt from them. The results were damning, resulting in the complete elimination in 2002 of two of the labs, with the remaining four becoming demonstration labs, with only two sheep being killed for the entire class – a total of eight sheep killed annually. Previously 68 sheep had been vivisected and killed in these labs each year. In 2004 the Physiology Department intends to end these laboratories entirely (although rabbit uteri, rabbit small intestines and toad skeletal muscle tissues may still be used in the second year physiology labs).


Beer, J., 2002, “Student survey ends labs at Massey’s veterinary college”

In 2001 one third year veterinary student at Massey University’s Institute of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences conscientiously objected to participating in physiology vivisection laboratories in which sheep were killed. She was initially denied alternatives, but, after other students voiced similar concerns, Massey chose to allow conscientious objection to these labs. Faced with the fact that this was more than just one or two odd students, the faculty released a statement to students in the third year of the course to the effect that these sheep labs would no longer be compulsory. By this point the class was part way through the series of labs, and a small group of five to six students elected not to participate in any further labs and instead were given the alternative of writing an essay on the same topic. This was the first victory for the students, progressing from the labs being compulsory to them becoming an elective learning tool.

During my third year I had seen and experienced how little I and my classmates had learnt from the labs, and so I gained permission to survey the opinions of third, fourth and fifth year students on how much they believed they had learnt from them. The results were strongly indicative of the students’ perceptions, and had a strong influence on the reconstruction of the Veterinary Physiology course. At the end of 2001 there was a decision to eliminate two of the six labs and to present the remaining four labs as demonstration labs only - a total of 68 sheep reduced to only eight sheep being used for teaching purposes in the third year course. It is not a perfect solution but that means only eight more left to save.

For some background to what these labs involved, in the physiology course for our veterinary degree there were a series of live sheep labs where groups of three students would anaesthetise sheep to conduct physiological experiments on them, including:

  • An introduction lab on the procedures and skills to be used during the year
  • The effects of Haemorrhage
  • Autonomic responses
  • Arterial Blood Pressure
  • Bile acid secretions
  • Saliva production

During the laboratory classes students would have limited supervision by instructors who were shared amongst all the groups. The drugs and protocols used during the anaesthesia and surgery were archaic and are almost never used in modern veterinary surgery. e.g. tracheal cannulation, and no aseptic technique was used. Many students felt extremely stressed and often the results would be so wildly inaccurate that students could not learn any facts from the outcomes. At the conclusion of these labs, if the sheep were not already deceased by that time, they were then euthanased by the students using an overdose of potassium chloride. 

The achievement at the end of 2001 to eliminate some of the labs was such a huge break though, and proved to me the importance of working with the academic staff. I had formed a respectful relationship with the Head of the Physiology Department and he was full of encouragement for us to investigate the benefits and disadvantages of these labs from the students’ point of view. Many of the other lecturing staff were far more scathing about this survey, but by presenting a reasoned and scientific argument to the Head of Department we achieved change even in the face of the views of certain professors.

Over the vacation of 2001-2002 further work was done by the university in regards to the format of the Physiology Curriculum in Massey’s BVSc. course. When I returned to undertake my final year in 2002 I approached the Professor to get confirmation of the changes to the Physiology laboratory classes. He informed me that it had been decided to continue demonstrating four of the labs until the end of 2003, and from 2004 onwards there will be no further use of live sheep in student laboratories. However I noted that at this point they will be continuing the use of rabbit uteri, rabbit small intestines and toad skeletal muscle tissues in the second year physiology labs. 

Every step is a success, and the change in the attitudes of these professors is the best sign of things changing. The survey was a fair bit of work, and I have personally got some subtle abuse for it from fellow students, as well as disapproval from some of my lecturers. But the grin I now have, because I have helped make a change, is worth it. If anyone is a student and they object to the way their course is run in regards to animal treatment and animal rights, then there is something you can do. Don't waste time antagonising the staff and lecturers, that only wastes time and creates anger. Working WITH them no matter how much you disagree with their philosophies on life - this is the best way to make a change.


The preparation of the survey report in co-operation with university staff and utilising an independent university statistician/researcher meant that the results were analysed, discussed and presented in the scientific and statistical language of the academics themselves. It was partly the fact that this report was presented so scientifically and professionally that made it impossible for the academics to fail to see the obvious, which was that, as the students neared the end of their veterinary training, they believed that the educational value of the laboratories was much less than they had previously believed or been told, and generally not worth the lives lost. It then became nearly impossible for those academics to maintain scientific credibility without acting as they did - by cancelling almost all of the experiments.

The Massey University questionnaire and survey report provide outstanding examples of how to design a survey questionnaire, statistically analyse the survey results, and present the information in the form of a scientific report. It would be very, very easy to adapt the Massey questionnaire and survey report for use elsewhere. It should be available on the InterNICHE web site or the web site associated with the AVARStudents email list. Alternatively, enquire on the HumEdANZ email list whether anyone has a copy. - Editor. 


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