Veterinary Medical Science, 1994-2000
Azabu University, Sagamihara City, Japan

After 6 years of veterinary studies where I struggled to avoid any practical training which involved the killing of animals, I graduated from veterinary school in March 2000 and passed the state examination required for certification. Whilst campaigning for the protection and rights of animals, I am currently working as a trainee in an animal hospital. I am grateful for the support from InterNICHE's during my student days, and cannot thank you enough for all the courage that you have given me. I am happy to report that I graduated without taking the life of a single animal.

The ethical challenges I faced in my studies began in my 3rd grade, where there were some practical studies in the curriculum. Anatomy Laboratory II and the Physiology Laboratory involved the killing of healthy animals. I tried refusing to attend these labs. During the first semester of my 3rd grade, I did not attend a lab in which a dog was dissected. This was a one-day lab to study the anatomy of the nerve and the blood vessels. One dog was killed per 5-6 students, and about 30 dogs were sacrificed in total.

After consideration, I asked the veterinarian about a dog cadaver which I knew was kept in the freezer - a dog which had been euthanised for medical reasons. During the summer vacation, I conducted an 'alternative' anatomy lab using the cadaver under the guidance of the veterinarian. Thus, I was able to hand in original reports and pictures, and thus obtain the credit for the anatomy lab.

Before Physiology Lab I, I expressed my opinion to the teacher. He empathised with my feelings and conviction, and assigned a different subject to me. Thus, I was able to be absent from all lab experiments which involved killing animals. Instead, I drew up my report using books and a film which I bought in the US. However, this didn't work for Physiology Lab II.

The teacher of Lab II was different from that of Lab I. When I expressed my opinion to the teacher this time, she became angry and said, "If you boycott even one lab, I'll never give you a credit! Then you can't become a veterinarian." I was very shocked by her words. After all, I had already attended the live-animal labs twice against my will. During Lab II, I sat at a distance from the experiment and did not touch or look at it; I just waited for the experiment to finish. I still feel pain and regret whenever I recall that lab.

In the 4th grade, I faced two labs in which I was required to kill animals - the Pharmacology Lab and the Poultry Diseases Lab. Each lab has 12 classes, of which at least three involved animals being killed. The teacher of pharmacology told me that I could get credits if I attended more than two-thirds of the classes. So I simply didn't attend those classes which involved the killing of animals.

In the 5th year of our studies we had 'Surgical Training', which went on throughout the year. It was divided into two parts - 'Basic Practice' for the first half of the year, and 'Application' for the second half. In the former we learned about sterilising and disinfection, anaesthesia, stitching and closing the wound, and the use of various instruments. No animal was used or harmed, except when we used anaesthetic on a dog. But the dog was not euthanised, and was taken care of until it recovered consciousness. In 'Application', surgical procedures were practiced on animals. We had 3-4 surgeries, and a beagle or a pig was used by each group of 10-12 students. The procedures include spaying and neutering, incision of the stomach, extraction of the spleen, and other procedures. All the animals were euthanised after the surgeries. I attended all the Basic Practice, but boycotted Application.

When I told the young instructor in charge of the class my true feelings, he replied that as much as he would have liked to give me the required credits, the professor wouldn't understand my point of view and would probably fail me. Besides the fact that I did not attend my classes, my test score was not satisfactory either, and as a result I did not pass the class.

In my final year I decided to take the latter half of Surgical Training once again with the 5th year students. This time I came up with an original 'alternative' to the surgeries with animal experiments. My alternative was to observe actual surgeries on patients at an animal hospital I had previously visited when studying anatomy, and to hand in a report on my observations. I made observations at the animal hospital 2-4 times a month from May to October. At first I only observed, but later on was allowed to help with the preparation of the surgery and with the anaesthesia, and then also to actually assist in the operation. The experience proved to be very rewarding and an excellent learning experience for me. The report that I handed in to the professor consisted of case studies, the actual surgery, procedures, photographs of the surgery, memos, and other observations that I had made.

Like the previous year, I still did not attend the formal Application classes of surgical procedures. My professor's position of not accepting my alternative changed only at the very end of the whole course. It was just two days before approval to graduate was due to be given, and I was still short of the credits required. I was prepared to accept my fate of not being able to graduate, and not being able to take the state examination, but to my surprise the professor had somehow decided to let me pass the class, and I was given the needed credits.

I still don't know why the professor decided to let me pass the class. I can only guess that my feelings had got through to the other professors of surgery. One of my juniors also does not wish to harm or kill animals in her studies, and she too has been avoiding classes which kill animals. She is successfully collecting her credits, and will be graduating soon.

For my graduation thesis I had investigated the situation regarding lab curricula in veterinary education worldwide, and in fact most students and teachers in Japan do not know that practical training without the killing of animals does exist. In addition, Japanese science universities are rather conservative and don't like the idea of a 'revolution' in their practice.

But I have been widely distributing information about alternatives and how to approach teachers regarding conscientious objection. Veterinary students from other schools contact me for information on alternatives. High school students who are considering pursuing veterinary medicine also write to me asking for advice on ways to graduate without harming or killing animals. And I believe there will be more and more Japanese students who will rise up for the animals to help establish humane education within all schools.