Biological science 1995–1999; Applied Ethics 2000 - 2001
Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Brazil, and Leuven University, Belgium

When I chose to study biology, I also decided to respect life and never to treat it as a tool or instrument. But in some way I was still afraid of being forced to use animals during the course. The first time I had to face this situation, in a first year discipline called 'Cellular Biology', I decided to boycott the practical as a protest, and talked with friends to convince them to do the same. But a rat was killed anyway... just to see some hepatic cells doing fagocitosis.

The second animal practical was in 'Human Physiology' in my second year, where a dog would be killed after the professor had shown us the dog's lungs and heart, and his reactions to various chemical substances like adrenaline. One week before the practical, in the classroom, I questioned the necessity of this practical to the professor, who was very uncomfortable about the issue. Up until then, nobody had ever questioned it in biology, but many students began to ask for explanations as a consequence of the discussion.

"OK," the professor said, "let's do it in a different way. Those who have no objections to this practical are invited to do the experiment next week. And those who do have objections are invited to stay at home". Until then, this practice was obligatory, but just 4 students, out of approximately 30, agreed to performing the vivisection of the dog. Well, this outcome didn't satisfy some students, including myself. Why should a dog be killed to teach something already known? Is the 'right to learn', argued by these 4 students, more important than the right to life of this dog?

It is important to note that in an earlier semester, in the same experiment, the dog regained consciousness and started to scream. One student broke into tears, and many were leaving the lab in shock. The professor forced them to stay in the lab, saying: "Calm down! It's a physiological process! Stay calm! We can apply more anaesthesia!"

So I and two female students decided to 'do something different' ourselves. Some minutes before the practical was scheduled to begin, I entered the lab and my two friends stayed at the door. The dog was there, tied to the ground in chains and looking at me in fear. I had no doubts about what to do. I freed him from the chains, hugged him and ran away. Behind me, I could hear some people shouting "Hey, hey, hey!", but I didn't look back. I kept on running through the Biology Restaurant, with a lot of surprised faces looking at this strange scene. I got into a car, and drove home. Once arrived, and calmer, I took him out and walked around the neighbourhood. Now his name is Kriegger, and a friend from Biology is taking care of him still.

We were charged with 'invasion' and 'theft of public property'. Our situation looked bad, but our ethical and educational arguments were strong. The physiology staff were threatening serious punishment for us if we didn't give the dog back, but we said that this same dog was stolen from the streets - and that we would definitely not give him back! We said that life cannot be property, and we were not studying biology to learn this kind of thinking. We agreed that the chain would be returned to the department. They argued that they knew about ethical principles regarding lab animals, and we argued that the basis of any ethical principle must be respect for life, especially if the being involved is a sentient one.

Concerning the 'invasion', I had good arguments: I was studying the discipline, and I entered the lab in a normal period, using no force or violence. So in the end we were given a 'warning' (the lowest sentence), and had to promise to organise three seminars or conferences regarding the use of animals in education. During this time, most biology students stayed at our side, and many professors too.

The first discussion about the use of animals in biology was a success. Many people, from a variety of courses, showed up. Many aspects of the 'dog theft' were brought up, and many arguments were discussed. The second debate, in June 1999, was about the use of 'dog labs' in surgical techniques within the medical curriculum. About 200 people, from many different courses, were present in the 4 hour discussion between surgeons, animal lab technicians, biologists, animal behaviourists, philosophers, students, and the community.

After the 'dog theft', the physiology department replaced the use of dogs with videos. They are still investing in different alternatives, like CD-roms and tutorials. In biology, and some other courses, the 'dog lab' doesn't exist anymore. Some experiments in Vertebrate Zoology, like frog dissection, were eliminated. There are a few disciplines that are still using animals, but less than before. The tendency is towards the total replacement or elimination of these practicals from the curriculum.

Now I am working on alternatives to the use of animals in all courses in tertiary education. We have set up and co-ordinate a Brazilian network of students and professionals from different regions and backgrounds, with links across Latin America, and have a comprehensive website in Portuguese. At the moment we are working on the subtitling of the InterNICHE video 'Alternatives in Education', trying to develop the network in universities across the country and closely supporting conscientious objection cases. And I have begun studying for an MA in Applied Ethics, focussing on the very issue of animal use in tertiary education.

The support from InterNICHE, PCRM (USA), NAVS (USA), ATRA (Switzerland), the Comitato Scientifico Antivivisezionista (Italy), and many other organisations and individuals, is crucial to the development of this new work in Brazil.