Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/697

This page has been validated.

them. I introduce the word death as well as pain, because, in spite of the etymology of the word, and the fact that vivisection suggests to the public mind pain only, and not death at all, the truth is, that in at least the great majority of cases vivisection does or ought to mean death only, and not pain at all. In the minds of those ignorant of physiology—and they are foremost, if not alone, in blaming vivisection—much confusion has arisen from the different meanings attached to the words "life" and "living." I alluded to these in the beginning of this paper. To many such it is perhaps a revelation to learn that an animal may be kept alive—that is, with its heart in full working order, and its respiratory movements continuing with perfect regularity—for hours and hours after all signs of consciousness have disappeared. All operations performed on such an animal would come under the term vivisection; but, in the total absence of all signs of consciousness, it would be absurd to speak of pain. It would perhaps be a still greater revelation to such to learn that a frog, at a later stage in the series of events which we class together as death—when its brain and spinal cord have been instantaneously destroyed by an operation the pain of which may be said to be infinitesimal, and its heart removed at a time when feeling is impossible—may yet be made by proper means to kick and jump and move its body about in almost all possible ways. Any operation performed on the body of such a frog would by many be still called vivisection; but, to speak of such a mere mass of muscle and nerve as suffering pain, is about as truthful and rational as to say that it is cruel to cut down a tree, though a silly, ignorant looker-on might shriek when the leg moved, for about the same cause and with the same reason that the African grovels before his fetich.

Did the reader ever see a rabbit completely under the influence of chloral? Lying prostrate, with flaccid limbs, with head sunk back on the limp neck, motionless and still, at first sight, it seems quite dead and gone. But a gentle heaving of the body, a rise and a fall every few seconds, tells you that it still breathes; and a finger placed on the chest may feel the quick throb of the still beating heart. You pull it and pinch it; it does not move. You prick with a needle the exquisitely-sensitive cornea of its eye; it makes no sign, save only perhaps a wink. You make a great cut through its skin with a sharp knife; it does not wince. You handle, and divide, and pinch nerves which, in ourselves, are full of feeling; it gives no sign of pain. Yet it is full of action. To the physiologist, its body, though poor in what the vulgar call life, is still the stage of manifold events, and each event a problem, with a crowd of still harder problems at its back. He therefore brings to bear on this breathing, pulsating, but otherwise quiescent frame, the instruments which are the tools of his research. He takes deft tracings of the ebb and flow of blood in the widening and narrowing vessels; he measures the time and the force