Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/700

This page has been validated.

fun, and will give rise to about as much pain as a not too enthusiastic sportsman in a short sporting-season.

We have now to ask: What justification does he plead for this death and this pain? What good to mankind is thereby wrought which could not otherwise be gained?

His answer is, that the science of physiology is thereby advanced; that our knowledge of the laws of life has, in the main, been won by experiments on living animals. He, of course, cannot, and no one can, tell the "might have been." Without any such experiments, physics and chemistry, aided by mathematics, might have synthetically resolved the problems of life (though even then it might be said that both physics and chemistry sprang from the older biologic lore, and not so long ago a common physiological preparation, the muscle and nerve of a frog, started a new epoch in physics); but, as a matter of history, experiments on living animals have been the stepping-stones of phyiological progress.

The great Vesalius, the founder of modern anatomy, turning his thoughts to the uses of the structures he had so well described, saw clearly that the problems opening up before him could be settled only by vivisection. In his great work, "De Corporis Humani Fabrica," may be read the evidence, not only that he performed experiments on living animals, but that, had he not in so inscrutable a way forsaken the arduous pleasures of learning for the gossip of a court, those experiments would have led him up to and probably beyond the discovery which years afterward marked an epoch in physiology, and made the name of Harvey immortal. He, indeed, sowed the seed whose fruit Harvey reaped. The corner-stone of physiology, the doctrine of the circulation of the blood, was not built up without death and pain to animals. To-day, it is true, much of the evidence touching the flow of blood may be shown on a dead body, yet the full proof cannot be given even now without an experiment on a living creature; and certainly Harvey's thoughts were guided by his study of the living, palpitating heart, and the motions of the living arteries, quite as much as by the suggestions coming from dead valves and veins.

After Harvey came Haller, whose keen intellect dispersed the misty notions of the spiritualists, and by the establishment of the doctrine of "irritability" laid the foundations of the true physiology of the nervous system: he too, in his work, wrought death and suffering on animals.

Another great step onward was made when Charles Bell and Magendie, by experiments on animals more painful than any of the present day, traced out the distinction between motor and sensory nerves; and yet another, when Marshall Hall and others demonstrated by vivisections the wide-spread occurrence and vast importance of reflex actions.

What was begun with death and pain has been carried forward by the same means. I assert deliberately that all our real knowledge of