Maximum Tolerated Dose: Testing Society’s Perception of Animal Testing

Maximum Tolerated DoseIn 2010, 1,393,606 animals were subjected to animal testing in Canada alone. Despite the implementation of the Animal Welfare Act, this continues to be an issue in health and university research labs across Canada.

In order to bring awareness to this issue, The Animal Equity Society hosted a two-day event which included a screening of Karol Orzerchowski’s Maximum Tolerated Dose, as well as a lecture by Dr. Lauren Corman, Professor of Sociology (Critical Animal Studies) at Brock University. The screening was held at Artspace on October 28, followed by the lecture at Traill College the following night. Both events allowed members of the public to take part in a brief Q&A session regarding various issues surrounding animal rights.

Maximum Tolerated Dose is a documentary that follows the lives of those who have had first-hand encounters with animal testing and vivisection. The film is comprised of raw footage of undercover investigations, testimonies of former scientists and lab technicians, and stories about the animals who have experienced these ordeals. It places the world of animal experimentation under the microscope and also focuses on the narratives of the those who left the animal research industry after being faced with moral conflict of being exposed to the cruelty.

The manner in which the film is presented emphasizes the obliviousness and sadistic attitude of today’s society through ironic comedic relief of 1950s animal research footage. Maximum Tolerated Dose also calls attention to the emotional separation of the researcher and their animal “specimen,” and how their lives are then manipulated into nothing more than a mere statistic in a study.

The film tells the stories of Rachel Weiss, former research student, and Sarah Kito, an undercover animal rights officer who embedded herself in the world of animal testing. Weiss recollects her time spent with a chimp named Jerom who was infected with HIV, as well as another primate named Darla who lived 17 years of her life subjected to intense medical experimentation.

Also, Weisse remembers how her supervisors were becoming concerned about the fact that she had become “mentally disturbed” throughout her stay at the facility. She was provided with internal psychiatric help to avoid the possibility of her exposing the truth about the events transpiring inside animal testing facilities around the world. According to Orzerchowski, the goal of Maximum Tolerated Dose was to “re-ignite the debate about animal testing by bringing these industry secrets perspectives to the forefront.”

This film was powerful and heart-wrenching to say the least, and more terrifying than any horror I have ever watched. Unlike horror movies, this is based on real events that happen on a daily basis around the world.

For me, it was also particularity difficult to watch the section about canine testing due to the fact that I kept reminiscing about my own experience with rescuing animals, and imagining the horror these animals experience on a daily basis. I was faced with my own mental conflict in which I saw the world outside. Every minute that passed evoked even more painful and vivid thoughts about the experimentation industry.

Unlike many other animal testing documentaries, Maximum Tolerated Dose does not rely on graphic images of slain, mutilated animals to get its point across, but rather, expresses it through an artistic representation and factual narratives.

Nevertheless, it demonstrated how little society’s attitude has changed when it comes to the world of animal experimentation. In that sense, this makes Maximum Tolerated Dose one of the most influential and heart-rending animal rights documentaries ever made.

The screening was followed by a lecture entitled “Silence Fiction: Voice, Resistance, and Animal Politics” by Dr. Corman at Traill College the next night on October 29. As implied by its title, the lecture focused on feminist, anti-racist, and liberation-based movements in relation to the issue of animal advocacy, which was the basis behind her own work at Brock. It was also the basis for her active involvement as the co-host of the Toronto animal advocacy radio show, Animal Voices.

The lecture outlined her dissertation, The Ventriloquist’s Burden? Animals, Voice, and Politics, and was divided into four main chapters, “Voice and the Human Subject,” “Reading for Voice,” “Voice and Animality,” and “Animal Voices,” each which examined human voice and its relationship to subjectivities in animal equality and advocacy.

In the preface, she discussed the “Ventriloquist’s Burden” (Debra Horwitz’s claim about animal rights discourse), Donna Haraway’s post-humanist theory, and the concept of colonial discourse (the external world of our direct encounters with animals). In addition, Corman emphasized the fact that efforts to connect human and animal abuse is enhanced by our inability to provide a voice for animals without being contradictory, as we are fighting to provide them with their own voice. This is the “Voice of the Voiceless” statement, which Corman addressed by asking the audience, “How can we foreground animal voices within advocacy?”

The predominant message being conveyed here is that animals are living, breathing creatures who feel emotion, pain, and suffering just like humans. Just because they cannot communicate in a language that we understand, does not give us the right to place them below us. Despite the fact that 98.84 percent of human-borne illnesses are absent in animals, and the differences in human and animal anatomy result in false findings and even serious reactions, animal testing continues to exist today.

The Canadian Council on Animal Care implemented the “Three R Tenet” (which was first described by W. M. Russell and R. L. Burch in 1959 with their book, The Principles of Humane Experimental) as a guide for the ethical use of animal testing in scientific research. The first R is replacement: methods which avoid or replace the use of animals in an area where animals would otherwise have been used. The second is reduction: strategies which will result in fewer animals being used. And the third is refinement: the modification of experimental procedures to minimize pain and distress.

Although it is being used by some facilities in Canada, most still use inhumane methods, mainly due to lower costs and increased convenience. Some of these methods include dermal penetration, toxicokinetics (the rate of a chemical entering the body and what happens when it is there), and repeated dosage toxicity (or, in other words, “maximum tolerated dosage”).