FACTS: The word mouse derives from the Sanskrit “mush” meaning to “steal.” But if the race of mus musculus pinched grain from our forebears, it has more than made up for it in modern times: the lab mouse is the unsung hero of modern medicine, and there are millions of people who literally couldn’t live without it.
Of course, untold numbers of fruit flies and the nematode C. elegans have also made the ultimate sacrifice and rendered incalculable service to humanity. But for many questions relating to genetics, immunology, cancer-research, and drug testing, only a mammalian relative is close enough on the family tree to provide answers. And as far as mammals are concerned, mice are among the smallest; they breed and mature rapidly (and prolifically); they have gentle fathers who do not harm their young (which facilitates breeding); and they have an easy, pleasing disposition.
Nevertheless, because we feel a common bond with our murine relatives, using them without their consent to harvest the tree of knowledge raises moral and ethical concerns. Indeed, certain mice-families have given hundreds of generations of their kin for our account. (The BALB/c family, whose progenitor came to the attention of Dr. H. J. Bragg in an Ohio pet dealership in 1913, has provided some of the noblest service of all.)
But regardless of whether our mortality justifies the morality, we should certainly acknowledge and be grateful for the magnitude of the debt that we owe to these tiny creatures.
And perhaps a bit of cheese from time to time isn’t so out of line after all?
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