News & Alerts

Compassion Fatigue Openly Discussed at 2018 IACUC Conference

Compassion Fatigue Openly Discussed at 2018 IACUC Conference

As someone professionally, and personally dedicated to ending the use of animals in research and testing, I never would have expected to find myself discussing an area of common ground with professionals in the animal research industry. However, that’s exactly where I found myself during a two-part session on the subject of compassion fatigue at the 2018 Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee Conference (IACUC) Conference in Columbus, OH. The conference's session was a testament to how open discussions have great potential to provide valuable insight on current issues and barriers which surround NEAVS' mission to end the use of animals in research and testing.

Compassion fatigue in the animal protection movement is all too prevalent. Having a career in the movement is fulfilling in many ways, but there is a dark side. For example, there is repeated exposure to graphic footage of animal cruelty and suffering through controversial experiments, plus reading about egregious animal welfare violations can be jarring. Compassion fatigue is a secondary-traumatic stress disorder (STSD), which may lead to depression, exhaustion, or even suicide. Unfortunately, for many goodhearted people, the “cost of caring” eventually drives them to withdraw from the animal protection movement altogether.

Ironically, the same condition plagues many individuals working within the research industry. The session highlighted a discussion on compassion fatigue in the context of current, and former animal caregivers, investigators, as well as veterinarians and IACUC Committee Members. Speakers discussed the prevalence of the human-animal bond, and associated feelings of attachment to the animals being used in research. They shared stories about the ensuing grief, anxiety, and bereavement, which is caused by illness induction or euthanasia of the animals. They also elaborated on other factors—such as feelings of guilt, isolation, and regret; low morale among animal caregivers; and the perceived inability to talk about work among fellow researchers, and IACUC Committee Members.

In a refreshingly judgment-free environment, several participants (including myself) shared personal stories about their experiences with compassion fatigue. Through subsequent conversations with individual attendees, I realized a strong consensus that these same researchers would prefer to use in vitro alternatives if they were available and allowed in their protocols. 

The truth is animal testing negatively impacts animal lives, and human lives—including members of the research industry. For me, this highlights yet another reason for the development, validation, and adoption of scientifically superior alternatives, which must continue in order to reduce suffering of all lives.