Gabriola Vegeteers

Who’s the guinea pig?

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by Sigrid Bjarnason Originally published in The Flying Shingle, Monday, June 2, 2014

Kate, an amazing athlete and close friend of mine for many years, decided to enter the Ride to Conquer Cancer this June to honour two relatives who recently died from the disease. From Vancouver to Seattle, this 200-kilometre-plus bike ride is one arduous undertaking. Kate emailed me with a request for sponsorship.

Five years ago if I had received this appeal I would have pulled out my credit card immediately, punched in the numbers, made the donation, and felt good about the fact that I was helping to conquer cancer. This year I kept my card in my wallet until I could find out more.

Like most of us I’ve had friends and relatives affected by cancer, and like all of us I’d love to help find a cure for this awful disease. But last year I read The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary, a book by Canadian Andrew Westoll.

It’s a beautiful, haunting account of a group of chimps who endured years as the unwilling subjects of invasive medical research experiments. After reading about these complex and troubled souls, I was concerned that my donation would fund similar research.

So I began my own research to find out where my donation would end up. I started by calling the contact number on the Ride to Conquer Cancer website. The woman who answered didn’t know whether animals were used in the subsequent research so she passed me on to someone who surely would. The second woman didn’t know either, but suggested I talk to someone at the BC Cancer Foundation who she said would know more. The lovely young woman who answered couldn’t say, but was certain someone at the BC Cancer Agency would know. No one there did, but they advised that I call the Cancer Research Centre, whose receptionist suggested I contact the BC Cancer Agency. When I told him I’d already tried the BCCA, he transferred me to the librarian at the Research Centre who was lovely, couldn’t answer my question, but promised to have someone involved in research give me a call.

A few hours later the phone rang. It was a woman in the Marketing and Communication Department who couldn’t actually tell me anything about funds for the Conquer ride specifically, but gave me another number to call. And on it went.

It’s not much discussed, so most of us don’t know that there are many effective alternatives to research using animals: epidemiology, in vitro research, clinical observation, genetic research, post-mortem studies, computer modelling, human stem cell research, the list goes on. Organisations that conduct research that does not involve animals can apply to be listed at so that potential donors will know they are not causing animals harm.

The BC Generations Project, funded principally by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, has 30,000 participants in BC, including me. The goal of this long-term health study is to find out why some people are more apt to develop cancer and related chronic diseases. Participants contribute health history, diet, lifestyle info, weight, height, and DNA. I volunteered to be a guinea pig in order to leave the real guinea pigs alone.

What about my donation for the Ride to Conquer Cancer? In the end, I had to support Kate in her mission to honour her relatives. So I sat down at my computer with my credit card and punched in the numbers. When I hit the Donate Now button, I hoped my bit of virtual cash would do some good. And I sent a silent prayer that maybe – just maybe – it would do no harm.

One thought on “Who’s the guinea pig?

  1. Excellent article! Too few people think about where their money is going to when a donation is made. It’s so wonderful that you took everything into consideration before making your decision. Thank you for sharing your story.

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