The National Council for Experimentation on Animal Subjects is slated to decide today whether to continue to allow the use of animals in experiments for educational purposes. While in Europe and the U.S. the use of animals in instructional experiments has declined significantly in recent years, in Israel thousands of animals are operated on and put to death every year as part of medical and life sciences studies.

The experiments are carried out largely in order to illustrate principles that are already known.

The council was established as part of changes made to the 1994 Animal Welfare Law. Council chair Prof. Ehud Ziv and his deputy, Dr. Zelina Bengershon, refused to give Haaretz a copy of the draft proposal that will be submitted to the council today for approval. According to a copy that was obtained by Haaretz, the latest version contains no major changes: Experiments for educational purposes are not treated any differently from research experiments.

The law calls for using alternatives to animal experiments when possible but leaves the decision to the course's teacher. However, the new version specifies that the lecturers must receive permission from the curriculum committee of the educational institution.

'No justification'

Opponents argue that there is no longer any need to use animal experimentation in the teaching process. "In light of the advanced illustrative means existing today, there is no justification for conducting experiments on animals" for educational purposes, says attorney Ehud Peleg, legal adviser to Noach, the umbrella organization of animal rights groups in Israel and the organization's representative to the council.

This position has the backing of several experts, including Israeli scientists, some of them members of the council. The council itself, however, refuses to rule that there are reasonable alternatives to all such experiments, which would force all institutions of higher education in the country to switch to these alternatives.

What are the alternatives? According to Tamir Lousky, a Master's student at the Hebrew University's Faculty of Agriculture, Rehovot and a member of InterNICHE, the International Network for Humane Education, a plethora of alternatives is available. He cites the use of computerized models and simulators, including technologically sophisticated dummies that can "bleed" and respond to a range of circumstances, as well as digital videos of operations and computerized simulators.

Tamir Lousky cites a recent article published in a major U.S. veterinary medicine journal that reviewed 17 earlier studies comparing the achievements of students whose studies included animal experimentation and those where alternative methods were employed. The authors, from Tufts University, concluded that all of the studies found similar levels of achievement in both groups.