Viva La Vegan!

This article examines a particular scientific experiment that recently took place at a university. This experiment involved researchers manually shaking nine lambs to death. Animal experimentation is common in Australia, despite the frequent attempts to hide the procedures of the research from public view. This article seeks to discuss the inherently cruel actions of this experiment and reflects how these experiments are somewhat contradictory, normalised and constantly justified in western culture, despite the obvious brutality involved.

A recent news article [1] reported that scientists were conducting research in an attempt to examine “Shaken Baby Syndrome” in children under three years of age, which has long been a trait of domestic violence cases. The researchers, including University of Adelaide pathology professor Roger Byard, set out to show that no head trauma other than shaking was needed to cause fatal head injuries.  Their experiments involved researchers manually shaking nine lambs with three failing to regain consciousness after the anaesthetic wore off.

Lambs, like other animals, are sentient beings who feel pain and should be protected and respected – not shaken to death in unnecessary experiments. According to Dr Jane Goodall it has been scientifically proven that: “farm animals feel pleasure and sadness, excitement and resentment, depression, fear, and pain” [2]. The law would not allow companion animals such as dogs and cats to be shaken to death, so why was this violence allowed to be conducted on lambs?

“Shaken Baby Syndrome” has already been proven to be lethal on humans. Sadly, there are many cases which prove this already, including autopsies of babies who have experienced this form of abuse and other similar research as evidenced by the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome which also shows that no head trauma other than headshaking is needed to cause injury [3]. Surely, therefore, any ‘new’ results from the experiments the Committee approved would, by any basic ethical standard, simply not be worth the suffering and trauma experienced by the lambs.

The Adelaide Ethics Committee approved this research despite the inherently and obvious cruel and fatal procedures involved. The Australian code of practice for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes (7th edition, 2004) expressly states that ‘‘Death as an end-point’ must be avoided wherever possible’ (clause 1.27; emphasis added). Clearly, such factors were not taken into consideration when examining the ethics of this research.

One would assume that scientists and ethics committees are already aware that violence is wrong, yet in this research scientist’s enacted violence towards nonhuman animals by shaking lambs to death. Therefore it remains a paradox that abuse was conducted on one life to prove that abusing another is wrong.  

Animal research rests on a logical contradiction: those who support such research believe it is morally acceptable to experiment on animals because animals are different from humans, yet these experiments are supposed to be scientifically valid because animals are (physiologically) ‘similar’ to humans.  Simply put, if animals are the same as humans then it is wrong to experiment on them. If they are different from animals, then there is no justifiable reason to experiment on them. In this case, all this research really showed was that lambs can be shaken to death.

As Ruth Harrison states in Animal Machines, “if one person is unkind to an animal it is considered to be cruelty, but where a lot of people are unkind to animals, especially in the name of commerce, the cruelty is condoned and, once large sums of money are at stake, will be defended to the last by otherwise intelligent people” [4]. Thus these experiments are constantly defended and ethics of these procedures rarely come into question. 

To conclude, there are alternative methodologies which could be used to conduct scientific research on this topic and others, without causing unnecessary suffering to and the death of sentient animals. And if the researchers are not aware of such methods, then that surely would be a worthwhile subject of further scientific research.


Lara Drew is currently doing a PhD in education on animal rights and tutoring at the University of Canberra. She is an animal rights activist and volunteers for Animal Liberation ACT.

[1] ‘Experiments prove violent shaking fatal for babies’ by Miles Kemp, Adelaide Now, 10 July 2012.

[2] Jane Goodall, The Inner World of Farm Animals. Their Amazing Social, Emotional, and Intellectual Capacities. USA: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2009.

[3] National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome. Retrieved from

[4] Ruth Harrison. Animal Machines: The New Factory Farming Industry. USA: Ballantine Books, 1966.


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