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Neurotoxicol Teratol. 1992 Jul-Aug;14(4):253-7.

Euthanasia by decapitation: evidence that this technique produces prompt, painless unconsciousness in laboratory rodents.

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National Center for Toxicological Research, Jefferson, AR 72079.


Rapid euthanasia of laboratory rodents without the use of anesthesia is a necessary research technique whenever there is the likelihood of anesthesia or stress interfering with the chemistry of the tissues under investigation. Decapitation has long been the procedure of choice under such circumstances. Recently, however, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) panel on euthanasia recommended that decapitation be avoided on the grounds that the decapitated head may be conscious and suffering for as much as 15 seconds. The panel further recommended that if decapitation was scientifically necessary, the decapitated head be immediately immersed in liquid nitrogen. These AVMA guidelines now enjoy regulatory status; the recommendation that decapitation be avoided has thus caused considerable difficulty for all research requiring rapid, anesthesia-free collection of tissues. The scientific validity of these recommendations is consequently a matter of great practical as well as theoretical importance. The decision to discourage decapitation appears to have been based on a single literature report claiming that the EEG of the decapitated head revealed conscious suffering for more than 10 seconds (Mikeska and Klemm 1976). This review carefully examines the scientific literature on this subject. It is concluded that the report by Mikeska and Klemm of EEG activation in the decapitated head is correct, but that this phenomenon is also seen when the decapitated head is under deep anesthesia, and in normal brains under ether anesthesia or during REM sleep. Hence these findings do not demonstrate either consciousness or the perception of pain.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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