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Biomedicine in museums

Laboratory guillotines — rules and procedures for the use of commercial small animal euthanasia machines

Inspired by Morten’s post on the ‘rat guillotine’ that we collected during our first ‘Archaeology of Contemporary Biomedicine Garbage Day’ exercise in 2007, I asked the rete list “if there are other ‘rat guillotines’ around or if this is a unique Copenhagen death machine?” — and immediately received some interesting answers:

Dartmouth anatomist Frank Manasek responds that these weren’t necessarily rat guillotines, but rather general small-animal guillotines:

In the US they were available commercially at least in the 1960s when I used one for several years decapitating hamsters. My commercial model looked just like the one illustrated except it didn’t have constraint tubes.

Rich Paselk, who heads the Scientific Instrument Museum at Humboldt State University also recalls using such a machine as a student in biochemistry in California back in 1967:

Aside from the animal issues there was also the fun of convincing the rat to put its head in the hole (there was no constraint tube on ours), and the fear of putting a finger in by accident.

So Rich was quite happy when the course was over; he preferred other killing techniques in his later lab career.

Finally, Bart Fried puts icing on the cake by adding that commercial guillotines are still sold (see for example this one from Daigger’s website) and that they can be found “in virtually every pharmaceutical company’s laboratory and in many hospital laboratories”.

Most interestingly, Bart also points to the existence of formal sets of rules and regulations for the use of such items, like the Policy and Procedures for Maintenance of Guillotines document from the University of Arizona. Well, when you think of it, of course! Foucault would smile in his grave — the governance of rat and hamster euthanasia!

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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