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The rabbit test, or "Friedman test", was an early pregnancy test developed in 1931 by Maurice Harold Friedman and Maxwell Edward Lapham at the University of Pennsylvania as an improvement on the 1927 test developed by Bernhard Zondek and Selmar Aschheim. The original test actually used mice, and was based upon the observation that when urine from a woman in the early months of pregnancy is injected into immature female mice, the ovaries of the mice enlarge and show follicular maturation. The test was considered reliable, with an error rate of less than 2%. The rabbit test consisted of injecting the tested woman's urine into a female rabbit, then examining the rabbit's ovaries a few days later, which would change in response to a hormone secreted only by pregnant women. The hormone, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), is produced during pregnancy and indicates the presence of a fertilized egg; it can be found in a pregnant woman's urine and blood. The rabbit test became a widely used bioassay (animal-based test) to test for pregnancy. The term "rabbit test" was first recorded in 1949 and became a common phrase in the English language.
Modern pregnancy tests still operate on the basis of testing for the presence of the hormone hCG. Due to medical advances, use of a live animal is no longer required.
It is a common misconception that the injected rabbit would die only if the woman was pregnant. This led to the phrase "the rabbit died" being used as a euphemism for a positive pregnancy test. In fact, all rabbits used for the test died, because they had to be surgically opened in order to examine the ovaries. While it was possible to do this without killing the rabbit, it was generally deemed not worth the trouble and expense.
A replacement for the rabbit test involved using frogs, specifically the African clawed frog, which like all frogs lays eggs instead of getting pregnant, and therefore can yield a positive result on the test without the need to be cut open in order to prove it.
In popular culture
- In Neil Gaiman's Sandman issue 31 Hazel worries that a pregnancy test means she will have to kill a rabbit since she is a vegetarian before Barbie tells her the rabbit test was from the olden days.
- In "Maude's Dilemma Part 1", a season 1 episode of "Maude", Maude tells her husband "the rabbit died," in reference to her positive pregnancy test.
- In "Hands and Knees," a Season 4 episode of Mad Men, Roger Sterling asks Joan Harris, "Did you take a rabbit test?" when she reveals to him her suspicions she is pregnant with his child.
- An independent short film titled Redemption Maddie centers on the idea of testing pregnancy with rabbits.
- Billy Crystal starred in a 1978 movie Rabbit Test in which his character became pregnant.
- In the sixth episode of the second season of The Dick Van Dyke Show, Mary Tyler Moore's character Laura says "the rabbit died" to convey the news to Rob that she is pregnant.
- In "The Stomach Mumps" (S 6, Ep 6), of the sitcom Good Times (first aired October 14, 1978) Willona shields Penny from the facts of life. "Yesterday she's asking about Peter Rabbit and today she's asking about the rabbit test."
- A collection of essays by Teresa Bloomingdale, columnist and mother of ten, bears the title I Should Have Seen It Coming When the Rabbit Died (1979). The title refers to an anecdote (1956) in which the rabbit used in her first pregnancy test died from jumping off the examination table, thereby shrugging off any responsibility for her ever-growing family.[clarification needed]
- In the M*A*S*H episode, "What's Up, Doc" (S6, Ep19), Maj. Margaret Houlihan suspected she may be pregnant and asked Hawkeye Pierce to perform the test. Since the only female rabbit available was Radar's pet "Fluffy", Hawkeye agreed to attempt to remove her ovaries without killing. Thanks to Pierce's superior surgical skills, he was able to do so successfully.
- In Joan Rivers' second comedy album, she has a minutes-long bit involving the rabbit test.
- In the Showtime dramedy Californication, two of the main characters (Hank and Marcy) each use the phrase "the rabbit done died" in separate episodes when they are not pleased with a positive pregnancy test.
- In the Squidbillies episode "Family Trouble", first aired November 13, 2005, the rabbit test is referenced in a paternity suit.
- In the 1969 Mario Puzo book The Godfather (novel), (p. 374) Dr. Jules Segal tells Johnny Fontane: "I used to have women who weren't supposed to have any more babies. 'It's dangerous,' I'd tell them. 'You could die,' I'd tell them. And a month later they pop in, their faces all rosy, and say, 'Doctor, I think I'm pregnant,' and sure enough they'd kill the rabbit."
- In the television show House (Season 2, Episode 11), the character House mentions the rabbit test saying "Get a real pregnancy test. You know, the one with the blood, and the hormones and the rabbit."
- In the television show House (Season 5, Episode 8), the character House mentions the rabbit test saying "[since a] pregnancy test only takes 5 minutes and we no longer kill rabbits [...] do the test."
- In the song "Sweet Emotion" by Aerosmith the lyrics include the line "You can't catch me cause the rabbit done died."
- In the 1996 film Grace of My Heart starring Illeana Douglas, her character tells her boyfriend she "is just waiting to see if the rabbit dies" while discussing her possible pregnancy.
- In country artist Eric Church's single "Two Pink Lines," the rabbit test is referenced as a past pregnancy test.
- In American Horror Story: Asylum, Season 2, episode 8, set in a mental institution in 1964, Sister Mary Eunice tells Lana Winters that "your rabbit died" meaning that she was impregnated by her rapist.
- In the South Park episode "Woodland Critter Christmas," Rabbity the Rabbit is sacrificed in a blood orgy when it is discovered that Porcupiny the Porcupine is pregnant.
- In the Harper Valley PTA episode "A Husband for Stella", Stella is overheard saying "she flunked the rabbit test" in reference to a biology exam her daughter Dee failed, and a rumor that she is pregnant gets started.
- In the Golden Girls episode "Rose Fights Back" Sophia tells her daughter Dorothy she believes she is pregnant; Dorothy responds, "What, the rabbit died laughing"?
- "The assay of gonadotropic extracts in the post-partum rabbit". Journal of Endocrinology 24 (5). May 1, 1939.
- Morris Fishbein, M.D., ed. (1976). "Aschheim-Zondek Test". The New Illustrated Medical and Health Encyclopedia 1 (Home Library ed.). New York, N.Y. 10016: H. S. Stuttman Co. p. 139.
- Evans, Herbert M.; Simpson, Miriam E. (1930). "Aschheim-Zondek test for pregnancy - its present status.". Calif West Med 32 (3): 145–8. PMC 1657362. PMID 18741327. Retrieved 2009-02-09.
- Howe, Marvine (1991-03-10). "Dr Maurice Friedman 87 Dies Created Rabbit Pregnancy Test". The New York Times.