Claim: In the days when the "rabbit test" was used to determine if a woman was pregnant, the rabbit's death was an indicator of a positive result.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 1999]
In the movies and television, a positive result was usually revealed by having a character burst into a scene and announce dramatically, "The rabbit died!" (This phrase was either shouted excitedly or whispered in a hushed tone, depending upon whether or not a positive result was the one the woman desired.) But why a rabbit? And why did it die if the woman was pregnant?
The origins of the "rabbit test" lie with the discovery in the 1920s that a woman starts producing a hormone known as human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) shortly after a fertilized
Thus the "rabbit test" was born, and with it the misconception that the rabbit's death was an indicator of a positive result. In those early tests, the rabbit always died, because the animal had to be killed so its ovaries could be removed and examined. Later refinements to the test enabled clinicians to inspect the ovaries without having to kill the rabbits first, but as the example cited above demonstrates, the misconception that the test rabbit died only if the woman was pregnant is still with us today, even though the "rabbit test" itself is not.
Modern pregnancy tests are still based on measuring the amount of hCG present in urine, but they do so directly, without the need of an animal intermediary to serve as a test subject. (Blood can also be tested for hCG, and a blood test is more accurate and can be performed earlier in a pregnancy. However, urine tests are still used in home pregnancy kits because they're much easier to self-administer.)
Sightings: In an episode of TV's M*A*S*H ("What's Up, Doc?", original air date
Last updated: 5 June 2015
Burnam, Tom. More Misinformation. New York: Lippincott & Crowell, 1980 (pp. 158-159). Herman, Barry and Susan K. Perry. The Twelve-Month Pregnancy. New York: Lowell House, 1997. ISBN 1-565-65480-3.