Should Animal Testing Be Banned? Experts Pick Sides
Imagine your pet dog or cat sitting terrified in a small, nondescript cage inside a clinically cold laboratory, just waiting to be poked, prodded and experimented on – all in the name of advancing human health…or at least making better beauty products. Now, take a look around your home, from your cleaning supplies to the contents of your medicine cabinet. Odds are you’ll find countless products, perhaps even some which are keeping you alive, made by organizations that still perform testing on animals. They reportedly include the likes of:
The dozens of organizations using animals – ranging from monkeys to actual guinea pigs – as the basis for experimentation serve as a reminder that most of us indirectly support the practice, not only at the grocery store, but also in the voting booth. Granted it’s for a nobler purpose than cosmetic vanity, but the National Institutes of Health allocate more than $12 billion of our tax dollars to animal experimentation each year. So while any and all animal testing is unquestionably immoral in the minds of animal-rights activists, the issue isn’t so obvious to human-health officials, government regulators, much of the corporate crowd or many consumers. There is something to be said for the numerous medical breakthroughs that animal testing has helped foster, from antibiotics and antidepressants to insulin and HIV drugs, after all. So where do we draw the line?
With arguments to be made on all sides of the issue, we invited a panel of leading experts with diverse viewpoints to share their thoughts. We asked them one simple question – should testing on animals be banned? – and received 25 Yes votes, 2 Nos and 2 Maybes. You can check out the experts bios and comments below. And if you have an opinion on the topic of animal testing, make sure to share it in the Comments section.
Animal Testing SHOULD Be Banned
- “Animal experiments are typically justified by referencing that the benefits to humans outweigh whatever harm the animals are subjected to. However, as the outcomes have been scrutinized, findings have shown that the results are highly variable, often irreproducible and have little human relevance. ... Public awareness of animal testing and its limitations has led to bans on animal testing of cosmetics in several countries around the world, which have provided key momentum for the development of human-relevant alternatives that don’t involve animals.”
- Pascaline Clerc // The Humane Society of the United States
- “The fields of comparative psychology and cognitive ethology (the study of animal minds) have established that animals have sentience and so can experience pain, anxiety and other forms of distress. Further, we now have scientific demonstrations of various sophisticated intellectual capabilities and complex social organization in nonhuman animals: self-awareness, tool construction and use, cooperation, and deceit.
Building on these findings, the emerging field of animal-related political theory is extending the important capability of agency to nonhuman animals. That nonhuman animals are not reduced to passive respondents, but can form plans and take action in the full sense of that term enhances their moral standing and the burden of our responsibility toward them.”
- Kenneth Shapiro and Martin Stephens // The Animals and Society Institute & John Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing
- “Many cures have been developed for illnesses induced in laboratory animals. The problem is that few have successfully translated to human beings. Our limited public health resources would be more responsibly spent elsewhere.”
- Andrew Knight // University of Winchester
- Nathan Nobis
- Randy Malamud
- Andrew Knight
- Craig Brestrup
- Jarrod Bailey
- Susan McHugh
- Joan Dunayer
- Peter J. Li
- Gene Baur
- Lisa Kemmerer
- Robert Cohen
- David Nibert
- Pascaline Clerc
- Kenneth Shapiro and Martin Stephens
- Richard Pitcairn
- Fleur Dawes
- Peggy Cunniff
- Kathy Guillermo
- Megan Stark
- Priscilla Cohn
- Nina Jackel
- Antoine F. Goetschel
- Lynne Swanson
- Barbara Stagno
- Stephen Wells
- Francine L. Dolins
“Animal testing” involves experimenting on animals to try to determine whether drugs and medical treatments are safe and effective for humans. It’s wrong and should be banned.
Why? First, and most obviously, drugs and medical procedures treat diseases, injuries, and other health problems. So, to see if a treatment works, a disease or injury must be created in animals. Understatement: this is often unpleasant. Heart attacks in dogs feel awful; bone cancers in mice are painful; pigs being burned, to test burn treatments, is agonizing. Animals living with the induced conditions is unpleasant also. And they are killed at the end of the experiments to study the treatments’ effects.
It’s now easy to see why animal testing is wrong: it violates basic principles of ethical research: it is maleficent, or harmful to the research subjects; it is not beneficial to them; it is forced on them since they don’t consent; and it is unjust in that animals are burdened with problems not their own. Research – at least with animals who are conscious, and so are able to be harmed or made worse off – is wrong for reasons that comparable human research would be wrong.
Some argue that the benefits to humans justify animal testing. But when one group benefits at the major expense of another group, that’s usually wrong. And how exactly might anyone know that humans benefit more than animals are harmed? And there is scientific evidence that animal testing often is not beneficial for humans and that clinical research, public health research, and technology-based research are more useful: see the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and Americans for Medical Advancement for more information.
Some claim there are “no alternatives” to animal testing, that it is “necessary.” But there are alternatives (mentioned above) and it’s not literally necessary that anyone do it: they can refrain. But suppose someone wanted to rob a bank and needed a getaway car: there is “no alternative” to a car and so it is “necessary” for the robbery. Does that make using the car OK? No. Even if something is “necessary” and there are “no alternatives” to doing it to achieve a particular end, that doesn’t make doing the action right: the end determines that.
Finally, some say that this reasoning is all beside the point: if your child was dying and animal testing would save him or her, wouldn’t you want the testing done? Many would and that’s an understandable feeling. But it’s unlikely that animal experimentation would help their child much: other methods are likely more fruitful. And more importantly, if my child were dying and I tried to experiment on my neighbor’s children to try to save my own child, that would be wrong.
Why? Simply because those children would be harmed and treated as mere things to be used (and abused) for my and my child’s benefit, which they are not. Since those reasons apply to many animals experimented upon, animal testing is also wrong.
But I’m a humanist, not a scientist, and my argument is based on ethical objections. Science has a repulsive legacy of performing experiments on living creatures deemed inferior, “other.” Racism and anti-Semitism undergirded such scientific experiments as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and Josef Mengele’s barbaric genetic studies.
Today, we need to be aware of speciesism, the irrational and prejudicial discrimination against other animals. By what justification, other than our power to do so, do we subject mice, rabbits, dogs, chimpanzees, or any other animal to cruel and painful experimentation? The more we learn about other species, the more we come to realize that they are like us: they have feelings, emotions, anxieties, and desires.
We have developed morally to the point where we understand that it is unethical to use poor people, or disabled people, or people of color, as guinea pigs. I propose that we further acknowledge that it is wrong to use guinea pigs as guinea pigs.
We use too many animals – as food, as fur, as caged entertainment, as beasts of burden. And, not coincidentally, we stand on the verge of ecocide: our environment is toxic, our forests are disappearing, our cities are choking us, and our glaciers are melting. We are ignoring the realities of the web of ecology; we fail to appreciate that (as Barry Commoner said) everything is connected to everything else.
We should be kind to other animals; we should treat them as we would wish to be treated ourselves. If we exploit them imperiously, they are doomed, and so are we. We are all in this together.
Recognising the diversity of opinions about this issue, and further, that opinions alone constitute a wholly inadequate form of evidence, for such an important and controversial field, scientists have recently begun calling for – and conducting – large-scale systematic reviews, which critically assess the contributions of animal models toward human healthcare advancements. These are reviewed in detail in my book, ‘The Costs and Benefits of Animal Experiments’. One study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (Matthews, 2008) is a critical assessment of the oft-repeated claim that ‘Virtually every medical achievement of the last century has depended directly or indirectly on research with animals’. It is shown to be completely invalid.
Many cures have been developed for illnesses induced in laboratory animals. The problem is that few have successfully translated to human beings. Our limited public health resources would be more responsibly spent elsewhere.
The argument from necessity obviously raises more questions than it answers. How did it become necessity to sacrifice the lives of certain forms of life for the benefit of one other form? Where does the transcendent value of the beneficiary life form come from? And the subsidiary value of those sacrificed? Necessity raises an amoral defense against a morally failed practice, and it assumes values and disvalues that it never substantiates. There is obviously no necessity to impose the suffering and death of product or any other kind of testing on animals. It is a choice based on perceived self-interest. It says “My interests and desires are so important that the destruction of your vital interest in life may be denied.”
If we believe that life is sacred — all life, of course, for how could the truly sacred invest itself in only a portion of life — and if we can see the irrationality, egoism, and self-deception on which human moral supremacy are founded, we cannot help but want to protect and enhance the circumstances of all life. And not only that. Once we get past the false claim of necessity, and once we begin to examine all the ways that putting immediate human self-interests first have not only harmed animal and natural world interests in multiple and grievous ways but seriously jeopardized our own long term interests, we can reconsider what proper, moral relations between humans and the larger life world should be. Would we be facing the coming disasters related to anthropogenic climate and environmental changes if we had thought in larger and longer terms? Would biodiversity be shrinking at a pace not known since the last great extinction 65 million years ago? We might even consider if the pervasive violence among our own kind would be so unremitting if the violence of our kind against other kinds were not even more far-reaching, cruel, and tenacious. Violence of any kind tends to deaden sensibilities of all kinds.
We make the world better for all when we give up beliefs and practices that are anti-life. The world may become more humane and compassionate and less violent, a place we can love, when we restrain our appetites and expand our range of moral consideration. The value of animal testing can be challenged on its claims of necessity and its pragmatic benefits, but more compellingly, it fails the moral test.
There is also a human ethical dimension. If animal research does not constitute the very best science we can do, then billions of people relying on science to find new treatments and cures for cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, and many others, are being let down.
In this regard, there is no robust scientific evidence to show that animal experiments are vital or even helpful to the advancement of human medicine. Indeed, all critical scientific inquiry to date raises serious concerns about the validity and human relevance of using animals in human disease research and drug development.
For example: There is no evidence to show that testing new drugs on animals reliably predicts how safe or effective they will be in people; while there is evidence to show it does not. The failure rate of new drugs in human trials — drugs that appeared safe and effective in animal tests — is at a record level (95%). Drugs should be tested using an array of methods using human cells and tissues, which are more human-relevant and more humane.
In spite of three decades of effort, there is still no HIV/AIDS vaccine – yet almost a hundred have apparently worked in animals. Hundreds of treatments for stroke and Alzheimer’s’ and Parkinson’s’ diseases have also appeared to work in animals, only to show little or no promise in human trials. The human relevance of using animals for other human ailments, such as ALS (a type of Motor Neurone Disease), sepsis, multiple sclerosis, and others, has been seriously questioned in recent years. The reasons are simple and intractable. Recreating diseases in animals that they do not naturally develop is artificial and not sufficiently representative of their nature in humans. Further, widespread genetic differences between species — and in the expression of genes even when they’re common to multiple species — mean that data cannot be extrapolated with any meaning or certainty between them.
Demonstrably, the real contributors to medical progress and the testing of new drugs have been, and will be, methods other than animal use: human cell and tissue cultures, clinical studies, molecular biology and genetics, scanning and imaging technologies, computer and mathematical modelling, and many others.
In summary: research using animals has considerable ethical costs, and claims of benefits to human medicine, and of its essential nature in the future, have no foundation and are contrary to scientific evidence. It will benefit not just animals, but humans too, if biomedical research moves away from archaic and unscientific animal use as a matter of urgency.
Scientists empowered by instrumentalist reasoning have guided animal testing into murky corridors that are purposefully sealed off from the public gaze. All too often, students and other poorly paid laborers are made to do the dirtiest work while being bullied into silence and inured to misery. Regulators to prevent wastes of taxpayers’ money remain few and far between, and nonexistent in privately funded research. Where lives are cheap, callousness and cruelty inevitably flourish.
That said, simply banning animal testing offers no solution. While it feels good in principle, legislation could never end the suffering entailed in laboratory life. What stands to make the greatest impact instead is to direct funding to programs and projects that promote empathy for both the humans and nonhumans involved. Public funding, in particular, should require applicants to demonstrate how human as well as animal lives will be enriched by involvement in the proposed testing and, most importantly, how the principal investigators will be responsive to as well as responsible for the lives most directly affected by their procedures.
It is not the case that animal testing cannot be done well. It is possible to design experiments that cause minimal harm to research subjects while producing useful results, and that do not necessarily end in death for animals. Scientists can be trained and rewarded for promoting creativity, ethical rigor, and waste reduction in their workplaces. Principal investigators can join laboratory workers in discussing humanistic alongside scientific texts not just to improve technical knowledge but also to promote sympathetic understanding of the creatures in their care.
Why not design projects that invite public support for science precisely by honoring the value of the lives at stake? Why not approach animal testing with comparable standards to the ones that we apply to experiments involving human research subjects? What does science have to lose, apart from its bad conscience?
Even by conventional human standards, the average pigeon or rat possesses greater learning capacity and reasoning ability than many humans with mental disabilities. In many ways, a mature guinea pig is more cognizant than a newborn or senile human. The law rightly prohibits vivisection on any humans, whatever their level of intelligence. The same should apply to nonhumans.
Freedom from pain and misery is important for any sentient being. In various ways, nonhumans can be more sensitive to pain than humans. For example, the pressure sensitivity of a rainbow trout’s skin is comparable to that of a human’s cornea. Birds, nonhuman mammals, and a wide range of other animals clearly can experience psychological distress, such as grief and fear. Animals suffer if forcibly immobilized. Social animals suffer if isolated. Curious ones suffer if subjected to monotony. Nonhuman victims of inescapable human abuse can’t make sense of their plight, change their circumstances, or foresee an end to their situation. These factors may exacerbate their suffering.
The fact that nonhumans may harm other individuals doesn’t excuse vivisection. When not maddened by torturous confinement or other human abuse, nonhumans rarely kill or seriously injure other animals except to directly preserve themselves or others, as when a predator kills prey or a nonhuman mother attacks someone threatening her offspring. When nonhumans do needlessly harm others, they might not recognize the harm as needless or harmful. Like young children and mentally incompetent human adults, they can’t reasonably be held accountable. In contrast, while claiming to be moral, humans routinely torment and kill nonhumans for information, profit, and numerous additional reasons other than direct preservation of self or another. Also, many humans abuse other humans (often, children).
To vivisection’s proponents, humans have more value than other animals. In reality, many humans have a largely negative effect on other humans, not only through destructive behavior such as aggression and oppression but also through competition for opportunities and resources. Most humans have extremely negative impact on nonhumans, whom they harm both directly (e.g., in vivisection and slaughter-based food industries) and indirectly (e.g., by supporting nonhuman exploitation and destroying nonhuman habitat). Overall, in terms of their lives’ objective value to most other beings, humans probably rank lowest of all animals. Whether or not particular humans do more harm than good, they’re spared vivisection.
Vivisection has no justification. Its apologists simply demonstrate their personal preference for humans over mice, rabbits, and other nonhumans. We’re all entitled to our preferences; however, we’re not entitled to translate those preferences into abuse. The animals abused in vivisection are helpless and innocent. This makes the practice all the more vile. Inherently inhumane and fundamentally unfair, vivisection should be banned.
On December 6, 2015, a video and photos showing dead and dying dogs on the roof of a medical college building in Xi’an, sent a shockwave across China. These were dogs who had been used in medical research and dumped as trash on that roof. What angered the Chinese public most was that several of the dogs were still alive and breathing. One dog with an untreated open cut on its back was searching for food among the toxic garbage and dead dogs. Outraged animal lovers converged at the college and staged a massive protest condemning the brutality that had been justified in the name of science and human health. This Xi’an incident was by no means isolated. Brutal treatment of laboratory animals is no secret in China. In the summer of 2015, 15 terribly abused laboratory dogs were rescued by animal lovers from a hospital in Beijing. Yet, cruelty to laboratory animals is also a global concern.
The West has its fair share of cruelty to laboratory animals. The industrialized West uses 100 million or more animals in testing and research procedures for a wide range of purposes. The research community in the West has been confronted with critical questions for decades. Is it ethical for humans to subject nonhuman individuals to intentional harm that is both psychological and physical in the interest of humans? How much information sharing exists among the scientific community that can help prevent redundant and wasteful tests? Can research agencies and funding institutions coordinate their research agenda so that scarce resources are not spent on similar or repetitive projects? How do we account for the majority of the test results sacrificing tens of millions of animals that are ineffective for solving human problems? Facing these questions, the animal testing industry, i.e., medical schools, pharmaceutical companies, research labs, government agencies and others, seem to have found a solution, namely outsourcing. China has, since the beginning of this century, become the target host country of outsourced animal testing for Western pharmaceutical companies and other clients.
Outsourcing animal testing to China is a particularly disturbing development. China currently ranks 3rd in the world in terms of the number of laboratory animals used. Some half a million Chinese citizens work directly or indirectly in the industry of animal testing. And, 20 million or more animals are used for testing purposes every year. China’s capacity to breed and export animals for laboratory use, and to conduct tests for domestic and international clients, is increasing. Yet, China is the only country in the top industrialized nation club that does not have a comprehensive animal protection legislation. A national standard for the humane treatment of laboratory animals is still in the drafting stage. Even so, the underlying reason why this standard is needed is troubling. It seems that the proposed new standard is more to appease the feelings of foreign clients rather than protecting the well-being of laboratory animals. China’s current lack of a national animal welfare standard for animal use is blamed by Chinese scientists for their failure to attract more animal testing contracts from foreign clients. China’s authoritarian state sees society’s vocal criticism of institutionalized animal cruelty as a threat to regime stability.
Is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) animal friendly? To do justice to TCM, it was traditionally an herb-based remedy. Despite the fact that it used more than 1,800 animal species as ingredients, it was not known to abuse animals for medicinal use in the scale and degree it does in contemporary China. TCM today is by no means an animal-friendly alternative. China incarcerates more than 10,000 live bears in rusty cages for the sole purpose of bile extraction from an open wound cut in their stomach. Scientific studies have confirmed that the bile extracted via such a brutal method is contaminated with blood, pus, germs and other impure substances from drugs fed to the bears. China also has the world’s biggest tiger farming operation, with some 6,000 tigers bred on approximately 200 facilities. At least two of the tiger farms produce tiger wine, allegedly good for health, body strength, and virility, despite a government ban in 1993. TCM’s use of pangolin scales is decimating the species in Asia and Africa. TCM is no alternative to the ethical problems of Western medicine.
Outsourcing animal testing to foreign countries, especially countries lacking animal welfare legislation, is not a responsible approach. It does not solve the problems of inefficiency, ineffectiveness, and inhumanity that is associated with animal testing. It only enables companies to put their animal testing activities out of sight, and delays adoption of more scientific and valid models of product safety and efficacy evaluation. Worse still, it frustrates humane progress in the host countries. Despite China’s authoritarian state system, the country has perhaps the most robust animal protection movement in all of East Asia. The protest against the Xi’an laboratory animal abuse was indicative of the strength of China’s animal lovers. In 2014, China announced the suspension of mandatory animal test requirements for general use cosmetic products made domestically. A nationwide campaign has been going on in China calling on an end to animal testing for all cosmetics products.
Phasing out all animal testing with the objective of its replacement with 21st century alternatives should be the action plan.
The more we learn about the emotional and cognitive lives of nonhuman animals, the more we understand the importance of treating them with compassion. Like us, they have memories, complex relationships, and deep emotional lives. And, like us, they are capable of acting with generosity and creating mutually beneficial relationships with others.
Animal testing is ethically unacceptable and scientifically antiquated. While there have been efforts to lessen the suffering of animals in laboratories, there will always be abuses when these living feeling creatures are seen primarily as research tools. Human beings have an uncanny ability to rationalize intolerable cruelty and injustice, and as long as we harm and treat animals as tools, there is a psychological and emotional desire to distance ourselves from our cruel behavior, often by justifying it as a “necessary evil.” But what happens when it is no longer necessary?
Banning animal testing will refocus human ingenuity toward more scientifically advanced research techniques that are superior and can yield better results than animal tests. Instead, amazingly, government institutions require and subsidize animal testing. This is irrational and irresponsible, and it discourages innovation. We should incentivize compassion and progress, instead of cruel and outdated practices. Doing so will benefit both animals and humans.
One of the key roles of morality is to curb selfish, cruel actions of the powerful. For example, maybe I would kill a mouse—or a multitude of animals—to save my loved ones. And in the hope of protecting my beloveds—and maybe I would also kill Thai immigrants, disabled elderly, and the very last grey whale on the planet. And this means that I would probably also kill you to save my loved ones.
The question about the mouse and the loved one is intended to show that anyone would kill a mouse to save someone they love, and therefore animal experimentation is justified. But what this question actually reveals is the importance of ethics (including religious ethics) and laws that prevent self-serving exploitation of the weaker by the powerful.
It is important to note that the question posed misrepresents the truth. Scientists who experiment on a mouse—or a 100 macaque monkeys—do not do so to save a loved one. They invariably have much to gain… but not necessarily on behalf of humanity. Millions of tax dollars support animal experimentation and provide grant money for those interested in experimenting on animals. Research publications offer prestige, job security, and can lead to increased salaries. There is a lot of money and power backing and defending animal experimentation.
Moreover, it is unlikely that any animal experiment will save even one life. Most experiments have little to do with solving our many pressing medical problems—the vast majority of animal experiments re-testing yet another oven cleaner or detergent to gather yet more information regarding the likely effects of a new caustic substance on skin or in eyes. Even in the best of scenarios, where people in white coats seek cures for horrible diseases, hundreds of animals suffer terribly and die prematurely, yet fail to yield any life-saving data—even a sliver new or relevant data. A mouse is never traded off for a child. Instead, hundreds of thousands of helpless individuals suffer cruelly and die miserable deaths while not a single human life is saved—or even improved.
In fact, animal experimentation has caused serious medical problems for humanity. For example, thalidomide was tested on nonhuman animals, passed every necessary test, and went on to cause many debilitating birth defects. Similarly, animal studies indicated that Vioxx was safe for combating arthritis; Vioxx caused tens of thousands of deaths just in the U.S. before it was recalled. And how many wonder-cures have we lost because of animal testing? Tylenol is deadly for cats and dogs—just one Tylenol can kill a cat.
So why disingenuously juxtapose a child’s life against that of a mouse? There are a handful of alternatives to animal experimentation, such as cell and tissue cultures, computer simulations, and micro-dosing with (often desperate and eager) volunteer human subjects. Not only have these alternatives proven their worth, but they make good common sense: Either nonhuman animals are significantly different from human beings, in which case they do not make appropriate models for medical research, or they are not significantly different from humanity, in which case it is wrong to selfishly and cruelly exploit them for our purposes.
As it turns out, non-animal alternatives are less costly and more dependable. More importantly—much more importantly—alternatives to animal experimentation align with the overarching ethics of humanity, and with religious ethics around the world, which call for compassion and respect for life—especially the lives of those who are vulnerable and fall under our power. The debate over animal experimentation is not about choosing between the life of a beloved child and the life of a single anonymous mouse—it is about choosing between the cruel tyranny of the powerful and ethics.
Half of the cancers rats get, mice do not get. Half of the cancers mice get, rats do not get. Since data from one furry long-tailed rodent cannot be applied to another, how in the name of logic and the spirit of reason can humans arbitrarily apply experimental animal research results to non-humans?
Rats also lack gallbladders, and human and rat digestive enzymes differ, and yet, millions of laboratory studies based upon rat research have provided the foundation for nutritional advice dispensed by most American physicians. Many claim that chimpanzees are man's closest relatives, but twenty years before the polio vaccine was approved for human use, a group of experimental chimpanzees treated with polio vaccine died. Clearly, even chimpanzee research exists as a betrayal to both non-human primates and humans, who rely upon unreliable chimpanzee data.
When it comes right down to it, the only time we really learn a scientific truth from an animal laboratory experiment is when the subjects are human. At least people have the ability to make volitional choices and volunteer for such research, right?
Among the many people who disapprove of the use of other animals for experimentation, some will acquiesce to it because they are led to believe such tests have been and remain crucial to advancing human medical care. In fact, however, medical treatments derived from testing on other animals rarely are found to be safe and effective for use in humans. In reality, the true advancement of medical research and knowledge has been hindered due to the reliance on animal models. For example, the dangers of cigarettes and asbestos went unnoted for years because the products appeared benign in testing on other animals.
While Big Pharma’s multimillion-dollar advertising and marketing campaigns suggest they are striving to improve the health and lives of people around the world, the truth is that their real goal is to increase profits. It is plain that giant pharmaceutical firms’ intentions, toward humans or other animals, are not altruistic. These callous companies ignore medical conditions that cannot be treated profitably, wage legal battles to avoid regulation of drug prices, and combat efforts to permit the production of generic substitutes, even for sale in the poorest nations.
Testing on other animals mainly benefits the pharmaceutical, chemical and other large corporations who engage in it, by providing legal cover when people are harmed or killed by their products. These companies can cite in their defense that they conducted reasonable tests of their products and therefore they are not liable for any harm that occurred that was not identified through animal testing.
Today, considerable testing on other animals is conducted to find treatments for conditions such as coronary artery disease, various forms of cancer, and other “diseases of the affluent” – diseases that are primarily caused by the consumption of the flesh, body fluids and eggs of other animals. It is a cruel irony that billions of other animals suffer terribly in the production of harmful, disease-causing foods and then millions more suffer in laboratories in the production of drugs and procedures ostensibly to treat these diseases. The human inhabitants of the earth would be much healthier and would live much longer on a plant-based diet, without the need for many of these pharmaceuticals and medical interventions.
And, perhaps most important, the abuse visited upon the vast majority of other animals used for testing is simply immoral. Most are confined in small, barren cages for some or most of their lives and are deprived of any activities that are natural to them, never breathing fresh air or experiencing sunlight. These profound and torturous deprivations are usually compounded by painful and invasive surgical procedures, exposure to toxic substances, deliberately imposed injuries and countless other cruelties.
As Mahatma Gandhi noted, “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” The 21st century will prove to be the period in which humanity saved or destroyed itself. The moral and ethical treatment of other animals in the coming decades will be the ultimate test for the future of the human species.
Therefore, the search for alternative ways of characterizing the safety of chemicals and products has been increasing. Recent advances in technology and computer science have allowed rapid development of sophisticated cell-culturing techniques, reconstructed human tissues and the application of gene sequencing to better understand toxicity and disease.
In addition, public awareness of animal testing and its limitations has led to bans on animal testing of cosmetics in several countries around the world, which have provided key momentum for the development of human-relevant alternatives that don’t involve animals. Tests like the Draize eye test which involves rabbits being exposed to substances and subjectively scored for irritation and corrosion, have no place in our modern toxicity assessment paradigm. More than 30 countries have aligned their cosmetic regulations to those highest standards.
Non-animal testing methods have also taken the broader chemical world by storm. Given the fact that it takes at least three years and $6 million to generate screening data for a single chemical, it would be impossible to complete the safety assessment of all the chemicals in commerce in our lifetime. A 2007 report written by the National Academy of Sciences, recommended a new regulatory framework capitalizing on the knowledge of chemistry and biology to develop human-relevant methods for toxicity testing, envisioning a day when we no longer rely on animal testing for this purpose. This report spurred new initiatives at the Environmental Protection Agency, such as the ToxCast program and the Human-on-a-chip. The use of alternatives such as “read-across” and “in silico” to fill hazard data gaps for 261 high-production-volume chemicals has saved at least 115,000 animals and $50 million. The commitment to the 21st century toxicity testing paradigm has been further supported more recently by the reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act, which includes provisions to reduce animal testing, accelerate the development and implementation of human-relevant alternatives, and better protect human health.
Lastly, due to the same drivers, similar 21st century paradigms for drugs and disease are being pursued. The average time and cost to develop and test a single drug has soared to between 10 and 13 years and $2.5 billion, with a stunning ± 90% of new drug candidates failing in clinical trials. This is in large part due to unforeseen toxicity or lack of efficacy, even after extensive animal testing. Two recent examples of clinical-trial failures have had deadly consequences on some of the patients enrolled in those clinical trials. The US National Institutes of Health have begun to address this issue by creating the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, but much more in terms of investment and coordination is needed to see significant progress.
While animal research has led to advances in knowledge of human biology and diseases, as the questions investigated have become more complex, animal models have been less successful at predicting human outcomes. Additionally, animal models will always have limitations and can never be significantly improved, while alternatives will only continually improve as technology evolves.
In fact, the development of in vitro technologies has spurred a new global economy, which according to a recent BCC research report, would reach $9.9 billion by 2017.
There is scientific consensus on the need for new technology and the reduction or even elimination of our reliance on animal testing. Ultimately, our success depends on the availability of funding for those initiatives and on the commitment of regulators to accelerate their validation and implementation.
In HAS, several ethical theories (Singer’s utilitarianism, Regan’s rights theory, Donovan and Adams’ feminist theory) all concur that the interests and welfare of nonhuman animals must be considered in justifying any policy involving them. In most ethical positions, that consideration extends to the life of an animal. Welfare, then, includes loss of interests through an animal’s death; it also includes providing positive as well as negative welfare – the latter is limited to reducing suffering, while the former includes reducing loss of opportunity and capability to perform the full array of an animal’s species specific behavioral repertoire.
Another occasion of our reconsideration of the practice of animal testing comes from science itself. The fields of comparative psychology and cognitive ethology (the study of animal minds) have established that animals have sentience and so can experience pain, anxiety and other forms of distress. Further, we now have scientific demonstrations of various sophisticated intellectual capabilities and complex social organization in nonhuman animals: self-awareness, tool constriction and use, cooperation, and deceit.
Building on these findings, the emerging field of animal-related political theory is extending the important capability of agency to nonhuman animals. That nonhuman animals are not reduced to passive respondents but can form plans and take action in the full sense of that term enhances their moral standing and the burden of our responsibility toward them.
In the area of animal-based drug and product testing, non-animal technologies such organs-on-a-chip and high-throughput, robot-assisted screening are advancing medical progress and consumer safety while moving away from the uncertainties and slowness of animal-based approaches and focusing squarely on human biology. Researchers can use induced pluripotent stem cell technology to extract cells from, say, a cancer patient, and test scores of anti-cancer compounds against their particular tumor-type. The comparable experiment of transplanting a patient’s tumor cells into scores of mice would be expensive, time-consuming, and of questionable value. In recent years, researchers have had difficulty simply reproducing the results from the very same animal experiments, let alone proving they get the same results in people.
As these technological advances come on-line, the economically high cost of animal testing will complement the cost of unacceptable ethics and suspect science. Taken together, these factors are producing and will increasingly produce a dramatic shift away from the use of animals in testing.
In conclusion, we are seeing movement away from the practice of exploiting animals for the sake of human health and welfare. This shift is part of an emerging paradigm change from a human-centered to a biocentric worldview.
I am giving brief examples, but when you see how many influences there are in how results may be obtained you begin to question the accuracy. As well, there are many differences between how a mouse will react to a substance (drug, cosmetic, chemical) as compared to a human. Cats are extremely sensitive to chemicals compared to dogs. Whereas humans enjoy garlic and onion flavored foods, these will make dogs sick. And so on.
If I may push the envelope further, my personal view is that it is unkind to do this to animals. If we want to know what various things will do to us, why not study it in ourselves? I don't mean we poison ourselves, but how about a teeny bit taken by volunteers? Maybe even reduced jail time for pot smokers if they will do it. I know, sounds silly, but if we think about it, a human centered program is really very possible and one that will be much more accurate. We actually are already doing this — think of the millions of people taking in chemicals from agriculture that have never been evaluated prior to now. We could just look more closely at them…
Few issues are so evocative as animal experimentation. For years, video and photographic evidence has consistently exposed our worst fears about what takes place behind closed doors - terrified monkeys have their skulls sliced open while locked into restraints, dogs and cats are strapped into harnesses while poison is pumped through their veins, while smaller animals, uncounted, yet numbering in the millions, are forced to endure overwhelming pain.
Vivisection became prominent in the Victorian era, at a time when many scientists did not recognize animal sentience and even ignorantly asserted that the cries of live animals on vivisection tables were nothing more than mechanical responses of senseless, soulless automata. Few could cling to this excuse today, but the historic hangover persists. An industry of animal breeders, device manufacturers and scientists' careers have been built around the antiquated system. Each year, our government dishes out a staggering $12 billion in taxpayer dollars to fund cruel and misleading animal experiments. Self-interested parties would have us maintain the status-quo of inaccurate and outdated animal research at the cost of our own health and immense animal suffering.
Health tragedies are frequently the threat used in attempts to justify cruel animal experiments, but the pain of lost love ones and the tragedy of health crises are the very reasons why we must urgently update our scientific inquiries by recognizing animal experimentation as a flawed and unreliable scientific method.
Scientists themselves are noting the need for a better way:
The history of cancer research has been the history of curing cancer in the mouse. We have cured mice of cancer for decades and it simply didn’t work in human beings.
- Dr. Richard Klausner, former director of the US National Cancer Institute
Animal experiments are fatally flawed because each species reacts differently from one to another. It goes without saying that Fido and Kibbles are built differently than us. We don’t share our medications with our animal companions because they could harm or even kill them. This dagger cuts both ways; drugs that seemed promising in animal tests have seriously harmed humans. Despite passing animal tests, prescription drugs are a leading cause of human death. Our bodies are different from other animals, and this is why animal experiments overwhelmingly fail to produce the effective treatments we seek.
Science is hurtling toward a more scientific and more humane future. However, it is up to us to lobby for modern science to be implemented. Our regulations are mired in the past, and hindering our health and well-being today. Whether you are concerned about animal suffering, your own health, or both, it is imperative that we embrace human-focused science and stop wasting money and scientific talent on outdated and barbaric animal experiments.
Hundreds of millions of animals are used in science every year. Caged in artificial environments, they may be subjected to physical pain, deprivation and emotional distress. These sentient beings – from mice to primates -- are cut up, poisoned, burned, irradiated, gassed, shocked, dismembered or genetically designed to suffer.
The use of animals for scientific purposes has been debated for centuries -- seemingly pitting the pursuit of knowledge and human health against compassion for animals. While never compromising on our stated mission, NAVS has worked to build bridges with the scientific community and support the work of innovative scientists who are developing human-relevant methodologies that include sophisticated in vitro and in silico models that are already replacing the use of animals. Many of these approaches offer human relevance and insight in ways that animal models have not, and cannot, provide.
Defenders of animal experimentation point to the urgency of solving the many crises that plague humanity to justify their use of animals, and argue that other species are enough like humans to make them adequate models of human diseases or to test the safety of products. They also contend that other species are different enough from people to make it ethically acceptable to use them in experiments, just as they once defended experiments on some people for the benefit of others.
It is the way that humans and nonhuman animals are similar that provides the basis for the ethical objection to vivisection. Things that were once thought to set humans apart from other animals have been shown to exist in animals – altruistic behavior, communication, tool use and yes, profound grief and suffering. It is the way that species differ that makes animal experimentation misleading and inadequate.
A growing number of countries, including those in the European Union, have passed laws banning the testing of cosmetics on animals. At the same time, many companies are developing, validating and implementing alternative methods that are not only replacing animal testing for cosmetics, but which are also being used in other industries. Congress is currently considering the Humane Cosmetics Act, legislation which would ban the use of animals for safety testing on cosmetics and would end the sale of cosmetics that have been tested on animals. Innovative testing methods are now available. They are more humane, faster, less expensive and better able to predict how these products will affect people. A ban on animal testing is long overdue.
Science is about discovery and exploration. Science replaces ignorance and superstition with knowledge. It is time for scientific endeavors to abandon methods that exploit animals and embrace greater respect, compassion and justice for all species.
The majority of animals in laboratories are not even granted basic protections under the Animal Welfare Act, the only federal law governing animal experimentation. Mice, rats, birds and reptiles make up more than 95 percent of the 100 million animals in U.S. laboratories, yet they are entirely excluded from this Act. Under federal law, they are not even “animals.” They are crowded into tiny cages, subjected to excruciating and invasive experiments, and then killed. Every aspect of their natural lives is stolen from them.
Animals possess all the biological and cognitive characteristics that make it repugnant to experiment on humans without consent. They experience pain, suffering, and pleasure. They care deeply for one another and will put themselves in peril for others. Rats will work to free a trapped fellow rat, and bonobos will forego food to help a stranger. They want badly to live and avoid pain.
Many experimenters insist that the benefits of using animals for research outweigh the cost of suffering and lives lost. However, science does not support this assertion, and research using animals has been shown to have little to no benefit to human health. Of the thousands of drugs tested in animals, at least 92 percent fail to demonstrate any therapeutic use in humans. Even the National Institutes of Health, the single largest funder of animal testing in the world, has had to acknowledge the overwhelming failure of experiments on animals to improve human health. A 2014 review paper in the British Medical Journal co-authored by a Yale School of Medicine professor concluded, “If research conducted on animals continues to be unable to reasonably predict what can be expected in humans, the public’s continuing endorsement and funding of preclinical animal research seems misplaced.”
Despite this, many experimenters insist disease research will grind to a halt if they can’t use animals. This is simply not true. There are a wide variety of non-animal methods, such as organs-on-chips, cell-based tests, and tissue models that are more applicable and relevant to humans. Indeed, given the failure of animal “models” to provide a cure for deadly ailments, we’re likely to see more progress if the focus is taken off using the wrong species. In the NIH’s words, “animal models often fail to provide good ways to mimic disease or predict how drugs will work in humans, resulting in much wasted time and money while patients wait for therapies.”
Public opinion is turning against the use of animals. According to Pew Research Center, a majority of Americans oppose animal experimentation, and Gallup polls show one-third believe animals should have the same rights as humans. In spite of this, the NIH spends nearly half of its $30 billion budget on animal testing. Fortunately, Congress and the public can compel what animal experimenters won’t do voluntarily.
Calling cruelty to animals “medical research” does not make it any less painful to its millions of victims in laboratories, and there is no logic to valuing the life of one being over another. History has moved us down this road: Not long ago it was considered acceptable to experiment on groups of humans without their consent, just because their interests were deemed unimportant. Even though we could learn more about disease by experimenting on humans, we no longer allow this. So, too, it is wrong to treat other species as though their lives don’t matter.
Testing on animals is expensive and the high costs aren’t always justified with results that translate to human benefit. Per the Food and Drug Administration, “Currently, nine out of ten experimental drugs fail in clinical studies because we cannot accurately predict how they will behave in people based on laboratory and animal studies”. Ever advancing technologies such as Microdosing, In Vitro cultures and Microfluidic chips (among other alternatives) give researchers the opportunity to test new chemicals and drugs using human cells. Some of these substitutes (e.g., ThinCerts) are already producing more usable results than their animal counterparts.
While these technologies certainly have limitations, greater funding and aggressive emphasis on their development would eventually eliminate the need for animal testing. Aside from development costs, these alternatives can also be more financially viable: microfluidic chips don’t require veterinary attention, care staff, enrichment or retirement. Money that would otherwise be spent on direct animal care can be applied to research and development.
Jungle Friends collaborates with researchers for the wellbeing of the monkeys in hopes that more individuals will get the chance to live in nature. We recognize that despite regulations, policies and committees aiming to mitigate animal suffering in labs, (such as the Animal Welfare Act and “Reduction, Refinement and Replacement”) no amount of PVC pipe props or artificial forage can provide the same mental stimulation as their natural environments. For those lucky few monkeys that make it out alive, retirement to sanctuaries is a fairly new phenomenon and can be expensive. The physical and mental scars from the lab will remain long after they enter sanctuary life. Jungle Friends has taken in over 150 primates from cognitive and more invasive biomedical research. One group in particular, comprised of 20 male capuchins, came from a study on chelation methods for iron toxicity. Even after a decade, our “Ironmen” still have the distinct physical characteristics mentioned above, and no amount of love, medicine or peanuts will ever reverse what has been done to them.
No matter how advanced biomedical studies on animals become, at the end of the day, these individuals in labs have no hope for the lives that nature intended for them. We have the power and the resources to replace animal testing in the near future. Yet the question remains: why, with feasible alternatives, wouldn’t we focus on their advancement?
We commonly use all kinds of animals as experimental subjects: until very recently, primates, especially chimpanzees, were highly valued as experimental subjects because of their similarity to humans. Also used are mice, rats, dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, even elephants, birds — the list of animal species is almost endless.
The list of products tested on animals is also almost endless: from medicines to cleaning products, from contraceptives to antibiotics. Experimental medical procedures are also tested on animals while animals are still often used as tools on which the new doctor, veterinarian or so-called vet tech learns how to perform a particular technique. Psychological and addictive studies also employ animals.
All of these practices are simply another example that might is right. We use animals for what we think is our own benefit with little or no consideration of their suffering as sentient beings, as highly social beings prevented from carrying out their natural behaviors, their natural needs ignored.
We think that this use of animals is necessary for our own well-being without considering that the intense stress that experimental animals experience does not somehow lead to questionable findings, without considering that many animals are so different from us that the experimental findings do not apply to humans. For example, Saccharin caused bladder cancer in rodents — studies that were largely ignored. Rats and mice that seem so similar do not commonly share the same reactions. In the end, the ultimate test is human.
Not only do experimental animals not play the beneficent role they were thought to play in our laboratories, but our treatment of them as mere things, tools, and objects may lead to the diminution of our own humanity, of our sympathy and empathy, as the great thinkers of the past from Thomas Aquinas to Kant believed. Contemporary research by social workers, the police and others, have corroborated that cruelty to animals harms ourselves as well as them. For all these reasons, animal testing should be banned.
We cannot call ourselves a civil society until we evolve past the barbaric, unreliable and sadistically cruel practice of animal testing. Invasive medical tests are torture for animals, and block us from adopting the more advanced research methods we need for pivotal breakthroughs in medicine.
Billions of innocent animals have been burned, sliced open, crushed, maimed and electrocuted in the name of research. Those who manage to survive the experiments are usually killed and tossed out like trash.
But these animals are not trash.
They are sentient and loving beings – the same dogs and cats we may invite into our homes as family members. Monkeys and other primates think and feel just like we do. Even the “lowly” rat is shown to possess both empathy and intelligence.
In the vast, vast majority of animal-based medical research, the testing that causes such excruciating pain does absolutely nothing to help advance human medicine.
The fatal flaw – both literally and figuratively – of animal testing is the simple fact that humans and other animals are biologically different. It’s impossible to predict what will happen in a human’s body based on what happens in an animal’s.
Case in point: Penicillin successfully treats bacterial infections in humans, but is deadly to guinea pigs.
And how many millions of human lives have been lost to drugs that passed animal testing, but were then recalled long after they went to market? Drugs like Fen-Phen, Baycol and Vioxx.
We can never realize our full healing capabilities as long as we rely on archaic and unreliable animal testing. The future of medicine lies in computer models, in vitro testing, stem cell research and other techniques that are both technologically and ethically progressive.
To reject animal testing in favor of more humane, effective research is to stand on the right side of history. There will come a time – though not soon enough – when vivisection will be viewed by the scientific community as purely reprehensible.
Until then, we must speak out to stop the hideous violence that has plagued our medical system for so long, and urge research institutions to stop clinging to the past and instead switch to cutting-edge research methods that do not harm animals.
And still, the ban has yet to be enacted by the law makers. Since the scientific and economic communities insist on animal testing, realistic and long-term legal goals are to be defined in order to get rid of this phase-out model. For this, a majority of the population and of the law making body is needed. How? The Global Animal Law GAL Project creates realistic proposals for the short and long term (even visionary) legal measures in the law making and law applying process in the animal testing field, among others. We co-operate with legal specialists in the field and on the spot. So, depending on the existing legislation on district or national level, the animal welfare issue is to be granted on the constitutional level and, weighed with other fundamental rights, judges should be enabled to control the law applying process in the favor of the animals as well.
The comparison of the different legal systems worldwide is helpful in the law changing process. Germany and Switzerland, for example, foresee animal welfare on the constitutional level and provide state commissions, along with animal protectors, in legal committees to decide or advise on planned animal testing. One of these committees, as in the Swiss Canton of Zurich, can appeal against a decision in favor of animal testing at higher courts. By this measure, the courts can decide on reducing the suffering or completely ban certain animal test – as it is to be expected in constitutional democracies.
Public debates, like the present one, on potential bans on animal testing are important to raise awareness on the issue of use and abuse of animals for scientific, financial and health related reasons. The long time vision, even the utopia, can lay in a ban. The next phase, maybe several decades long, might be used for a law making process to reduce the suffering and pain of animals by unnecessary testing and unjustified goals. Law applying systems might be created for making this happen, e.g., by a strongly regulated licensing system so that in decades, a partial or a complete ban would not cause unnecessary suffering for the industry and universities.
As these are pivotal questions, I wouldn't be surprised if others struggle, like I do, when asked only the primary question. Now if it was, "Should animal testing be strongly restricted?" I'd have no trouble answering ‘yes,’ since it requires those conducting the tests to adhere to the very highest of ethical standards, and I don’t believe everyone is capable of that.
Consider two situations:
- Dogs are kept in barren cages or kennels without daily interaction with other dogs, and without daily exercise that allows them forward movement, safe items to chew on/play with, and a comfortable surface to lie on. The only handling they get is required by testing, and it is done by handlers with little empathy for their circumstances. The testing protocols repeat tests previously done, and they involve physical or mental discomfort or pain.
- Dogs are housed in comfortable (dry, warm, off-the-ground) quarters at night. During the day, they are allowed fresh air and the company of other dogs in an unkenneled environment. They receive daily exercise and relaxed human interaction. Furthermore, their participation in the study at hand doesn’t involve physical or mental discomfort; it cannot be easily duplicated using alternate means of testing, and it directly benefits their own species.
I can’t help but recall an episode that occurred in veterinary school (thirty-plus years ago), where frogs were being dissected for a cardiac lab exercise (a waste of time, in every respect, as other ways to learn the principles existed). Uncomfortable with the entire situation, I forced myself to observe the actions of two classmates next to me so I could write up the lab report required. Prepared to answer (correctly) any of the questions put to me by the PhD leading the lab, I explained my knowledge of the cardiac principles to him while returning “my” frog to his tank, uninjured. The PhD loudly ridiculed my attempt to spare the frog’s life before smashing his head against a table. He then handed his limp body back to me with the admonishment, “Do the work, if you don’t want to fail this lab.” It pains me to know that this jerk was the top money-generator for the university’s physiology department! His studies shouldn’t have received a cent, as he didn’t have the moral character to be working with any animal, under any circumstance.
If we lived in a world where animal testing was only done using the highest of ethics and the highest of standards (and only where suitable alternatives didn’t exist), there would be no need for stringent laws restricting, and in many cases, banning animal testing. Sadly, we don’t live in that kind of world. For that reason, restrictions and, in some cases, outright bans are well-warranted and necessary.
The second argument concerns the scientific flaws inherent in using a non-human species to explore human biology. A great deal of compelling evidence has been generated on this topic, often by those who use animals in experiments. For example, the NIH and FDA have revealed that over 30 percent of drugs testing safe in animals fail in human clinical trials because they have toxic effects. Another 65 percent of drugs fail because they are simply ineffective. The end result is an astonishing 95% failure rate of animal tests to produce drugs that are safe and effective for people.
Our ability to predict the safety of chemical exposures based on animal tests is also wholly inadequate, causing regulatory agencies like the EPA to shift away from animal tests to cell cultures and computer models.
In recent years, we have seen sweeping changes in the way biomedical research is carried out, much of it driven by the need to improve research outcomes. So the question is not so much if we can replace animals in research but when.
By all accounts, we are moving rapidly toward that day with breakthroughs in science and medicine. 3D printing has awesome capability to transform biomedical research using “bio-ink” made from living human cells. It is producing functional human tissues, like nerve, heart and bone, which can be used for research and numerous clinical applications.
The emergence of organs-on-chips also promises to revolutionize research. The chips, made of miniaturized cellular systems, offer a way to understand human physiology and disease in ways that are impossible using animals.
And yet, despite these advances and many more that are too numerous to discuss here, hundreds of millions of animals are dying in experiments worldwide. The current conundrum exists because the present system has not yet given way to allow new innovations to move in.
Warren Casey, a director at the National Institute of Environmental Health Science, has said that “Science isn’t the challenge anymore. It’s not that we don’t have the science to go where we need to go. It’s everything else – policies, trade agreements, institutional resistance.”
That’s why it’s essential for an enlightened public to be a force for change against this entrenched and recalcitrant mind set. We need only to look at the success of the European ban on animal tested cosmetics to see what can be accomplished when the public demands laws that foster scientific innovation. The excuse that we can never adequately test cosmetics safely without animals has been thoroughly debunked.
Victor Hugo wrote, “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” Those who insist on clinging to animal experiments will find that the foundations of their arguments are crumbling. Society increasingly cannot justify supporting animal experimentation, now that its unshakable failings have been revealed.
Current laws fall short of protecting animals used in laboratories. Tens of millions of animals are exploited in biomedical research and consumer product testing—more than 95 percent of these animals are exempt from the Animal Welfare Act, the primary federal law regulating the use of animals in research.
Animals in labs are routinely mutilated and subjected to physical and psychological torment, often legally. Burning, poisoning, starving, mutilating, blinding, electrocuting, drowning and dissecting without painkillers are all legal, if researchers follow certain approval procedures. Cats, dogs, primates, birds, rodents, horses, goats, pigs and other animals are subjected to what amounts to legally sanctioned animal abuse.
Existing laws don’t offer adequate protections, and they are under-enforced. There aren’t enough inspectors to properly inspect research facilities, and most of them don’t have power to do anything consequential about violations. Appalling violations often result in fines that amount to a slap on the wrist.
Given this climate of poor regulatory oversight, many animals are abused, neglected and harmed in illegal ways. In 2014 more than a dozen monkeys overheated to death in poor laboratory conditions. Other examples include open-heart surgeries without painkillers and unauthorized amputations.
Millions of animals are tested on without pain relief. Legal requirements, like providing painkillers, are routinely overridden by “scientific necessity.” Yet evidence acknowledged by the Food and Drug Administration and pharmaceutical industry shows animal testing in drugs used by humans is unreliable. Many facilities don’t adequately seek alternatives to animal-based tests—despite legal requirements to do so. However, as of 2016, no medical schools in the U.S. use live animals in training.
Given the failure of current laws and regulatory bodies to protect animals, it isn’t justifiable to continue animal testing. Alternatives are more effective, more reliable and more humane.
Often, the public and media misconstrue the concept of “testing” with “experimentation”, whether of nonhuman or human animals. The difference is that “testing” implies invasive biomedical (e.g., testing for pharmaceutical development) or product testing (e.g., testing of cosmetics or household cleaning agents) that often causes pain, distress and in many cases the animals are sacrificed at the end of the “testing”. “Experimentation” certainly includes invasive studies involving nonhuman animals, where they may experience significant pain and distress. However, experimentation also includes non-invasive studies where some intervening variable is manipulated to evaluate cause and effect on behavior or physical and psychological wellbeing. One example of such non-invasive experimentation would be in a zoo setting, where a nonhuman primate such as an orangutan is provided with access to a touchscreen computer and virtual gaming software that challenges and measures the apes’ cognitive abilities in return for food rewards. In this scenario, the orangutan has the option to voluntarily interact with the computer and software, and to even interact with zoo visitors via the computer, but is not coerced to do so by research, zoo staff or zoo visitors. In this way, captive animals often “choose” to work for food rewards, despite getting a balanced daily diet. This is referred to as “contrafreeloading” and has been observed in captive species as diverse as mice and chimpanzees. This is also a form of environmental enrichment for the orangutan, who otherwise might be bored, frustrated, and potentially develop negative/harmful stereotypical behaviors, a form of psychopathology. Under the heading of “experimentation” in this case, providing cognitive challenges to captive animals when they volunteer to participate, even in sanctuaries, should therefore not be viewed as unethical, but perhaps even desirable and necessary. The point is, non-invasive studies, whether experiments or observational, do not impose the same negative aspects as invasive experimentation and therefore are not subject to the same rationale for banning.
We are at a tipping point with human populations on the increase, causing habitat destruction, pollution and climate change, where a majority of animal species are on the verge of going extinct (it was reported this week that 58% of the world's wildlife populations are in decline). Once removed from their natural habitat, captive exemplars of a species are only facsimiles of their wild counterparts. With the destruction of their natural habitat, these captive species will be all that exist. The full repertoire of a species’ behaviors and behavioral and cognitive adaptations will be lost in captivity, and cannot be regained in the absence of natural habitat and appropriate social interactions. We need to learn as much as possible about species from those individuals held in captivity in order to save those who still remain in the wild. This requires that observational and even experimental work continue, although we can stipulate that the majority of the studies be noninvasive. Consequently, recent activity on the part of animal rights groups to end all experimentation with nonhuman primates (for example) is misguided and in the long term counterproductive, albeit well-intentioned. We cannot learn more about these species to save them if we do not study them. And inevitably, we learn more about ourselves, as human animals, in the process.
With regard to the question of “what animal testing should be allowed?”, a careful examination of the “absolute need” should provide guidance towards an answer. Toxicology testing is probably one of the cruelest forms of animal testing in the biomedical sciences. Imagine yourself as the animal being gavaged with toxic chemicals or drugs. Cosmetic testing and testing of household cleaning agents on animals is extremely harmful to the animals. Is it necessary? The answer is clearly no. There are products on the market that are permitted to be sold to the public because they are assessed to be safe in the absence of animal testing (and/or using alternatives). Even if animal testing were required for cosmetics, are cosmetics truly an “absolute need” that justifies the harm to animals? Why can’t we replace animals by computer modeling? Sadly, we simply do not have sufficient knowledge to create all of the computer models that would accurately reflect biological reality. And, animal testing has been instrumental to generate the data for the development of the computer models that we do have.
In the case of biomedical testing, often the “absolute need” does provide a way of justifying the use of animals. When asked to be honest about whether someone would take a drug or other medical intervention developed using animal testing to save themselves, a family member, close friend or a pet, the majority of people reply “Yes”. This is true even of individuals committed to animal welfare and animal rights, who are vegans, do not wear leather, wool, silk, and avoid using animal products as much possible. Are they hypocritical? No. They are being pragmatic and recognize the “absolute need”. John Donne’s poem, “No man is an island” can be paraphrased to state that no human in the present day can be completely separated from animal use (“exploitation”) for human welfare, at some level.
The answer to whether to ban animal testing, in fact, hovers somewhere between “yes” and “no”. In 1959, Russell and Burch introduced to the scientific community the concept of “The Three R’s”: reduction, refinement and replacement. The crux of the three R’s is to modify testing and experimentation using animals so to reduce the number of individuals being tested, refine the protocol to eliminate as much pain and distress inflicted while providing for the animal’s welfare both physically and psychologically, and wherever possible, to replace the animals with a non-sentient alternative (e.g., cell culture). Refinements, including environmental enrichment for captive animals in laboratories, are vital to good scientific outcomes and in almost all circumstances, good animal welfare leads to good scientific outcomes.
Should we improve animal welfare generally, in the wild and in captivity (zoos, labs and in people’s homes)? Should we improve how animals are treated when they are used in testing and experimentation, to eliminate as much suffering as possible? Yes to both, as we have an ethical imperative to do so towards other sentient beings. Should we eliminate all invasive animal testing and experimentation in biomedical science? Not until we have realistic and workable alternatives, but we can and should minimize it and continue to pressure the scientific community to keep innovating to create these alternatives until animals are no longer needed in invasive scientific research. Should we eliminate non-invasive animal experimentation? Absolutely and resoundingly, no, as this work is critical to inform our ability to share this planet with others.
Animal Testing Should NOT Be Banned
- “Animal testing in which there is consent, or in which the procedure is beneficial to the patient, is morally acceptable and should not be banned. You might wonder how an animal who doesn’t speak can consent to research. While we might not be able to guarantee informed consent, we can give the animal the opportunity to choose whether to participate in a study. For example, at the National Zoo in Washington D.C., orangutans live in one building, and are participants in cognitive and behavioral testing in another building. The orangutans can freely travel between the buildings by climbing on cables connecting the two areas. Orangutan research subjects can choose to go into the testing chamber, solve a few problems, and they can leave whenever they want.”
- Kristin Andrews // York University
- “Scientific consensus on the use of animals in research is overwhelming: Over 92% of scientists agree that ‘animal research is essential to the advancement of biomedical research.’ In other words, halting the work would bring advances in many critical areas to a screeching halt and take away from the hope of new cures and therapies from our patients.”
- Dario Ringach // University of California at Los Angeles
We must then point out that scientific consensus on the use of animals in research is overwhelming: Over 92% of scientists agree that “animal research is essential to the advancement of biomedical research.” In other words, halting the work would bring advances in many critical areas to a screeching halt and take away from the hope of new cures and therapies from our patients.
One must remember that a couple of generations ago, a visit to a physician might have resulted in a recommendation to induce vomiting, diarrhea or, more commonly, bleeding. Diphtheria, mumps, measles and polio were common and untreatable. Life expectancy in the United States was less than 50 years — it now stands at 80 years. Our generation benefits from treatments, medicines and diagnostic devices that our parents and grandparents only dreamt about. By all measures, animal research was an integral part of these achievements. This is an indisputable fact.
Some opponents of animal research deny medical history, or argue that new methods like organs-on-chips, computer simulations or magnetic resonance imaging in humans, make the work obsolete. Unfortunately, such statements are grossly misleading. It is true that organs-on-chips may promise a new approach to toxicology tests. If and when such methods are properly validated they should be adopted. However, for the vast majority of medical research, from cancer, to heart disease and neurological disorders, none of these methods offer a real alternative to studying an entire organism.
Some oppose the use of animal research on moral grounds. We are told that we owe the same moral consideration to all living beings, and that all living beings have a basic right to liberty and life. If one accepts this premise, it is natural to conclude it is morally wrong to use animals in medical research, even if it leads to advances in human and animal wellbeing. One must also oppose the use of animals as pets or as food. There would be no moral difference between chickens in a farm and Jews in a concentrations camp — a point made graphic by PETA’s Holocaust in your Plate campaign. And we are also told that we must conclude that if it is morally permissible to use violence to free a concentration camp, so it must be to free mice from a research laboratory or kill scientists. Anyone who finds some of these conclusions abhorrent, like I do, must reject the moral theory upon which it is based.
Instead, I feel most people believe that all living beings deserve our moral concern, but not equally. Our moral concern for a human child is higher than that of a dog, which is higher to that of a mouse, and higher to that of a worm. Such sliding scale model is reflected in the strict regulations and guidelines that govern animal research in the U.S.
It would be wrong not to use our scientific skills, in responsible and well-regulated animal research, that aims to advance medical knowledge and human/animal health.
However, there are constraints on what we can do with the humans we test. We inform potential participants about the research, and we allow them to choose whether they participate or not. Informed consent can be given by a third party who has the potential participant’s best interests in mind, and the requirement can be waived in some cases, like when an experimental medical procedure appears to be the best treatment for the patient.
What we have banned in human testing is experimentation that could cause unnecessary harm to the participant and research that uses humans without letting them know they are human subjects. The famous Milgram experiments would today be banned, given that they traumatized subjects who realized that they were capable of causing great harm when told to do so by an authority. The Tuskegee study, which looked at the effects of untreated syphilis in black men, would not be acceptable, either, because the individuals suffering from the disease were not given proper treatment, while being led to believe otherwise.
In parallel, animal testing in which there is consent, or in which the procedure is beneficial to the patient, is morally acceptable and should not be banned. You might wonder how an animal who doesn’t speak can consent to research. While we might not be able to guarantee informed consent, we can give the animal the opportunity to choose whether to participate in a study. For example, at the National Zoo in Washington D.C., orangutans live in one building, and are participants in cognitive and behavioral testing in another building. The orangutans can freely travel between the buildings by climbing on cables connecting the two areas. Orangutan research subjects can choose to go into the testing chamber, solve a few problems, and they can leave whenever they want.
And like the three-year-old child who objects to the experimental procedure that is the only hope of saving her life, it will sometimes be acceptable to run experiments on animals that have promise of saving them from harm or death. However, is there any situation in which it is acceptable to force an individual or any species to be an experimental subject in a way that causes the individual significant harm? Those who think that the interests of the many override the interests of the few might say yes. However, even if you take that principle to be true, it doesn’t follow that we should use animals in medical testing. If we are interested in solving human medical problems, our best models will be human models. We already know that nonhuman animals don’t make good models for many human diseases—chimpanzees infected with HIV for medical testing purpose never developed AIDS, for example. One might think that research that causes harm to individuals against their will for the greater scientific good might be justified in some rare cases, but only if we are confident that the harm caused will offer that benefit. And in science we don’t usually know the outcomes of our experiments; the point of an experiment is to find out if something works. So there should be a significant burden of proof required before thinking that it is acceptable to cause significant harm to an animal, human or nonhuman, in the hope of improving human lives.
I am not an expert on these issues, but a quick search on the internet reveals that “every medical breakthrough in the last 100 years has resulted directly from research using animals.”
As much as I love animals, and could personally never cause them pain, when it comes to improving and saving human lives, there is no question in my mind – we have to do whatever we can do to bring us closer to finding cures. And, if scientists believe animal research or testing can assist in the process, then, that’s what we need to do.
Image: ThomasVogel / iStock.
Was this article helpful?