The Debate: Should testing on animals be banned?
Animal welfare charities reacted angrily to news in July that the number of animal experiments rose to a record high in Britain last year – a 40 per cent rise over the last decade.
Last month, Cardiff university defended sewing kittens’ eyes shut, as means to find a cure for lazy eyes. In their statement, they said the purpose of the work and its conduct was approved by both the university’s own ethical review process and the Home Office as part of the licensing process.
The 1990s saw a campaign to end cosmetics testing Europe-wide, and next year, Europe will introduce a ban on selling newly animal-tested cosmetics, for the first time excluding products that don’t comply.
When it comes to scientific research, however, scientists have defended the use of experiments and said researchers were reducing the proportion of animals used per study at a time of rising funding for bio-sciences.
But should animals be used for scientific testing? Is it far removed from testing for beauty products? Or is the research required to help save human lives?
Alistair Currie, PETA, argues that as 90% of medicines tested on animals fails on humans, it’s the fundamental problem of experimenting on different species as well as the ethical concerns that means we should stop any further testing on animals. As a vivisectionist, Hugh Daley* defends the invaluable research gained, which adheres to stringent guidelines to minimize suffering – and with increasingly complex health issues, restricting experimentation to unreliable alternatives (stem cell research) would hinder progress.
Which do you agree with?
Alistair Currie: Animals are not ours to experiment on
Animals are not ours to use for experimentation. They feel pain and fear just as we do, and their overwhelming natural inclinations – like ours – are to be free and to protect their own lives, not to be locked in a small cage inside a laboratory, where they are subjected to abuse and suffering that would be illegal if they took place anywhere else. No animal should ever face being genetically engineered to develop cancer, as mice are; being intentionally paralyzed from brain damage, as monkeys are; or being force-fed pesticides and other chemicals, as dogs are.
In addition to being unethical, animal testing is fundamentally flawed because it studies the wrong species – and that is a scientific problem that can never be overcome. Approximately 90 per cent of medicines that pass tests on animals fail in people, either because they aren’t safe or don’t work. That’s an enormous waste of money, animal lives, scientific resources and hope.
Scientific research may now finally be able to progress into the 21st century because the British public is demanding human-relevant, modern research techniques instead of obsolete and unreliable animal tests. The development of cutting-edge non-animal methodologies that can accurately predict what happens in human beings involves exciting, progressive and effective science – not to mention the fact that it is infinitely kinder to animals. Increasingly, governments, companies and researchers themselves are recognising that the animal-testing model is broken and can never be fixed. Why conduct painful and lethal tests on the wrong species when sophisticated computer and mathematical models, human tissue and cell cultures and smarter, more focused clinical and epidemiological studies can show us more accurately what happens to human bodies with diseases?
The scientific community urgently needs to rethink its psychological dependence on cruel and unreliable animal tests and align itself with progressive thinking for a future filled with less suffering for all species.
Alistair Currie is a Policy Adviser for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in the UK.
Hugh Daley : It’s not about torturing kittens for fun
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the internet is made of kittens. No surprise that when practices involving the use of kittens at Cardiff University were exposed, the Twitterati went into overdrive. For an experiment on visual deprivation, scientists sewed one eyelid shut on each of a group of 31 kittens. In response, Ricky Gervais tweeted “Honestly, how does this happen in so called civilised society?”. Petitions were raised, with one currently just over 20’000 signatures. It was a perfect storm.
Confession time: I am a vivisectionist. I am one of those evil scientists, torturing poor defenseless creatures. I’ve even worked very hard to get here; after many years of medical school, I am now working towards a PhD. Whilst I understand the unease many people feel about animal experimentation, I don’t think it’s given a fair hearing.
Clearly, vivisection has an image problem. Kittens are cute! When you read about that story, weren’t you swayed by the picture? If this experiment was conducted on a less attractive animal (a naked mole rat maybe, or even a pig) would you mind as much? Nobody likes to see an animal in a cage, scientist-sanctioned or otherwise. Understandably, animal testing will always be an emotive topic, but we should take care to not allow this to distract us from the core issue.
The issue is not whether the procedure was, on the face of it, cruel. It was. In and of itself, sewing any animal’s eye shut is cruel. However, it’s whether the benefits gained from doing this outweigh the harm done, and whether these benefits could have been gained through testing on a lower animal, or even without testing on animals full stop. I am confident that almost all animal experiments currently conducted in the UK are necessary.
In our work we carry out numerous animal procedures. Many are terminal, so the animal never suffers (i.e. remains under anaesthesia until death). Some are not, often involving open-chest surgery and recovery from anaesthesia. Everything is done to minimise suffering. We give far better post-operative pain relief to these animals than you may find in a hospital. It would have been the same for these kittens, with 24hr on-call veterinary advice and ample pain relief. In short, everything is done in agreement with stringent ethics and guideline to eliminate unnecessary suffering. Few people would think twice about taking their pets for treatment of a similar invasiveness at the local vet, with PETA happy to advocate neutering in the name of animal welfare.
At the crux, vivisection is necessary. Cats (and rats) are not human, but we have more in common than not in our physiology. Whilst much of the research will not directly lead to the next cure for cancer, for instance, it will provide invaluable groundwork on which to build. Society faces increasingly complex health issues and research cannot be mired by only using currently-unreliable alternatives (such as stem cells). Of course, this situation should be continually re-evaluated as alternatives improve, research should be as transparent as possible, and regulation must remain at the exceptionally high level it is today. We as scientists should encourage open debate, educate the public and stand-up for our research. So, instead of listening to a well-meaning celebrity on Twitter, take a step back and find out for yourself what vivisectionists do before giving it the all-too-easy ‘Like’ or RT. Often it is not as simple as the headline would have you believe.
Hugh Daley* is a postgraduate researcher at Imperial College London, specialising in cardiovascular pathology. *Name has been changed.
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