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It’s barking mad: the cruel tradition of vivisection should be relegated to the past

Victoria Martindale
day animal laboratories 300x225 Its barking mad: the cruel tradition of vivisection should be relegated to the past

An anti-vivisection activist displays a placard during a demonstration to mark 'World Day for Animals in Laboratories' in 2009. (Getty Images)

In Battersea Park stands a statue of a little brown dog that marks the controversy over vivisection that has continued since the 19th century. It commemorates the suffering of millions of animals in laboratories worldwide and brings the attention of the public to the practices of vivisection that are carried out in secret.

Today is World Day for Animals in Laboratories, but this dog is emblematic of the Victorian era, when travel was by stagecoach and penny farthing, children laboured as chimney sweeps, women were denied the vote and technology hadn’t even conceived of the television, let alone any of today’s electronic wizardry. It puts the origins of vivisection into perspective and illustrates just how times have changed over the past century.

Despite the technological revolution that our lives have undergone in latter years, the one and perhaps only area of the modern world that has failed to embrace this transformation is medical experimentation. While the whole world lies at our disposal at the click of a mouse, this is a sector that remains deep seated in a bygone era.

Scientists who pontificate about their virtuous and altruistic motives to employ these Victorian methods of torture to animals do so on the spurious premise that it leads them closer to cures for human conditions. They believe in the necessity as well as the moral right of animal experimentation and play an instinctively emotional card, “a dog or your child?”

Undoubtedly, the controversy over vivisection is one that dogs and divides the country. You and I may differ in our opinions on the morality of using animals in experimentation, but neither opinions nor morality offer either objective rational or scientific justification for inflicting suffering on others. I imagine that most of us would expect any research method to be scientifically justified. Science, we understand, is an exact subject built upon universal laws that stand the tests of accuracy, predictability and reliability. We wouldn’t consider rough estimates, approximations or the vagaries of guesswork to rule the scientific domain, for example. But the animal “models” used in experimentation are just that – crude approximations of physiologically quite different and very complex biological systems.

Millions of years of evolutionary history account for these intricate differences that cannot be spontaneously reversed in a laboratory cage. But there are many differences that are far less subtle, too. Take dogs, for instance, who are widely used in research on medical conditions such as heart disease and new drugs, yet lack primary human organs, like appendices; can suffer kidney damage from the drugs that we use daily, including aspirin and ibuprofen; and whose biological systems are anatomically and chemically quite different to ours. Scientists recognise the inherent flaws of these models for mimicking a human response and attempt all kinds of trial tinkering, genetic engineering and method manipulation to extract some data, any data, of relevance. Yet even with all this artifice, only 0.004 per cent of all animal experimentation is of any direct benefit to human health.

This paucity of cases in which treatments have been developed for illnesses artificially induced in animals in laboratories comes at enormous costs in terms of financial, scientific and animal resources. But the biggest problem is that the successes have occurred more from chance than good science. Experimenters are quick to trumpet impressive yarns of medical advances credited to experiments on animals. However, these are merely instances where animals were used. That’s not at all the same as saying these animals were critical to the discovery, an assertion impossible to prove in retrospect. Animals as predictive models of the human response to new drugs and diseases get it right less frequently than the toss of a coin. Is it acceptable that in the 21st century, our health and our money are being squandered on what amounts to nothing more than a game of chance? The only truly reliable scientific certainty in animal research is the consummation of exorbitant amounts of public money and resources. And millions of lives.

The practice of vivisection is as every bit as dated as the penny farthing, the chimney sweep and the little brown dog who was dissected conscious and struggling before an audience of medical students. We all want medical advances, but in the face of scientific evidence, contemporary technology and the human genome, we should decry the misuse of our money and resources on meaningless practices that don’t work while inflicting unimaginable levels of suffering upon millions of creatures. All the time experimenters refuse to embrace modern technology and remain in the Victorian era, both animals and humans pay the price. The answer to their question is “a dog and your child”.

Last year saw the highest number of animals used in scientific procedures for 25 years, along with an increase of funding levels. At the same time, cancer cases are on the rise; we have been waiting more than 30 years for an effective vaccine against AIDS; a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s remains a death sentence; heart disease persists as the biggest killer in the Western world; and the number of people dying from medicines that have passed safety tests on animals is 10 times the number of people killed on our roads every year. Evidently, the little brown dog is as symbolic today in the 21st century as he was in the 19th.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/sue.baumgardt.5 Sue Baumgardt

    Before we talk about using and abusing animals for replacement parts for us we should be introducing an opt out system for organ donation. If we as a species are reluctant or negligent about donating our organs when we are dead why should we expect other animals to be killed in laboratories?

  • http://www.facebook.com/sue.baumgardt.5 Sue Baumgardt

    So would you also defend the endlessly repeated maternal deprivation experiments carried out on baby chimps in the USA? This is the path that a lack of morals, ethics and compassion leads us down.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sue.baumgardt.5 Sue Baumgardt

    The Home Office grades experiments on a scale of severity according to the pain and harm done. The highest level is ’severe’. These are the “advanced” lab techniques you mention. Oh, and the animals poisoned and gassed in MoD Porton Down’s torture chambers too.

  • disqus_x8r9vs0Vsq

    You all sound like idiots. There is no argument here. It is WRONG to dissect something while its alive, ESPECIALLY in this day and age. That is the point. You should all shut up,


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