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Animal Testing Is Bad Science: Point/Counterpoint

Studies published in prestigious medical journals have shown time and again that animal experimentation wastes lives—both animal and human—and precious resources by trying to infect animals with diseases that they would never normally contract. Fortunately, a wealth of cutting-edge non-animal research methodologies promises a brighter future for both animal and human health. The following are common statements supporting animal experimentation followed by the arguments against them.

“Every major medical advance is attributable to experiments on animals.”
This is simply not true. An article published in the esteemed Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine has even evaluated this very claim and concluded that it was not supported by any evidence. Most experiments on animals are not relevant to human health, they do not contribute meaningfully to medical advances, and many are undertaken simply out of curiosity and do not even pretend to hold promise for curing illnesses. The only reason people are under the misconception that these experiments help humans is because the media, experimenters, universities, and lobbying groups exaggerate the potential they have to lead to new cures and the role they’ve played in past medical advances.

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“If we didn’t use animals, we’d have to test new drugs on people.”
The fact is that we already do test new drugs on people. No matter how many tests on animals are undertaken, someone will always be the first human to be tested on. Because animal tests are so unreliable, they make those human trials all the more risky. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has noted that 92 percent of all drugs that are shown to be safe and effective in animal tests fail in human trials because they don’t work or are dangerous. And of the small percentage of drugs approved for human use, half end up being relabeled because of side effects that were not identified in tests on animals.

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“We have to observe the complex interactions of cells, tissues, and organs in living animals.”
Taking healthy beings from a completely different species, artificially inducing a condition that they would never normally contract, keeping them in an unnatural and stressful environment, and trying to apply the results to naturally occurring diseases in human beings is dubious at best. Physiological reactions to drugs vary enormously from species to species (and even within a species). Penicillin kills guinea pigs but is inactive in rabbits. Aspirin kills cats and causes birth defects in rats, mice, guinea pigs, dogs, and monkeys. And morphine, a depressant in humans, stimulates goats, cats, and horses. Further, animals in laboratories typically display behavior indicating extreme psychological distress, and experimenters acknowledge that the use of these stressed-out animals jeopardizes the validity of the data produced.

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“Animals help in the fight against cancer.”
Since former President Richard Nixon signed the Conquest of Cancer Act in 1971, the “war on cancer” in the U.S. has become a series of losing battles. Through taxes, donations, and private funding, Americans have spent almost $200 billion on cancer research since 1971. However, more than 500,000 Americans die of cancer every year, a 73 percent increase since the “war” began.

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“Science has a responsibility to use animals to keep looking for cures for all the horrible diseases that people suffer from.”
Every year in the U.S., animal experimentation gobbles up billions of dollars (including 40 percent of all research funding from the National Institutes of Health), and nearly $3 trillion is spent on health care. While funding for animal experimentation and the number of animals used in experiments continues to increase, the U.S. still ranks 42nd in the world in life expectancy and has a high infant mortality rate compared to other developed countries. A 2014 review paper co-authored by a Yale School of Medicine professor in the prestigious medical journal The BMJ documented the overwhelming failure of experiments on animals to improve human health. It concluded that “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.”

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“Many experiments are not painful to animals and are therefore justified.”
The only U.S. law that governs the use of animals in laboratories, the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), allows animals to be burned, shocked, poisoned, isolated, starved, forcibly restrained, addicted to drugs, and brain-damaged. No experiment, no matter how painful or trivial, is prohibited—and painkillers are not even required. Even when alternatives to the use of animals are available, U.S. law does not require that they be used—and often they aren’t. Because the AWA specifically excludes rats, mice, birds, and cold-blooded animals, more than 95 percent of the animals used in laboratories are not even covered by the minimal protection provided by federal laws. Because they aren’t protected, experimenters don’t even have to provide them with pain relief.

Between 2010 and 2014, nearly half a million animals—excluding mice, rats, birds, and cold-blooded animals—were subjected to painful experiments and not provided with pain relief. A 2009 survey by researchers at Newcastle University found that mice and rats who underwent painful, invasive procedures, such as skull surgeries, burn experiments, and spinal surgeries, were provided with post-procedural pain relief only about 20 percent of the time.

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“We don’t want to use animals, but we don’t have any other options.”

The most significant trend in modern research is the recognition that animals rarely serve as good models for the human body. Human clinical and epidemiological studies, human tissue- and cell-based research methods, cadavers, sophisticated high-fidelity human-patient simulators, and computational models have the potential to be more reliable, more precise, less expensive, and more humane alternatives to experiments on animals. Advanced microchips that use real human cells and tissues to construct fully functioning postage stamp–size organs allow researchers to study diseases and also develop and test new drugs to treat them. Progressive scientists have used human brain cells to develop a model “microbrain,” which can be used to study tumors, as well as artificial skin and bone marrow. We can now test skin irritation using reconstructed human tissues (e.g., MatTek’s EpiDermTM), produce and test vaccines using human tissues, and perform pregnancy tests using blood samples instead of killing rabbits.

Experimentation using animals persists not because it’s the best science but because of archaic habits, resistance to change, and a lack of outreach and education.

“Don’t medical students have to dissect animals?”
More than 98 percent of U.S. medical schools—including Yale, Harvard, and Stanford—do not use any animals to train medical students, and experience with animal dissection or experimentation on live animals is not required or expected of those applying to medical school. Medical students are trained with a combination of sophisticated human-patient simulators, interactive computer programs, safe human-based teaching methods, and clinical experience.

Today, one can even become a board-certified surgeon without harming any animals. Some medical professional organizations, like the American Board of Anesthesiologists, even require physicians to complete simulation training—not animal laboratories—to become board-certified.

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“Animals are here for humans to use. If we have to sacrifice 1,000 or 100,000 animals in the hope of benefiting one child, it’s worth it.”
If experimenting on one intellectually disabled person could benefit 1,000 children, would we do it? Of course not! Ethics dictate that the value of each life in and of itself cannot be superseded by its potential value to anyone else. Additionally, money wasted on experiments on animals is money that could instead be helping people, through the use of modern, human-relevant non-animal tests.

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