Animal Testing Is Bad Science: Point/Counterpoint
Animal experimenters want us to believe that if they gave up their archaic habit, sick children and other disease and accident victims would drop dead in droves. But the most significant trend in modern research in recent years has been the recognition that animals rarely serve as good models for the human body.
Studies published in prestigious medical journals have shown time and again that animal experimenters are often wasting 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 some 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 animal experiments 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 animal experiments help humans is because the media, experimenters, universities and lobbying groups exaggerate the potential of animal experiments to lead to new cures and the role they have played in past medical advances.
Researchers from the Yale School of Medicine and several British universities published a paper in the British Medical Journal titled “Where Is the Evidence That Animal Research Benefits Humans?” The researchers systematically examined animal studies and concluded that little evidence exists to support the idea that animal experimentation has benefited humans.
In fact, many of the most important advances in health are attributable to human studies, including the discovery of the relationships between cholesterol and heart disease and smoking and cancer, the development of X-rays, and the isolation of the AIDS virus.
Between 1900 and 2000, life expectancy in the United States increased from 47 to 77 years. Although animal experimenters take credit for the greatly improved life expectancy rate, medical historians report that improved nutrition, sanitation, and other behavioral and environmental factors—rather than anything learned from animal experiments—are responsible for the fact that people are living longer lives.
“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 animal tests 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 that are approved for human use, half are relabeled because of side effects that were not identified in animal tests.
Vioxx, Phenactin, E-Ferol, Oraflex, Zomax, Suprol, Selacryn and many other drugs have had to be pulled from the market in recent years because of adverse reactions suffered by people taking these drugs. Despite rigorous animal tests, prescription drugs kill 100,000 people each year, making them our nation’s fourth-biggest killer.
Fortunately, a wealth of cutting-edge, non-animal research methodologies promises a brighter future for both animal and human health. The following are some statements supporting animal experimentation followed by the arguments against them. More technical information about the failure of experiments on animals can be found here.
“We have to observe the complex interactions of cells, tissues, and organs in living animals.”
Taking a healthy being from a completely different species, artificially inducing a condition that he or she would never normally contract, keeping him or her in an unnatural and distressful 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. 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.
Sir Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin, remarked, “How fortunate we didn’t have these animal tests in the 1940s, for penicillin would probably have never been granted a license, and probably the whole field of antibiotics might never have been realized.”Modern non-animal research methods are faster, cheaper and more relevant to humans than cruel and irrelevant animal tests.
Sophisticated human cell- and tissue-based research methods allow researchers to test the safety and effectiveness of new drugs, vaccines and chemical compounds. The Hurel biochip uses living human cells to detect the effects of a drug or chemical on multiple interacting organs, VaxDesign’s Modular Immune In vitro Construct (MIMIC) system uses human cells to create a working dime-sized human immune system for testing vaccines and Harvard researchers have developed a human tissue-based “lung-on-a-chip” that can ‘breathe’ and be used to estimate the effects of inhaled chemicals on the human respiratory system. Human tissue-based methods are also used to test the potential toxicity of chemicals and for things like burn, allergy, asthma and cancer research.
Clinical research on humans also provides great insights into the effects of drugs and how the human body works. A research method called microdosing can provide information on the safety of an experimental drug and how it is metabolized in the body by administering an extremely small one-time dose that is well below the threshold necessary for any potential pharmacologic effect to take place. Researchers can study the working human brain using advanced imaging techniques and can even take measurements down to the single neuron.
“Animals help in the fight against cancer.”
Since President Richard Nixon signed the Conquest of Cancer Act in 1971, the “war on cancer” in the United States 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 in the death rate since the “war” began.
Richard Klausner, former head of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), has observed, “The history of cancer research has been a history of curing cancer in the mouse. We have cured mice of cancer for decades and it simply didn’t work in humans.” Studies have found that chemicals that cause cancer in rats only caused cancer in mice 46 percent of the time. If extrapolating from rats to mice is so problematic, how can we extrapolate results from mice, rats, guinea pigs, rabbits, cats, dogs, monkeys, and other animals to humans?
The NCI now uses human cancer cells, taken by biopsy during surgery, to perform first-stage testing for new anti-cancer drugs, sparing the 1 million mice the agency previously used annually and giving us all a much better shot at combating cancer.
Furthermore, according to the World Health Organization, cancer is largely preventable, yet most cancer-focused health organizations spend a pittance on prevention programs, such as public education.
Epidemiological and clinical studies have determined that most cancers are caused by smoking and eating high-fat foods, foods high in animal protein, and foods containing artificial colors and other harmful additives. We can beat cancer by attending to this human-derived, human-relevant data and implementing creative methods to encourage healthier lifestyle choices.
“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 United States , animal experimentation gobbles up billions of dollars (including 40 percent of all research funding from the U.S. National Institutes of Health), and more than $1 trillion is spent on health care. While funding for animal experimentation and the number of animals tested on continues to increase, the United States still ranks 49th in the world in life expectancy and second worst in infant mortality in the developed world. While rates of heart disease and strokes have shown slight declines recently—because of lifestyle factors such as diet and smoking rather than any medical advances—cancer rates continue to rise, while alcohol- and drug-treatment centers, prenatal care programs, community mental health clinics, and trauma units continue to suffer closures because they lack sufficient funds.
More human lives could be saved and more suffering could be spared by educating people about the importance of avoiding fat and cholesterol, quitting smoking, reducing alcohol and other drug consumption, exercising regularly, and cleaning up their environment than by all the animal tests in the world.
“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—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 pain-killers are not even required. Even when alternatives to the use of animals are available, the law does not require that they be used—and often they aren’t. Because the Act specifically excludes rats, mice, birds and cold-blooded animals, more than 95 percent of the animals used in laboratories are not subject to the minimal protections provided by federal laws. Because they are not protected by the law, experimenters don’t even have to provide mice and rats 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.
In addition to the actual pain of experiments, an honest view of the situation for animals in laboratories should take into account the totality of the suffering imposed on them, including the stress of capture, transportation, and handling; the housing in confined and unnatural conditions; the deprivation that constitutes standard husbandry procedures; and the physical and psychological stress experienced by animals used for breeding, who suffer through cycles of impregnation only to have their young torn away from them, sometimes immediately at birth.
Animals in laboratories endure lives of deprivation, isolation, stress, trauma, and depression even before they are enrolled in any sort of protocol. This fact is especially apparent when one considers the specialized needs of each species. In nature, many primates, including rhesus macaques and baboons, stay for many years or for life with their families and troops. They spend hours together every day, grooming each other, foraging, playing, and making nests for sleeping each night. But in laboratories, primates are often caged alone. Laboratories typically do not allow social interactions, provide family groups or companions, or offer grooming possibilities, nests, or surfaces softer than metal.
Indeed, in many laboratories, animals are handled roughly—even for routine monitoring procedures that fall outside the realm of an experimental protocol—and this only heightens the animals’ fear and stress. Video footage from inside laboratories shows that many animals cower in fear every time someone walks by their cages.
A 2004 article in Nature magazine indicated that mice housed in standard laboratory cages suffer from “impaired brain development, abnormal repetitive behaviours (stereotypies) and an anxious behavioural profile.” This appalling level of suffering results simply from standard housing conditions—before the animal undergoes any sort of procedure.
A November 2004 article in Contemporary Topics in Laboratory Animal Science examined 80 published papers and concluded that “significant fear, stress, and possibly distress are predictable consequences of routine laboratory procedures” including seemingly benign practices such as blood collection and handling.
“We don’t want to use animals, but we don’t have any other options.”
Human clinical and epidemiological studies, human tissue- and cell-based research methods, cadavers, sophisticated high-fidelity human patient simulators and computational models are more reliable, more precise, less expensive, and more humane than animal experiments. 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 irritancy on protein membranes, produce and test vaccines using human tissues, and perform pregnancy tests using blood samples instead of killing rabbits. Animal experiments don’t persist because they are the best science, they persist because of experimenters’ personal biases and archaic traditions.
“Don’t medical students have to dissect animals?”
Nearly 95% 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 didactic methods, sophisticated human patient simulators, interactive computer programs, safe human-based learning 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.
In the United Kingdom , it’s against the law for medical (and veterinary) students to practice surgery on animals.
“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.
Experimenters claim a “right” to inflict pain on animals based on any number of arbitrary physical and cognitive characteristics, such as animals’ supposed lack of reason. But if lack of reason truly justified animal experimentation, experimenting on human beings with “inferior” mental capabilities, such as infants and the intellectually-disabled, would also be acceptable.
The argument also ignores the reasoning ability of many animals, including pigs, who demonstrate measurably sophisticated approaches to solving problems, and some primates, who not only use tools but also teach their offspring how to use them.
The experimenters’ real argument is “might makes right.” They believe it is acceptable to harm animals because they are weaker, they look different and because their pain is less important than humans’. This is not only cruel, but its unethical.