Skip to Main Content

Health Charities: Helping or Hurting?

When you donate to a charity, do you know where the money actually goes? Might your gift be contributing to animal suffering? Some health charities ask for donations to help people with diseases and disabilities, yet spend the money bankrolling horrific experiments on dogs, cats, primates, rabbits, rats, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, sheep, pigs, ferrets, birds, and other animals. While human-health needs cry out for attention and many people go without medical care, animal experimentation drains money from relevant and effective projects that could truly help save lives.

Pain for Profit
Some well-known charities, including those listed below, fund unnecessary and cruel experiments on animals.

The American Heart Association
The American Heart Association (AHA) funds countless studies in which animals have their hearts damaged, have their arteries sewn shut, and are exposed to noxious substances like cigarette smoke. In one AHA-funded study, experimenters induced cardiac arrest in days-old piglets by blocking their airways for seven minutes. The piglets were then resuscitated with oxygen, manual chest compressions, and, in some cases, intravenous injections of epinephrine. Some of the piglets died during these traumatic procedures, but all the piglets were killed at the end of the experiments. The same experimenters performed craniotomies (surgeries in which the tops of animals’ skulls are cut off) on other piglets and inserted probes to measure cranial blood flow as they decreased oxygen flow to the heart.(1) The AHA also funded experiments in which rabbits were genetically manipulated so that their hearts would have abnormal electrical activity, increasing their risk of cardiac arrest. After surgically inserting tubes and checking heart functions, the experimenters killed and dissected the rabbits.(2)

The March of Dimes
The March of Dimes has given millions of dollars to experimenters who have administered nicotine, cocaine, and alcohol to pregnant animals, even though we already know from human clinical experience that these substances can harm developing babies.

Experimenters funded by the March of Dimes sewed newborn kittens’ eyes shut for a year and then killed them; others chemically blinded 4- to 12-week-old kittens by injecting drugs into their brains for four straight weeks, killing many of the cats in the process.(3,4) The March of Dimes has funded these “blindness” studies for decades in order to show that depriving cats of normal vision alters the development of their brains—which is already a well-established scientific fact.

In another experiment funded by the March of Dimes, mouse genes were manipulated to produce transgenic mice who were unable to walk normally. Rather than walking by alternating legs, the mice’s legs hopped simultaneously, potentially causing pain and distress.(5)

Genetic modification of animals can involve highly invasive, potentially painful procedures, such as transferring modified embryos into recipient animals. Because current methods are inherently inefficient, genetic manipulation of animals uses—and wastes—large numbers of animals. A National Academy of Sciences study found that genetic manipulation can result in “an array of defects in mice, including severe muscle weakness, missing kidneys, seizures, behavioral changes, sterility, disruptions of brain structure, neuronal degeneration, inner ear deformities, and limb deformities.(6)

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has stated that at least one-third of the 325 research projects that it spends $40 million on worldwide annually involve animal experiments.(7) The group has funded studies in which animals were given experimental allergic encephalomyelitis (EAE), a disorder that causes extreme weakness, tremors, vision loss, and paralysis.(8,9) In addition to the cruelty of these experiments, researchers have reported that human multiple sclerosis (MS) treatments based on EAE “have been therapeutic failures and the claimed immunological breakthroughs reported in the leading medical journals, often with laudatory editorials, have not been subsequently confirmed.”(10) Another researcher stated, “Reliance on experimental allergic encephalomyelitis (EAE) as a reliable animal model of human MS is not based on sound scientific rationale.”(11)

Shriners Burns Institute
Shriners Burns Institute has conducted burn experiments on live mice, rats, guinea pigs, pigs, dogs, and sheep for years. Experimenters there burned pigs over 40 percent of their bodies and then induced sepsis by pumping E. coli into their internal organs in order to test how treating the infection helps burn victims to recover, even though burn victims are already routinely given antibiotics to fight infections.(12)

Similar Shriners-funded experiments have been conducted at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB), where animals are subjected to third-degree burns and some are also forced to inhale smoke in order to injure the lining of their respiratory tract.(13,14) With the assistance of a UTMB insider and internal documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, PETA revealed that UTMB failed to provide at least one sheep, who had been intentionally burned over 20 percent of her body, with pain relief. The U.S. Department of Agriculture subsequently cited UTMB for violations of federal animal welfare regulations.(15)

Healing Without Hurting
Fortunately, animal-friendly philanthropists know that giving to the hundreds of compassionate, cruelty-free charities that use up-to-date, non-animal testing methods is the best way to help people in need.

For example, Easter Seals helps children and adults with disabilities through a nationwide network of service sites that offer medical rehabilitation, physical and occupational therapy, and job training.

Eye-health fieldworkers at Helen Keller International help guide blind people to productive lives through rehabilitation training. The Children’s Burn Foundation provides financial resources to meet severely burned children’s physical, psychological, and social needs and educates children and their families, caregivers, and emergency providers about burn prevention and treatment.

The Breast Cancer Fund offers free information, resources, and referrals to breast cancer patients, survivors, and their families as well as to medical professionals and their organizations and the media. The Spinal Cord Injury Network International provides individuals with spinal cord injuries and their families with information and referral services.

These charities accomplish all this and more without wasting one penny on animal experiments. Other progressive health charities rely on human volunteers, clinical studies, autopsy reports, and statistical and epidemiological analysis to produce useful data on people with diseases and disabilities. Human cell cultures and tissue studies, in vitro tests, and artificial human skin and eyes mimic the body’s natural properties and provide scientists with less expensive alternatives to animal tests, and sophisticated virtual organs serve as accurate models of human body parts.

What You Can Do
• Before you donate to a health charity, ask if it funds animal experiments. Don’t contribute until you have a written guarantee that animals are not being used.
• Let charities that fund animal tests know that you give only to those that don’t harm animals.
• Contact PETA for a free list of charities that do and that don’t fund animal experiments, or visit

1) Z.J. Yang et al., “Attenuation of Neonatal Ischemic Brain Damage Using a 20-HETE Synthesis Inhibitor,” Journal of Neurochemistry 121 (2012): 168-179.
2) K.E. Odening et al., “Electrophysiological Studies of Transgenic Long QT Type 1 and Type 2 Rabbits Reveal Genotype-Specific Differences in Ventricular Refractoriness and His Conduction,” American Journal of Physiology–Heart and Circulatory Physiology 299 (2010): H643-H655.
3) M. Sur et al., “Expression of a Surface-Associated Antigen on Y-Cells in the Cat Lateral Geniculate Nucleus Is Regulated by Visual Experience,” Journal of Neuroscience 8 (1988): 874-82.
4) K.M. Friel and J.H. Martin, “Role of Sensory-Motor Cortex Activity in Postnatal Development of Corticospinal Axon Terminals in the Cat ,” The Journal of Comparative Neurology 485 (2005): 43-56.
5) C.A. Oware et al., “Cortical Control of Adaptive Locomotion in Wild-Type and Mutant Mice Lacking the Ephrin-Eph Effector Protein Alpha2-Chimaerin,” Journal of Neurophysiology 104 (2010): 3189-3202.
6) The National Academies’ National Research Council. 2002. Animal Biotechnology: Science-Based Concerns (Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press).
7) Diana Pankevich et al., “International Animal Research Regulations: Impact on Neuroscience Research,” National Academies Press 2012.
8) Catalina Abad et al., “Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide Loss Leads to Impaired CNS Parenchymal T-Cell Infiltration and Resistance to Experimental Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis,” Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences of the United States of America 107(2010): 19555-60.
9) Stefano Pluchino, M.D., Ph.D., et al., “Human Neural Stem Cells Ameliorate Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis in Non-Human Primates,” Annals of Neurology 66(2009): 343-54.
10) P.O. Behan and A. Chaudhuri, “The Sad Plight of Multiple Sclerosis Research (Low on Fact, High on Fiction): Critical Data to Support It Being a Neurocristopathy,” Inflammopharmacology 18(2010): 265-90.
11) Adrian Upton, “Concerning: ‘The Sad Plight of Multiple Sclerosis Research (Low on Fact, High on Fiction): Critical Data to Support It Being a Neurocristopathy’ by Peter O. Behan and Abhijit Chaudhuri,” Inflammopharmacology 18(2010): 263.
12) T. Tadros et al., “Opposite Effects of Prostacyclin on Hepatic Blood Flow and Oxygen Consumption After Burn and Sepsis,” Annals of Surgery 239 (2004): 67-74.
13) Y. Yamamoto et al., “Development of a Long-Term Ovine Model of Cutaneous Burn and Smoke Inhalation Injury and the Effects of Early Excision and Skin Autografting,” Burns 38 (2012): 908-16.
14) M. Lange et al., “Time Course of Nitric Oxide Synthases, Nitrosative Stress, and Poly (ADP Ribosylation) in an Ovine Sepsis Model,” Critical Care 14(2010): R129.
15) Earnest H. Johnson, D.V.M., “Inspection Report,” United States Department of Agriculture, 16 Apr 2012.