Simple Answers to 8 Burning Questions, Including ‘What Is Vivisection?’

If you’re a PETA member or supporter, you no doubt know that—at our core—we’re an anti-vivisection organization. We oppose all forms of speciesism, but we never forget that our 1980s origins are rooted deeply in ending animal experimentation. But if you’re scratching your head and wondering “What is vivisection?” don’t fret—you’re not alone. We’ve broken down everything you need to know about the ruthless, archaic practice:

What Is Vivisection?

Merriam-Webster defines vivisection as “the cutting of or operation on a living animal usually for physiological or pathological investigation” or—broadly—”animal experimentation especially if considered to cause distress to the subject.” To put it even more simply, vivisection is animal testing—think of the two as synonymous. If you’ve seen Legally Blonde 2 or if you’ve ever opted for wet n wild mascara over Maybelline because the former uses PETA’s Global Beauty Without Bunnies logo, you probably already realize that animal testing is bad. If you don’t, that’s OK—keep reading.

Experiments on Animals Must End

Who Started Vivisection?

Greek physician Claudius Galen is often named as the originator of vivisection. During the Roman Empire, Galen cut open goats, monkeys, pigs, and sheep. The conclusions that he drew about human anatomy based on his dissections were reportedly flawed—a phenomenon that we see often in today’s ineffective animal tests when lives and precious resources are wasted by trying to infect animals with diseases that they would never normally contract.

Take a trip through time using PETA’s interactive timeline, “Without Consent,” to learn about almost 200 stories of twisted animal experiments from the past century.

Dog suffering from MD at Texas A&M University
In the notorious canine muscular dystrophy (MD) laboratory at Texas A&M University, dogs who were deliberately bred to develop this crippling muscle disease struggled to walk and swallow. Analysis of MD experiments using dogs has shown that there are serious pitfalls when trying to apply their results to humans. Nearly 40 years of these tests have failed to result in a single cure or treatment that reverses MD symptoms in humans.

What Do Vivisectors Do?

Much like Galen, today’s vivisectors experiment on and almost always kill animals in the name of “science.” Poisoning, shocking, burning, and killing animals is all in a day’s work for vivisectors. Because many states’ anti-cruelty statutes include language that exempts abuse of animals in laboratories, vivisectors are given a pass to get away with murder. And they often use our tax dollars to do so—for example, over the course of the last 13 years, National Institutes of Health experimenter Elisabeth Murray has received more than $36 million in taxpayer funding to frighten monkeys with rubber snakes and spiders, allegedly to study mental illness in humans—and not one treatment or cure for humans has come out of it. No experiment on animals, no matter how gruesome, is illegal.

Are Vivisection and Animal Testing the Same Thing?

Yes, vivisection is the practice of experimenting on animals. To learn more about what’s wrong with vivisection, check out these top five reasons to stop animal testing.

what is vivisection?
This archaic method for raising ticks was developed in the 1930s and is still used today in some laboratories, even though newer, non-animal methods are available.

You can call it vivisection, or you can call it animal testing—any way you spin it, animals will never be ours to experiment on.

Which Animals Are Used in Animal Testing (Vivisection)?

At any given moment, millions of miceratsrabbitsprimatescatsdogs, and other animals are locked inside barren cages in laboratories across the U.S. They languish in pain, suffer from extreme frustration, ache with loneliness, and long to be free.
In Murray’s laboratory, sections of monkeys’ skulls are carved out and toxins are injected into their brains. At Johns Hopkins University, experimenter Shreesh Mysore holds barn owls captive in his laboratory, cutting into their skulls and poking electrodes around in their brains. At Liberty Research, Inc., dogs and cats were injected with pesticides and holes were drilled into their heads—some cats suffocated under flipped-over litterboxes.        
In one experiment at Liberty Research, Inc., workers used a drill to bore holes into the skulls of 30 young beagles so that distemper virus could be injected directly into their brains. Some of the dogs blinked and even whimpered during the painful procedure, indicating that they were not adequately anesthetized. Imagine if this pain were inflicted on your beloved canine companion.

Are Vivisection and Dissection the Same Thing?

“Vivisection,” an early–18th century word, is actually a combination of the Latin “vivus” (“living”) and the English word “dissection.” When pertaining to animals, dissection is the act of cutting up or dismembering a body. Dissection is most common in classroom settings—typically, cats, frogs, pigs, rats, fish, and invertebrate animals are the ones students are instructed to cut open for a grade, but others, including sharks, birds, and turtles, are dissected, too. Vivisection and dissection have more in common than just a root word: Animals who are used in cruel experiments are often killed and then dissected.

Dissected cat at a veterinary school. Canada, 2007.
A dissected cat at a veterinary school in Canada, 2007

Is Vivisection Legal in the U.S.?

Yes, vivisection—aka “animal testing”—is legal in the U.S. Although some of the experimentation conducted on animals today is required by law, most of it isn’t. A number of countries have implemented bans on testing certain types of consumer goods on animals, such as the cosmetics-testing bans in the European Union, India, Israel, New Zealand, Norway, and elsewhere. Unfortunately, the U.S. has no ban on testing cosmetics or household products on animals, so companies that make and sell their products here can choose to conduct tests on animals—but thanks to PETA’s campaigns, very few of them do.

With the help of our members and supporters, PETA works globally to expose and end the use of animals in experiments. Check out a few of our anti-vivisection efforts and the victories PETA has scored for animals imprisoned in laboratories.

GlaxoSmithKline Ends Forced Swim Test
During the widely discredited forced swim test, rats and other small animals are placed in inescapable beakers filled with water and made to swim to keep from drowning. Thanks to PETA, more than a dozen major pharmaceutical companies—including heavyweight GlaxoSmithKline—have banned this near-drowning test.

Is PETA Against Animal Testing (Vivisection)?

YES, PETA is against animal testing. Our first case—the precedent-setting 1981 Silver Spring monkeys case—resulted in the first arrest and criminal conviction of an animal experimenter in the U.S. on charges of cruelty to animals, the first confiscation of abused animals in a laboratory, and the first U.S. Supreme Court victory for animals in laboratories. And we haven’t stopped campaigning—and winning—for animals since.

So, how does PETA end animal tests? Just read our 2019 recap to find out.

If you want in on the “How can we stop animal experiments?” action, you’re in the right place. Click on the button below to join PETA in helping to stop animal testing:

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