Using animals in research and to test the safety of products has been a topic of heated debate for decades. According to data collected by F. Barbara Orlans for her book, In the Name of Science: Issues in Responsible Animal Experimentation, sixty percent of all animals used in testing are used in biomedical research and product-safety testing (62). People have different feelings for animals; many look upon animals as companions while others view animals as a means for advancing medical techniques or furthering experimental research. However individuals perceive animals, the fact remains that animals are being exploited by research facilities and cosmetics companies all across the country and all around the world. Although humans often benefit from successful animal research, the pain, the suffering, and the deaths of animals are not worth the possible human benefits. Therefore, animals should not be used in research or to test the safety of products.
First, animals' rights are violated when they are used in research. Tom Regan, a philosophy professor at North Carolina State University, states: "Animals have a basic moral right to respectful treatment. . . .This inherent value is not respected when animals are reduced to being mere tools in a scientific experiment" (qtd. in Orlans 26). Animals and people are alike in many ways; they both feel, think, behave, and experience pain. Thus, animals should be treated with the same respect as humans. Yet animals' rights are violated when they are used in research because they are not given a choice. Animals are subjected to tests that are often painful or cause permanent damage or death, and they are never given the option of not participating in the experiment. Regan further says, for example, that "animal [experimentation] is morally wrong no matter how much humans may benefit because the animal's basic right has been infringed. Risks are not morally transferable to those who do not choose to take them" (qtd. in Orlans 26). Animals do not willingly sacrifice themselves for the advancement of human welfare and new technology. Their decisions are made for them because they cannot vocalize their own preferences and choices. When humans decide the fate of animals in research environments, the animals' rights are taken away without any thought of their well-being or the quality of their lives. Therefore, animal experimentation should be stopped because it violates the rights of animals.
Next, the pain and suffering that experimental animals are subject to is not worth any possible benefits to humans. "The American Veterinary Medial Association defines animal pain as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience perceived as arising from a specific region of the body and associated with actual or potential tissue damage" (Orlans 129). Animals feel pain in many of the same ways that humans do; in fact, their reactions to pain are virtually identical (both humans and animals scream, for example). When animals are used for product toxicity testing or laboratory research, they are subjected to painful and frequently deadly experiments. Two of the most commonly used toxicity tests are the Draize test and the LD50 test, both ofwhich are infamous for the intense pain and suffering they inflect upon experimental animals. In the Draize test the substance or product being tested is placed in the eyes of an animal (generally a rabbit is used for this test); then the animal is monitored for damage to the cornea and other tissues in and near the eye. This test is intensely painful for the animal, and blindness, scarring, and death are generally the end results. The Draize test has been criticized for being unreliable and a needless waste of animal life. The LD50 test is used to test the dosage of a substance that is necessary to cause death in fifty percent of the animal subjects within a certain amount of time. To perform this test, the researchers hook the animals up to tubes that pump huge amounts of the test product into their stomachs until they die. This test is extremely painful to the animals because death can take days or even weeks. According to Orlans, the animals suffer from "vomiting, diarrhea, paralysis, convulsion, and internal bleeding. Since death is the required endpoint, dying animals are not put out of their misery by euthanasia" (154). In his article entitled "Time to Reform Toxic Tests," Michael Balls, a professor of medial cell biology at the University of Nottingham and chairman of the trustees of FRAME (the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments), states that the LD50 test is "scientifically unjustifiable. The precision it purports to provide is an illusion because of uncontrollable biological variables" (31). The use of the Draize test and the LD50 test to examine product toxicity has decreased over the past few years, but these tests have not been eliminated completely. Thus, because animals are subjected to agonizing pain, suffering and death when they are used in laboratory and cosmetics testing, animal research must be stopped to prevent more waste of animal life.
Finally, the testing of products on animals is completely unnecessary because viable alternatives are available. Many cosmetic companies, for example, have sought better ways to test their products without the use of animal subjects. In Against Animal Testing, a pamphlet published by The Body Shop, a well-known cosmetics and bath-product company based in London, the development of products that "use natural ingredients, like bananas and Basil nut oil, as well as others with a long history of safe human usage" is advocated instead of testing on animals (3).Furthermore, the Draize test has become practically obsolete because of the development of a synthetic cellular tissue that closely resembles human skin. Researchers can test the potential damage that a product can do to the skin by using this artificial "skin" instead of testing on animals. Another alternative to this test is a product called Eyetex. This synthetic material turns opaque when a product damages it, closely resembling the way that a real eye reacts to harmful substances. Computers have also been used to simulate and estimate the potential damage that a product or chemical can cause, and human tissues and cells have been used to examine the effects of harmful substances. In another method, in vitro testing, cellular tests are done inside a test tube. All of these tests have been proven to be useful and reliable alternatives to testing products on live animals. Therefore, because effective means of product toxicity testing are available without the use of live animal specimens, testing potentially deadly substances on animals is unnecessary.
However, many people believe that animal testing is justified because the animals are sacrificed to make products safer for human use and consumption. The problem with thisreasoning is that the animals' safety, well-being, and quality of life is generally not a consideration. Experimental animals are virtually tortured to death, and all of these tests are done in the interest of human welfare, without any thought to how the animals are treated. Others respond that animals themselves benefit from animal research. Yet in an article entitled "Is Your Experiment Really Necessary?" Sheila Silcock, a research consultant for the RSPCA, states: "Animals may themselves be the beneficiaries of animal experiments. But the value we place on the quality of their lives is determined by their perceived value to humans" (34). Making human's lives better should not be justification for torturing and exploiting animals. The value that humans place on their own lives should be extended to the lives of animals as well.
Still other people think that animal testing is acceptable because animals are lower species than humans and therefore have no rights. These individuals feel that animals have no rights because they lack the capacity to understand or to knowingly exercise these rights. However, animal experimentation in medical research and cosmetics testing cannot be justified on the basis that animals are lower on the evolutionary chart than humans since animals resemble humans in so many ways. Many animals, especially the higher mammalian species, possess internal systems and organs that are identical to the structures and functions of human internal organs. Also, animals have feelings, thoughts, goals, needs, and desires that are similar to human functions and capacities, and these similarities should be respected, not exploited, because of the selfishness of humans. Tom Regan asserts that "animals are subjects of a life just as human beings are, and a subject of a life has inherent value. They are . . . ends in themselves" (qtd. in Orlans 26). Therefore, animals' lives should be respected because they have an inherent right to be treated with dignity. The harm that is committed against animals should not be minimized because they are not considered to be "human."
In conclusion, animal testing should be eliminated because it violates animals' rights, it causes pain and suffering to the experimental animals, and other means of testing product toxicity are available. Humans cannot justify making life better for themselves by randomly torturing and executing thousands of animals per year to perform laboratory experiments or to test products. Animals should be treated with respect and dignity, and this right to decent treatment is not upheld when animals are exploited for selfish human gain. After all, humans are animals too.
Against Animal Testing. The Body Shop, 1993.
Balls, Michael. "Time to Reform Toxic Tests." New Scientist 134 (1992):31-33.
Orlans, F. Barbara. In the Name of Science: Issues in Responsible Animal Experimentation. New York: Oxford UP, 1993.
Silcock, Sheila. "Is Your Experiment Really Necessary?" New Scientist 134 (1992): 32-34.
Antibiotics, insulin, vaccines for polio and cervical cancer, organ transplantation, HIV treatments, heart-bypass surgery - it reads like an A to Z of medical progress. But these major advances have something in common: they were all developed and tested using animals.
Animal experimentation is a contentious issue, but it boils down to two essential questions: does it work, and is it ethical?
The first is easy to answer: it works. Some would have you believe there are alternatives for all animal research, or that animal testing is always misleading and unsafe. These are fallacies.
Where there are reliable alternatives, of course, we use them - that's what the law demands. Magnetic resonance imaging, computer models and work on isolated tissues and cell cultures can be useful; but they cannot provide the answers that animal research can.
Medical research is an arduous process. By the time a therapy reaches the patient, it is easy to forget just how important animals were in its development. Patients might not know that the powerful new drugs Avastin (for bowel, breast and lung cancer) and Herceptin (for breast cancer) were developed after research on mice.
In fact, animal research has contributed to 70 per cent of Nobel prizes for physiology or medicine. Without it, we would - medically speaking - be stuck in the Dark Ages.
It is not only drugs and vaccines. Just last week, researchers in Seattle announced that they had used an electronic brain implant to enable a monkey to move its paralysed limbs, a discovery with the potential to allow severely disabled people to regain movement.
I challenge anyone who has followed the tragic case of Daniel James, who committed suicide after becoming paralysed in a rugby accident, to try to stop research in the UK on spinal injuries, some of which involves rats.
Far from being ashamed of this kind of research, we should be proud of our scientists, whose work offers hope to those suffering from incurable disorders.
But what of the ethical issues? Some say that saving people from suffering is no excuse for the death of laboratory animals.
Those who object are entitled to refuse treatments that have been developed through animal tests - even if that means rejecting virtually every medical treatment that exists.
But they don't have the right to force that opinion on the majority, who expect and yearn for new and better treatments.
We all hope for a day when animal research is no longer needed, but until then it is vital. To curb animal research - including, in special cases, research on monkeys - would impede the flow of treatments to people who need them.
Medical researchers are not a bunch of scalpel-wielding lunatics. Those I know are compassionate, humane people who carry out their work with great caution and consideration, and with every effort to minimise suffering.
There are incurable diseases out there - for example Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia - that shatter lives. If we are to have any hope of treating such conditions, medical research needs every tool at its disposal. For everyone's sake, that must include animals.
• Colin Blakemore is professor of neuroscience at Oxford and Warwick universities and former head of the Medical Research Council