Over 25 million animals are used for experimentation in the U.S. every year. Monkeys, rabbits, cats, ferrets, pigs, sheep and chimpanzees are just some of the animals used for biomedical experiments, science education, and product and cosmetics testing. Some animals, however, are more preferred by laboratories. In fact, over 90% of test subjects are mice, birds and rats.
Many proponents of animal experimentation claim that the process is for a good cause. Better to use animals than humans for testing, right? After all, they are below humans in the natural chain of things. But, as English philosopher and social reformer Jeremy Bentham puts it, it is not a question of whether they can talk or reason, but whether or not they suffer. Considering that animals cry and show discomfort, it is safe to conclude that they feel something.
Unfortunately, vivisection, or the practice of animal experimentation, is perfectly acceptable and legal. It is the worst form of animal abuse that is institutionalized and sanctioned by our society. Despite the fact that the conditions of animals in labs are monotonous, stressful, and very unnatural for them, invasive experimentation persists, and even when the endpoint is death. Whether animal experimentation is good or bad really depends on who you are asking. But, if it is condone by society, then there must be some advantages to it, even if the benefits are at the expense of animal lives.
List of Pros of Animal Experimentation
1. Contributes to many cures and treatments that save many human lives
The majority of the medical breakthroughs that have happened in the last 100 years were direct results from animal research and experimentation, according to the California Biomedical Research Association. Insulin, for example, was discovered through an experiment where dogs have their pancreases removed. The Anderson Cancer Center animal research also associated the vaccine for Hepatitis B with experimentation on chimpanzees. Without these experimentations, thousands, if not millions, of diabetic patients and those with hepatitis B would have been killed every year. The same facility also said that the chimps serve as humanity’s only hope for finding a Hepatitis C vaccine.
2. Provides adequate living, whole body system test subject
No other living thing in this planet has the closest anatomical structure as humans than animals. A human body is extremely complex that cell cultures in a petri dish cannot provide sufficient test results or proof that a cure or product is effective. Testing a drug for side effects, for example, requires a circulatory system that will carry the drug to different organs. Studying interrelated processes is also best done in subjects with endocrine system, immune system, and central nervous system, something humans and animals have. What about the use of computer models? They would require accurate information that is gathered from animal research.
3. Humans and animals are almost identical in many ways
The DNA of chimpanzees are 99% similar with humans, while the genetics of mice are 98% similar. Humans and animals are also biologically similar, having the same set of organs, bloodstream and central nervous system, which is why they are affected with the same diseases and health conditions. Given these circumstances, animals used in experimentation do serve as appropriate research subjects.
4. Provides an ethical alternative for testing
Most people would say that it is unethical to use humans for invasive experimental procedures, especially when it can result in death. The lives of human volunteers must not be endangered when testing medicines for side effects or potential toxicity. Ethical consideration must also be made when genetic manipulation would be involved. Human trials must be preceded by animal testing, as stated by the World Medical Association Declaration of Helsinki. But, if animals could talk, they would probably demand the same ethical considerations.
5. Offer benefits to animals themselves
Animal experimentation is not only beneficial to humans but animals as well. If the vaccines were not tested on them, a lot of them could have died from rabies, infectious hepatitis virus, anthrax, feline leukemia, and canine parvovirus. Remedies for hip dysplasia and glaucoma were also discovered through animal testing. But the real highlight is that vivisection helped kept endangered species, such as the California condor, the tamarins of Brazil, and the black-footed ferret, from becoming extinct. This is why animal testing is endorsed by the American Veterinary Medical Association.
6. Allow researchers to study a test subject for a whole life span
Humans can live up to 80 years or more, which means some scientists would be dead before others results will be gathered. Laboratory mice, on the other hand, only live for 2 to 3 years, giving researchers an opportunity to study effects of genetic manipulation or treatments over an entire lifetime. In some cases, they can continue to study across several generations. This is why mice and rats have been used for long-term cancer research.
7. Animals are protected from abuse and mistreatment
Contrary to what most opponents believe, animal research is highly regulated, with laws enacted to protect animals. Since 1966, the federal Animal Welfare Act have been regulating animal experimentation.
- Research animals must be provided with shelter that follows minimum housing standards, such as the right-sized enclosure, recommended temperature, access to clean food and water, etc.
- Veterinarians must regularly inspect the animals and their living conditions
- Each research facility must set up an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) that will approve all proposals to use animals for experimentation.
- The IACUC will be responsible for enforcing humane treatment of animals.
- Research facilities funded by the US Public Health Service (PHS) must comply with the policies on Human Care and Use of Laboratory Animals imposed by PHS.
8. Fewer animals are used in research than as food for humans
Compared to the amount of chicken, cattle, sheep and pigs that humans eat, relatively few of them are used in experimentation. With consideration to the medical progress and advancement such tests provided, it is a small price to pay. To illustrate, for every chicken used in research, an equivalent of 340 are used as food.
List of Cons of Animal Experimentation
1. Cruel and inhumane treatment
Protocols in animal testing are often painful to the test subjects. They are forced fed, deprived of food and water, restrained physically for prolonged periods, inflicted with burns, wounds and pain to test for healing process effects and remedies, and even killed through neck-breaking or asphyxiation. This is according to the Humane Society International. When testing to evaluate irritation caused by cosmetics, for example, a rabbit’s eyes will be held open by clips so it cannot blink away the products being evaluated. The clips usually stay on for days, and to ensure the rabbits stay in place, they are incapacitated. Some experimentation also involves using lethal doses of certain chemicals to determine how much can kill animals.
2. Animals make poor test subjects
This statement is a direct contradiction from what proponents believe about how closely related animals and humans are anatomically and biologically, because of the many metabolic, cellular, and anatomical differences between the two species. Using rats for toxicity, for example, must not be accepted as reliable since humans are nowhere close to being 70-kilogram rats, according to Thomas Hartung, professor of evidence-based toxicology at Johns Hopkins University. This is further supported by the 2013 study in the Archives of Toxicology that states that the lack of direct comparison of human data versus that of a mouse makes the usefulness of research data dubious.
3. Success in animal experimentation does not equate to human safety
When the sleeping pill thalidomide was tested on pregnant rats, mice, cats and guinea pigs, there were no incidence of birth defects, except when administered at extremely high doses. However, when it was used by pregnant women, it resulted in severe deformities affecting 10,000 babies.
- The arthritis drug Vioxx, which turned out great on animals was really bad news on humans because it caused more than 20,000 heart attacks and sudden cardiac deaths.
- A majority of the drugs that passed animal tests, 94% to be exact, failed in human clinical trials.
- 100 of the drugs designed to treat stroke worked on animals, but completely failed in humans
- Over 85 vaccines for HIV worked well in primates, but failed in humans
4. Can lead to misleading research
Some medicines and products that are harmful to animals are actually valuable to humans. Aspirin, for example, was almost shelved because it proved dangerous for animals. Imagine what would have happened if aspirin was completely taken off the pharmaceutical list? There would have been no way to lower the risk of organ transplant being rejected.
5. Most animals used in testing and research are not protected by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA)
As of 2010, only over 1 million animals are covered by the AWA, leaving around 25 million more unprotected from mistreatment and abuse. These include birds, fish, mice and rats. And because vivisections within laboratory walls are regulated by the committee that the facility itself selected, animal subjects are even more at risk of being treated like prisoners in a hospital for their entire existence.
One very good example of a clear violation of AWA was discovered in a federally funded facility in Louisiana, New Iberia Research Center (NIRC). The animals were so stressed out psychologically that they resorted to self-mutilation. The rest of the 337 violations that NIRC committed were caught on a video footage, showing the heartbreaking conditions of the animals. But this facility is just one of the many that violates AWA.
6. There are less expensive alternatives to animal experimentation
Despite what proponents insist, cell cultures in a petri dish, or in vitro (in glass) testing, are not exactly useless or insufficient. They can even produce results that are more relevant than animal experimentation. The same thing is true when using artificial human skin as a test subject, instead of animal skin. Virtual reconstructions of human molecular structures done through computer models also have the capacity to predict toxicity levels of substances, so no need to poison animals to collect data and draw conclusions. And, when testing for adverse reactions, administering small doses on humans, also known as microdosing, also offers an alternative. Combined with blood analysis, results will be produced.
But what is really important is that these alternatives are less expensive than animal experimentations. In glass testing, for example, only costs $11,000, which is less than $21,000 than an “unscheduled DNA synthesis”. A phototoxicity test that doesn’t use rats only cost $1,300, which is almost $10,000 less than its animal-based equivalent. These only shows that animal tests are wasting plenty of government dollars allocated for research.
7. Plenty of animal lives are wasted
Considering all the tests that failed, not to mention other non-experimental factors that affect animals, there is a significant number of animal lives wasted for nothing. They suffer or get killed during the experiment, and suffer the same fate after the experiment. But what is really inhumane and unethical are the poor research procedures used by some facilities. Serious flaws were discovered in plenty of studies in the UK and the U.S. that use rodents, according to a peer-reviewed study conducted in 2009. Selection bias was a major problem, but even with randomization and blinding technique used, proper selection of animals still failed. There is also a lack of hypothesis or objective related to the study.
8. Medical breakthroughs need not involve animals
Is animal experimentation really that necessary in discovering treatments and cures? Opponents argue that there is really no evidence of its vital role in major medical advances. If funds and resources are focused on animal-free alternatives, more humane, ethical and inexpensive solutions. One such alternative that should be given full support is the microfluidic chip, also known as organs on a chip. This involves the use of chips to achieve certain functions of a human body, such as mix, pump and sort. The chips are lined with human cells so they work similar to human organs. With this alternative, researchers can no longer use the excuse that they need a living, whole-body system to run experiments.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.