Animal testing is the use of non-human animals used in the experiments in order to research into basic biology and various diseases and testing the effectiveness and side effects of new drugs before being used on human beings. The practice of animal testing dates back to as early as 2nd and 4th century BCE found in Greek writings. Aristotle and Erasistratus were among the first people to perform experiments on living animals. After severe accidents of drugs killing people lead to the laws being passed that drugs had to go through animal testing before their use on animals. The debates around this topic have existed since the practice of animal testing started.
There have been debates about the ethics of this practice arguing that the benefit to humans did not justify the harm caused to humans. On the other side, those in support of animal testing argued that it is important to excel in the field of medical research. There are two sides of this debate that animal testing should be banned because it is against animal rights and that alternative methods do exist now that replace the need for animals and even though the drugs that pass animal tests are not necessarily safe for humans. On the other side of the argument, it is said that there is no alternative to testing on a whole body and animals also benefit from animal testing as well and a small number of animals are used so it is a small price to pay.
The main debate that exists against animal testing is that it is cruel, inhumane and moreover against animal rights. According to Humane Society International animals that are used in the experiments are treated very badly and cruelly. In these experiments, they become subjects of force feeding, food, and water deprivation, applying burns and wounds to study healing process, electric shocks and forced swimming in the behavioral experiments in order to study distress and trauma. Regan proposes from a philosophical point of view that animals as well have moral rights (animal rights). He argues that animals are non- human beings with beliefs and desires, with moral values and therefore moral rights. He calls them the “subjects-of-a-life”, “just as humans are, and that, if we want to ascribe value to all human beings regardless of their ability to be rational agents, then to be consistent, we must similarly ascribe it to non-humans.” Some philosophers including Bernard Rollin argue that we can’t just simply overlook the suffering of animals for the benefits of humans and in no case, the benefits to humans can outweigh the suffering that these animals go through during these experiments.
Due to massive outbreaks in science, there are alternative testing methods that exist that have the potential to replace the need of using animals. Rather than using animals to the model human body the more logical solution is to switch to research that includes human relevance. The National Council of Research in the United States has presented its prediction for the future in such words “a not-so-distant future in which virtually all routine toxicity testing would be conducted in human cells or cell lines”. However, that is talking about the future the alternatives still exist.
The option of studying cell cultures in a petri dish is available and in vitro (in glass) experiments can produce more accurate and relevant results because human cells are being used as opposed to animal cells. Healing processes that are tested on animal skins by inflicting burns can now be tested on artificial human skin. EpiDerm and ThinCert are products that are commercially available and they mimic human skin. They are made from sheets of human skin cells grown in test tubes. There has been a massive growth in computational biology as well. Screening systems can help to discover of how exactly different drugs and chemicals can disrupt the body processes at the level of cells and DNA. Thus, the results gained from these screenings are more reliable than those performed on animals.
Moreover, animal bodies are very different from human bodies on every level thus they make poor models for human beings. Their basic anatomy is different, the metabolic processes and cellular structures are different s well. Furlong who is the professor of Clinical Neuroimaging at Aston University (UK) mentions that: “it’s very hard to create an animal model that even equates closely to what we’re trying to achieve in the human”. Rodrigo Costa, Professor of evidence -based toxicology at Johns Hopkins University argues in favor of alternatives because “we’re not 70kg rats”. Another legitimate main argument presented by those against animal testing is that even though the drugs that pass animal tests might not be necessarily safe for human beings. The disaster of the sleeping pills- Thalidomide is the main example.
The1950s sleeping pills were sold as a mild sleeping pill which made the users sleepy and relaxed safe for even pregnant women. As stated by Science museum UK, it caused 10,000 babies to be born with severe deformities even though this drug was tested on animals before its launch commercially. After this incident, tests were carried out on pregnant rats, mice, cats, hamsters and Greek states that Thalidomide didn’t result in any birth defects in new-born of these animals unless the animals were given extremely high doses of it. This dark period in the pharmaceutical research history using animal testing provides the arguers a solid reason to speak against animal testing.
Animal Welfare Act (AWA) was the first Federal Law passed in the US regarding animals in research and protecting animal rights. However, the cause for concern is that 95% of animals that are used in these experiments are not under the protection of Animal Welfare Act. It doesn’t cover birds, fish, mice, and rats and these animals make 95% of the animals used in the experiments. If these animals are not protected by AWA, this means that they’re highly vulnerable to bad treatment and abuse in the laboratories. There have been terrible cases of abusing animals in the laboratories showing the failure of Animal Welfare Act. In March 2009, the Humane Society of the United States reported the severe violations of the Animal Welfare Act at the Iberia Research Center (NIRC) in Louisiana. Some of the primates kept in captivity were found to be suffering from high levels of psychological stress due to loneliness. They were inflicting pain on themselves by self-mutilation- “tearing gaping wounds on their legs and arms”. Young chimps are forcefully removed from their mothers and then they’re being kept awake for days during painful experiments. Another major incident happened at the University of California at Davis Center for Neuroscience that three baby rats were found packed alive in a plastic bag and then left unattended. These are only one or two incidents that were reported and there are many that go unreported and animals are being continually abused with no protection.
Another reason to consider stopping animal testing is the huge amount of money spent on this sector of medical research. Animal testing is much more expensive than alternative methods and millions of dollars that can be spent elsewhere such as education, infrastructure etc are wasted each year. Humane Society International compared the costs of some animal tests and the cost of the same experiments performed using in vitro procedures. An “unscheduled DNA synthesis” tested on animal costs about $11,000 where as the in vitro equivalent costs about $1,300 which is much less. Moreover, a two species-lifetime cancer study can cost from $2 million to $4million and US National Institutes of Health (NIH) spends about $14 billion out of its $31billion annual budget on the field of animal testing. Such vast amount of money is spent on animal testing and without any strict protection laws for animals being tested.
However, various other arguments do exist as well in favor of animal testing and people who support animal testing. One of the main reasons being, that as a result of animal testing many life-saving cures have been found. According to California Biomedical Research Association, every breakthrough in the medical industry in the last 100 years has resulted directly from the use of animals in the research. Insulin was discovered through the experiments when in which pancreases of dogs were removed. This discovery of insulin and its function in the body was the main turning point in saving the lives of millions with diabetes, however before the discovery of insulin and how it functions diabetes cost, people, their lives. Even though in all cases animal testing might not directly lead to finding a cure for a certain disease but it does make it one step closer for the humans to find it whenever that might be.
Animal research has to lead to some major advancement in the medical industry in understanding and thus treating conditions like brain injury, breast cancer, cystic fibrosis, malaria and many others. Chris Abee who is the Director of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center’s animal research facility speaks in favour of animal testing and how it has helped humans: “we wouldn’t have a vaccine for Hepatitis B without chimpanzees” and also mentions that the use of chimps “is our best hope” in order to be successful in finding a vaccine for Hepatitis C, a disease that causes 15000 Americans to die each year.
Even though the alternatives do exist now to animal testing as mentioned earlier, however, the argument that exists against is that there can be no proper and same alternative to testing on a whole, functioning, and breathing living body. Monitoring cell cultures in petri dish can be however useful in some cases when testing a new drug but the main problem that arises that only the effects on those particular cells can be studied and this procedure fails to provide the opportunity to study other interlinked processes in for example nervous system, endocrine system or digestive system that were to happen in these systems in the presence of that drug in the living body. This is the problem that arises with studying cell cultures in petri dish and not using animal bodies in the research process and if that drug only tested on cell cultures in petri dish were to be used by humans no side effects would be known until they start to appear and whether they would be curable or not nothing can be predicted.
As Rogers mentions that when evaluating a drug for its side effects circulatory system is essential to transport the drug to various organs and moreover when studying the conditions like blindness or high blood pressure they can’t be studied in cell cultures, a whole living body is required. One of the main alternatives to animal testing is using computer models however the basics of this major alternative are flawed. Computer models can only be reliable if accurate information is obtained from animal research is used to build the models in the first place. Moreover, even the most powerful computers are unable to mimic the functioning of complex organs such as heart or brain.
Another main fact that is not considered very often is that animals do benefit themselves as well from animal testing. If vaccines were not tested on animals would have been still dying of feline leukemia, anthrax, rabies, tetanus and many species would have been extinct by now. Animal testing has also been fundamentally important in saving the lives endangered species from extinction including the California condor and the tamarins of Brazil. Koalas have been devastated by a severe virus Chlamydia and it is now considered as one of the endangered species in some parts of Australia. New vaccines are being tested on koalas themselves to save the endangered species. These cases put forward the argument that animal testing is not only just used for human purposes but also benefit the animals as well.
When considering the number of animals used in the animal research we find that fairly small amount of animals are used in these experiments and thus the argument that comes forward is that it’s a small price to pay to save millions of lives and moving forward in medical research. It is reported that People in the United States eat 9 billion chickens and 150 million cattle, pigs and sheep each year and around 26 million animals are used in animal research which compared to these numbers seem like a small number. However, this argument is controversial because if considered ethically each individual life holds the same importance and just using the number of animals used as an excuse to continue the practice is a flawed argument on its own.
The topic of animal testing is quite sensitive and a lot of debate revolves around this topic in the modern day world. As people become aware of the practices performed on animals and how they’re mistreated the moral issues arise and there still remain disagreements about which part of the research is actually beneficial and which part is just the torture of animals and as well as disagreements on the ethics of animal testing. The main reason why there exist disagreements is that people hold different moral values. As some argue that religious traditions do allow the dominance of humans over animals and they refer to this verse from Bible, Genesis 1:26, “And God said… let them (human beings) have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air and over the cattle and over all Earth and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth”.
This verse is used as an excuse to continue the practices of animal testing and translate this as the allowance of animal testing. Even though it is evident that animal testing has to lead to the discovery of many cures and there is no alternative to testing on a whole living body but in my opinion animal testing should be outlawed and it should only be continued if and only if Animal Welfare Act makes strict laws in order to protect the animals used in these experiments and severe penalties to be implied on those institutions which go against the law.
Humane Society International, “About Animal Testing,” hsi.org (accessed Oct. 15, 2013)
Regan, Tom. The Case for Animal Rights. University of California Press, 1983. Print.
Furlong, Paul. Humane Society International, “As Home Office Statistics Show UK Animal Experiments At Shocking 4.11Million, HSI Calls on Government to Increase Spend on Non-Animal Replacement Techniques,” hsi.org,
Rodrigo Netto Costa et al., “A Reassessment of the in Vitro Total Protein Content Determination (TPC) with SIRC and 3T3 Cells for the Evaluation of the Ocular Irritation Potential of Shampoos: Comparison with the in Vivo Draize Rabbit Test,” Brazilian Archives of Biology and Technology, Nov.-Dec. 2011
Greek, Ray, MD, et al., “The History and Implications of Testing Thalidomide on Animals,” Journal of Philosophy, Science & Law, Oct. 3, 2011
California Biomedical Research Association, “CBRA Fact Sheet: Why Are Animals Necessary in Biomedical Research?” ca-biomed.org
Rogers Kara, “Scientific Alternatives to Animal Testing: A Progress Report,” britannica.com, Sep. 17, 2007
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