The use of animals in scientific research has long been the subject of heated debate. On the one hand it is considered morally wrong to use animals in this way solely for human benefit.
On the other hand, removing animals completely from the lab would impede our understanding of health and disease, and consequently affect the development of new and vital treatments. Although sometimes these studies do reduce the quality of life of these animals, thorough regulations are in place to ensure that they are carried out in a humane way.
To help minimise the harm animals may experience while being studied in the laboratory, researchers are required to follow a set of principles, the ‘three Rs’. These are:
- Replace: Replacing, where possible, experiments using animals with alternative techniques such as cell culture, computer modelling or human volunteers instead of animals.
- Reduce: Reducing the number of animals used, by improving experimental techniques and sharing information with other researchers so that the same experiments aren’t being done by many people.
- Refine: Refining the way the animals are cared for to help minimise any stress or pain, by using less invasive techniques where possible and improving medical care and living conditions.
Below you can find many of the arguments being made for and against the use of animals in the laboratory, some you are probably already aware of and some you may not have thought about… what do you think?
Are animal models useful?
- Scientists have been able to advance their knowledge of human and animal health and disease dramatically by studying model organisms.
- Antibiotics, insulin, vaccines, organ transplantation and HIV treatment have all been developed with the help of experiments involving animals.
- Research using animals has contributed to 70 per cent of Nobel Prizes for Physiology or Medicine.
- Animals play a small but vital role in medical research that brings hope to many people with conditions such as cancer, heart failure and Alzheimer’s disease.
- No animal model is ever perfect and there are still many differences between model organisms and humans.
- Humans and animals don’t always react in the same way to a drug. The reason that some medicines do not make it to market is that despite passing tests in animals they then fail in humans.
- Some people will say that that animals have not been as critical to medicine as is generally claimed.
Do the positives associated with using animal models outweigh the negatives?
- The use of animals in research is essential for enabling researchers to develop new drugs and treatments.
- The use of animals in the lab has dramatically improved scientists’ understanding of human biology and health.
- Animal models help ensure the effectiveness and safety of new treatments.
- Alternative methods of research do not simulate humans and whole body systems in the same way and are not as reliable.
- Many animals are used for experiments and then killed.
- It is expensive to use model organisms as the animals must be purchased and then fed, housed and cared for.
- Some people will consider using animals in the lab to be immoral.
Are animal experiments necessary?
- Some diseases, such as asthma and cystic fibrosis, involve very complex physiological processes that can only be studied in a whole, living animal. Until there is a cell that can be studied individually and can exhibit human-like responses, animals are necessary.
- Legally, all drugs have to be tested on animals for safety before they can be used in humans.
- Where there are reliable alternatives in scientific research, animals are not used. There must always be a very clear scientific reason for research on animals to be considered.
- Through testing on animals we are able to ensure any risks of a drug are identified and minimised before it is tested on humans during clinical trials. This helps to reduce side effects and human fatalities.
- There is no need to cause pain and suffering to animals when sophisticated computer systems, mathematical models, human tissue and cell cultures and more focused clinical studies can also show us what happens to our bodies during disease.
Is it ethical to use animals in research?
- The UK has gone further than any other country to implement thorough ethical frameworks when it comes to animals in research. The Animals Act of 1986 ensures that any research using animals must be fully assessed in terms of any harm to the animals. This involves detailed examination of the procedures and the number and type of animals used.
- The use of animals in research is never undertaken lightly. Researchers working with animals carry out their experiments with extreme care to eliminate or minimise suffering.
- Whenever possible painkillers and anaesthetics are used to manage pain , in the same way it is when an animal visits a vet.
- To stop animal research would also be unethical as it would dramatically affect the development of new knowledge and flow of treatments to those with health conditions who desperately need them.
- The alternative to using animals in the lab would be to test new drugs in humans. It would be very difficult for researchers to find willing volunteers who would be able to provide informed consent to been involved in testing a new drug that hadn’t first been tested on animals.
- Far fewer animals are used in scientific research than are killed for humans to eat. It has been estimated that 2.5 billion animals are consumed in the UK each year. This is around 700 times more animals than the number used in scientific research.
- Over 4 million animal procedures are currently carried out each year for UK biomedical research.
- Animals feel pain and fear just as we do.
- If we accept that animals have rights then if an experiment violates the rights of an animal, it is morally wrong and any possible benefits to humanity are completely irrelevant.
- Certain harm versus potential harm. The harm done to human beings by not experimenting on animals is unknown, whereas the harm done to animals if they are tested on is certain.
Should the use of animals in research be a mandatory part of modern progressive science?
- Currently animal testing is a compulsory, legal part of drug testing.
- Animal studies are always used alongside other types of research such as cell cultures, computer modelling and human clinical trials.
- Using animals in research has long been a crucial part of science and has enabled our understanding of how we function to progress in leaps and bounds.
- Eventually, it should be optional to use animals in drug testing.
- More funding should be put into developing alternatives to experiments using animals.
- Just because we undertake animal testing now doesn’t mean we shouldn’t challenge how scientific research is done in the future.
This page was last updated on 2017-03-03
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.