Animal testing, “animal experimentation, animal research and in vivo testing are terms that have been used to describe the use animals in experiments” (Benz, 2006, p. 56). The earliest references made to animal testing date back to the 2nd and 4th century BCE as seen in the writings of the Greeks. Literature indicates that animal experimentation was already in use during the times of Aristotle and Erasistratus. As the human race continued to advance, so did the amount and necessity for in vivo research grow and also spread to other regions like Rome, Arabia and Moorish Spain.
This paper analyses whether these experiments on animals are ethical and necessary in spite of their perceived or documented benefits to mankind. Although the opinions on this topic differ, this paper takes a position that that animal research is morally unacceptable regardless of the benefits of knowledge gained. In the following sections light will shed on the issues relating to regulation of animal research.
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Reasons for using animals in research and its drawbacks
Basic research is the foundation of in vivo experiments where scientists try to advance scientific knowledge about the way animals and humans behave, or develop and function biologically (Carbone, 2004). At this point the findings are really intended to be applied to human situations. Beyond this the research is aimed at studying disease and to develop medicines. Animals here are used as models to understand disease processes and to develop new vaccines and medicines (Wilmut, 1997). These conclusions are drawn on findings from basic research. Animal research is also used to assess the safety of chemicals in toxicological studies. Animals are used to help test the safety of range substances such as herbicides, fertilizers, cosmetics and food additives that could be harmful to animals, humans or the environment.
Among the reasons advanced for animal experiments is that in the preliminary stages of research, experimental medicine cannot be given to sick people unless there is proof that it will work. This makes in vivo research a necessary, and in some cases legally required method of testing that proposed treatments are effective and safe(Rollin, 2006). I feel that in this case that using animals to find cures for humans is morally wrong and humans should be used to find cures for humans. Investigations that have been conducted on induced animal models of human diseases can be difficult to interpret and not always comparable to human diseases although some domestic and wild animals have a natural predisposition for certain conditions also found in humans (Dalal, 2005).
It is argued that animal experiments form an integral part of understanding how basic systems of the body work and what goes wrong with them to cause disease. The question of validity of data obtained from animals is questioned since the inter-species differences are vast and information from animals cannot be reliably translated in humans; although scientists argue that the similarities between species are greater than the differences (Herbert, 2007). It is also noted that in the course of the said experiments the animals in use are stressed and frightened therefore not giving a true picture of the results being sought from the experiment.
An abolishionists’ view in animal rights holds that there is no “moral justification for any harmful research on animals that will not benefit the individual animal” (McDonald, 2007, p.34). On the other hand, drugs used on humans have also been used on animals. Veterinary medications have been developed through the use of animals like in the development of DNA vaccines that prevent transmission from badgers to cattle.
Cruelty to animals is not necessary and where possible, cell cultures, tissue cultures, computers and lower organisms such as bacteria, nematodes or plants are used as alternatives to animal work (Huggett, 2008). Although the whole animal is required to confirm findings on reactions that involve the whole organism or a series of organs as seen in hormone testing alternatives should be considered to find cures without exposing the animal to suffering and pain. Other species can be used if they have similar DNA unless it is a zoonotic disease being researched on (Liber, 2002). The extent of animals to suffer pain is debatable. In the 17th century Rene Descartes suggested that animals do not feel pain like humans because they lack consciousness. Other studies however have conclusively proved that animals undergo acute distress from pain inflicted in the course of research as well as from the environment they are held in and their handling while in captivity. Indeed a scientist reported that a baboon tore out its fingers out of fear and pain after an experimental procedure (Lutz, 2000). This then raises the issue of pain management and stress relief for these animals. Appropriate analgesics and anesthetics have been used to relieve pain and distress albeit with care so as not to compromise the outcome of the experiment. All personnel dealing with animals should be well trained, competent and attentive to provide adequate distress relief on a daily and contractual basis for each animal used in research (Wilmut, 1997).
The discovery and testing of vaccines, antibiotics and surgery procedures such as organ transplants have been enhanced by use of animals in their development. In the course of human history animals have been used through history for biomedical research (Lutz, 2000). Early researches carried out by Louis Pasteur showed how anthrax could be introduced into the cells of a sheep. A decade later, Ivan Pavlov “used dogs to describe classical conditioning” (Wilmut, 1997, p. 56). Studies that were carried out in the 1970s led into the discovery of antibiotic treatments and vaccines for conditions such as leprosy. Such treatments were first tested on animals before being used on humans. In 1996 the successful cloning of Dolly the sheep was done- a hallmark in scientific research- though it raised the ethical issue of human cloning being a possibility (Benz, 2006). All this is evidence that the importance of in vivo research cannot be underscored.
Regulation of animal research
Various guidelines have been put in place to curb mishandling of animals in the course of research. ARRIVE, that is the Animal Research: Reporting of InVivo Experiments provide guidelines to ensure that data from animal experiments is fully utilized and evaluated. The Medical Research Council requires scientists applying for funding for studies involving animals to give scientific reasons for using them and explain why there are no realistic alternatives.
The “Three Rs” are also utilized to ensure ethical animal handling (Carbone, 2004, p. 34). They are:
- Refinement of procedures to eliminate pain and distress
- Reduction of number of animals being used
- Replacement of animals with other reliable models.
Measurements that are recommended to reduce stress in animals for laboratory use include housing, husbandry, enrichment, socialization, refining experimental designs and humane end points (Rollin, 2006). Animals should also be adequately stimulated to avoid boredom.
Issuance of licenses to scientific laboratories or research institutes and their personnel has been another measure at ensuring ethical animal handling. The United Kingdom has put in place three licenses to this end.
- The certificate of designation is given to a laboratory or research institute that has a properly built run animal house which must meet set standards on staffing, veterinary care, trained animal technicians and specifications on animal rooms and cages (McDonald, 2007).
- The personnel license requires researchers to be trained and conversant with law and ethics of animal research, the basics of caring for animals and handling them in experiments, and ways of recognizing symptoms of illness or suffering(Lutz, 2000)
- The project license describes the research program. This entails details like why the animals are needed, what experiments will be done and why this information could not be obtained through other means. It also explains the importance of the research, how the animals will be cared for and the steps put in place to reduce number of animals to be used (Herbert, 2007).
Home office inspectors also make visits to research facilities to confirm that the conditions of the licenses are being met.
Animals will continue to be used for research in experiments conducted in universities, medical schools, pharmaceutical companies, defense establishments and various commercial facilities that provide animal-testing services to industries but the stress, pain and discomfort that they undergo in the process should be minimized. Animals too have intrinsic rights which should be upheld during experiments that require their use. Some argue that animals are killed for food but this in itself is a process done out of necessity and not with the intention of mishandling or torturing animals. Although in vivo experiments are intended to improve human life and even that of animals, I believe it is inappropriate but where necessary should be done within clearly set out situations and in a humanely manner (Huggett, 2008). Researchers should use aseptic techniques and proper procedures when performing surgery to prevent infection. They should also provide appropriate post-procedural care including thermoregulation and fluid balance. Animals should receive anesthesia and analgesics when they undergo potentially painful procedures. In the eventual disposal of the animals once they are unviable for research they should euthanized using approved methods.
The infliction of suffering upon any living creature is unquestionably wrong. It is not fair for competent persons to experiment upon animals in order to get the knowledge and resources necessary to eliminate useless and harmful experimentation upon human beings and to take better care of their health. It can be assumed that the object of animal experimentation is a selfish willingness to inflict pain so as to save physical pain to ourselves.
Granted that it is the duty of scientific researchers to use animals as an instrument in the promotion of well-being, it is the duty of the general public to protect researchers from antagonism that hampers their work as they strive to improve the general welfare of all creation (Liber, 2002).
Benz, K and McManus, M. (2006). PETA accuses lab of animal cruelty, Probe leads to Covance fine. Arizona; the Arizona Republic.
Carbone, L. (2004) What Animals Want. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Dalal, R. (2005). Replacement Alternatives in Education: Animal-Free teaching abstract from Fifth World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences, Berlin.
Herbert, S. (2007) Collapse in support for animal rights extremist attacks, The Independent, 3(45)345-456
Huggett, B (2008). When animal rights turns ugly, Nature Biotechnology 26 (6): 603–5.
Liber, R. L. 2002. Skeletal Muscle Structure, Function, and Plasticity: The Physiological Basis of Rehabilitation, 2nd ed. Lippincott; Williams & Wilkins
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Wilmut, I. (1997). Viable offspring derived from fetal and adult mammalian cells. Nature 385 (6619): 810–3.