Animal Testing in Medical Experiments
Every year, millions of animals in the UK endure painful, frightening procedures at the hands of experimenters. These tests are indefensible, both morally and scientifically, and in many ways are actively holding back medical progress. Yet, while public support for animal testing is dwindling, many and scientific institutions are still failing to move forward and embrace the cutting-edge, non-animal technologies that have the potential to save countless human and animal lives.
Millions of Victims
According to figures from the Home Office, around 4 million animals are used in experiments in the UK annually – a 52 per cent increase since 2000.
Mice and fish are the most experimented on animals in the UK, but other victims include hamsters, rabbits, cats, dogs, monkeys, chickens and horses. All of these animals have the capacity to feel pain and fear, and they suffer intensely when they are poisoned, cut open, blinded, electrocuted or infected with deadly diseases in barren, windowless prisons.
British laws are far from strict and allow almost anything as long as the correct paperwork is filled out. Many of the cruel procedures carried out in laboratories on animals such as Felix would violate animal welfare laws if they happened in any other context, an absurd double standard since animals suffer just as much when they’re abused in a laboratory as they would in someone’s basement.
We don’t know the full extent of the atrocities inflicted on animals in universities, pharmaceutical companies and other institutions, but undercover investigations provide a shocking glimpse. For example, in a laboratory at Imperial College, mice had tubes inserted into their brains, then were subjected to major organ damage and surgical mutilation, starved and deprived of water for days, and forced to run on treadmills to avoid electric shocks. When no longer needed, animals were killed using disturbing methods such as carbon dioxide poisoning in gas chambers or decapitation of infant rats with scissors. At other highly regarded universities, kittens were paralysed and had their skulls cracked and electrodes inserted into their brains.
A fundamental flaw lies at the heart of attempts to justify experiments on animals. You can’t claim, on the one hand, that animals are so similar to us that the results of testing on them are relevant to humans but, on the other, that they are so different from us that we can do anything we want to them no matter how painful or useless.
If experimenting on one intellectually disabled person could benefit 1,000 children, would we do it? Of course not. Ethics dictate that the value of each life in and of itself cannot be superseded by its potential value to anyone else.
This applies to animals to the same extent that it does to humans. In the past, experiments were carried out on prisoners, people in concentration camps and other vulnerable groups. We’ve rightly outlawed such atrocities now, yet have failed to extend the same logic to the intelligent, sensitive animals who are languishing in laboratory cages.
Animal experiments aren’t just morally indefensible – they’re also flawed scientifically.
Animal experimenters often use emotive arguments to try and suggest that their archaic methods are the only way to help cure diseases. This is simply not true. In fact, the most significant trend in modern research in recent years is the recognition that animals rarely serve as good models for the human body.
Taking a healthy being of a completely different species, artificially inducing a condition that he or she would never normally contract, keeping him or her in an unnatural and stressful environment, and trying to apply the results to naturally occurring diseases in human beings is dubious at best. Physiological reactions to drugs vary enormously from species to species. Penicillin kills guinea pigs but is inactive in rabbits; aspirin kills cats and causes birth defects in rats, mice, guinea pigs, dogs and monkeys; and morphine, a depressant in humans, stimulates goats, cats and horses.
A recent analysis in the BMJ pointed out the lack of convincing supporting evidence to prove that animal trials benefit humans or are an effective use of resources.
Selective reporting, poorly conducted studies and an unsystematic approach lead to many wasteful, costly and redundant studies. What’s more, many of the experiments carried out on animals have no bearing on serious disease at all and may be undertaken simply to satisfy curiosity, for commercial interests or to advance the careers of academics. Just a few examples include thousands of mice poisoned to death in tests for Botox, rats force-fed alcohol in order to try and develop a “hangover cure”, animals forced to smoke by tobacco companies and mice dosed with weight-loss pills. Each one of these pointless studies costs animals their lives.
There are other, better ways to develop new medicines and treatments. Human clinical and epidemiological studies, human tissue- and cell-based research methods, cadavers, sophisticated high-fidelity human patient simulators and computational models are more reliable, more precise, less expensive, and more humane than animal experiments.
Animal experiments don’t persist because they are the best science, they persist because of experimenters’ personal biases, vested interests and conservatism.
“Several studies have shown that even the most promising findings from animal research often fail in human trials and are rarely adopted into clinical practice.”
– Pandora Pound and Michael Bracken, BMJ
Exposing the Cruelty
From the very beginning, PETA and its international affiliates have been fighting to expose and end the abuse of animals in laboratories around the world. Numerous PETA US undercover investigations have brought the cruelty to light, from the landmark Silver Spring monkeys case in 1981, to the more recent exposé of horrific maternal deprivation experiments on baby monkeys at the National Institutes of Health.
In the UK, outrageously, we’re denied the right to know what is happening to animals in laboratories, even if taxpayer money is paying for the experiments. A law – Section 24 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 – allows vivisectors to hide behind a veil of secrecy and conduct cruel procedures without any public scrutiny. Not only does this violate principles of democracy, transparency and accountability, it also leads to wasteful studies that delay medical progress, which can endanger human lives.
PETA has been campaigning hard to get Section 24 repealed and, with your support, will continue to put pressure on the government to grant the public access to information about the cruel experiments being conducted in our country.
What You Can Do
- Spread the word and help counter the misinformation surrounding animal testing.
- Make sure you don’t support companies or medical charities that support or pay for experiments on animals.
- Join PETA’s campaign to persuade airlines to stop shipping primates from Asia to laboratories in the West for testing.
- Help us put pressure on the UK government to lift the veil of secrecy surrounding animal testing by repealing Section 24 – because granting the public the right to know what horrible experiments are happening behind closed doors is the first step towards stopping the cruelty altogether.