Should Animal Experimentation for Medicinal Purposes Be Banned?
“Boylston [a doctor] was impressed with the idea of inoculation [which was just a rumor]. He was immune to smallpox, for he had had the disease as a child. But his son, age thirteen, had never had it. On June 26, 1721, Boylston took pus from a smallpox patient and rubbed it into cuts on his son’s arm and the arms of two slaves. All three got mild cases of smallpox, recovered and were presumably immune” (Ross 2).
This was the first time that this method was tried to test a possible cure of smallpox and it proved to be a success. However, you are not likely to hear such stories of clinical testing from the twenty first century, because (a) animal testing before clinical trials on humans is a legal requirement now, and (b) we don’t have smallpox in the twenty first century (“FAQs on smallpox”). Even though, direct clinical testing on human subjects may look like an efficient method, but not all trials are successful, and even this one had more to it. “Based on this uncontrolled clinical trial — which proved nothing — Boylston inoculated 247 colonists with the pox. Six of them died; the others recovered and were, he hoped, immune” (Ross 2), but the deaths earned him a lot of criticism. However soon a smallpox epidemic occurred, and the inoculated people had a 14% lower death rate then the un-inoculated people (Ross 2). “Here, then, was a clear benefit to risk ratio, which proved inoculation … [to be] six times safer than the risk of dying of smallpox” (Ross 2). Today, this benefit to risk ratio is approximately 0 to 1 because of animal testing, since “testing is done so gingerly that there is no record of anyone’s having been killed in a toxicity test…” (Ross 55).
Animal experimentation is the use of live non-human animals in the scientific research, which is of two main types: pure research and applied research. “Pure research is an examination of organisms at a fairly broad level: how they develop, function, and behave”, while “applied research is carried out for the purpose of finding answers to specific questions, and solving specific problems” (Lloyd). Applied research includes experiments for testing toxicology and efficacy of new drugs, which are a legal requirement now. Animal experimentation can even be dated back to 384 BC, the time when of Aristotle and Erasistratus performed experiments on the living animals (Hajar). However, in recent years animal testing has come under severe criticism, and several groups are even calling for a complete ban on it, including the animal testing for medicinal drugs (Sindicich).
“Scientists say that banning animal experiments would mean either an end to testing new drugs or using human beings for all safety tests” (“Experimenting on Animals”)
Both of these alternatives belong to the past, and we need to go progress not regress.
So, Even though many people believe that animal experimentation should be completely banned because it is unethical and no longer necessary, yet animal experimentation for medical purposes should not be banned because there is no adequate alternative available, animals are very good subjects for drug-testing, and animals have been benefited from these experiments, as well.
The possible alternatives to animal experimentation are: using clinical trials on humans directly, using tissue culture (in vitro models), and using computer simulations; however, none of them can adequately replace animal experimentation. To understand this lets go through the whole process of developing new drugs. Potentially curative chemicals, which have to be tested, may be discovered as chance discoveries from the natural substances or they may be synthesized in the laboratory (Nwangwu 1–2) (Ross 48). Potential chemicals have to go through preclinical tests, and then through clinical tests, before being marketed. Preclinical testing is done on animals, and the chemicals which pass them would be used on humans in clinical tests. Therefore, “The aim of these preclinical studies is to obtain sufficient data on the drug’s safety and efficacy clearly demonstrating that there will be no reasonable hazard in initiating clinical trials in human beings” (Nwangwu 4). “The first tests a new compound undergoes in animals are preliminary screening studies to determine whether the agent has any biological activity of potential pharmacologic interest [for example, the ability to reduce blood pressure or cure a disease]” (Nwangwu 4). The chemicals having some biological activity are then preceded to clinical testing to be further developed. These chemicals go for “detailed and exhaustive in vivo and in vitro studies” (Nwangwu 4).
In vitro studies use tissue cultures in glassware (test-tube, petri dish, etc.), and are used to determine the efficacy of drugs at cellular level. However, “The in vitro models … have limited values, as they reflect only one particular aspect of the whole picture. Whereas, in vivo results are multi-factorial, provide the combined effect of permeability, distribution, metabolism and excretion, and can yield a measurable set of pharmacokinetic parameters and toxicology endpoints” (Zhang 7). In vitro studies are of limited use because they can only determine the effect of the drug on an isolated cell, thus to determine overall effect of drug in vivo testing is done. In vivo studies, commonly known as animal experimentation, are done on living organism, and include: (1) Biochemical Studies and (2) Toxicology Studies. Biochemical studies are used to determine the interaction of the chemical with an organism’s body and its effect on the metabolic reactions; while toxicology studies, as name suggests, are used to determine the toxic doses of the drug, in both short term and long term (Nwangwu 4–10). In vivo studies cannot be done on human beings due to legal and moral restrictions. During biochemical studies normal functioning of the body may be disrupted, which could lead to temporary or permanent sufferings, or even death. Similarly, in the toxicity studies, the dose of drug is increased until the animal dies, so if it is done on a human subject it would be equal to murder. The drugs which pass the preclinical testing are then approved by government agencies for clinical testing on humans. Thus directly using clinical trials on human subjects and using tissue cultures are not adequate alternate to animal testing.
Another possible alternative is computer stimulation, but we are far from making a complete computer stimulation of the sophisticated human body, since our knowledge about metabolism of human body is still not complete. This is well-explained on the website of University of Oxford:
A living body is an extraordinarily complex system. You cannot reproduce a beating heart in a test tube or a stroke on a computer. While we know a lot about how a living body works, there is an enormous amount we simply don’t know: the interaction between all the different parts of a living system, from molecules to cells to systems like respiration and circulation, is incredibly complex. Even if we knew how every element worked and interacted with every other element, which we are a long way from understanding, a computer hasn’t been invented that has the power to reproduce all of those complex interactions — while clearly you cannot reproduce them all in a test tube. (“Research Using Animals: an overview”)
Moreover, we do not need alternative since animals are very good subject for drug testing. A major argument against this is that animals are very different from humans and thus the result of animal testing could not be extrapolated to human. Here we need to know two things. First, recall that the purpose of animal testing is to determine the safety and efficacy of new chemicals, in order to use them for clinical trials without any reasonable hazard, and not to extrapolate the results to humans. And secondly, animals are not selected randomly anywhere from the animal kingdom for these experiments but only selected species, which have biological similarities with human beings, are used. Therefore mostly rodents and primates are selected, since both of them are in the same Interclass: ‘Eutheria’. To understand this let’s look at how the animals are classified i.e. Taxonomy. “Taxonomy is the science of naming, describing and classifying organisms and includes all plants, animals and microorganisms of the world. Using morphological, behavioral, genetic, and biochemical observations, taxonomists identify, describe and arrange species into classifications” (“What is Taxonomy”). In other words, the animals used for experimentation have close morphological, behavioral, genetic, and biochemical characteristics to the humans, and therefore the reaction of their bodies to chemicals can give us an educated idea of the reaction of human body to those chemicals, even if not the complete picture. Reasons for using animals for testing are also provided by Oxford University on its website:
Humans and other animals have much more in common than they have differences. Mice share over 90% of their genes with humans. A mouse has the same organs as a human, in the same places, doing the same things. Most of their basic chemistry, cell structure and bodily organization are the same as ours. (“Research Using Animals: an overview”)
Apart from biological similarities, there are many other advantages of using animals, as well. Animals are available easily in far great numbers than humans, and have short life cycle and reproduce quickly; so a sustainable number of animals can be maintained for testing very easily. Moreover, due to their shorter gestation periods (pregnancy period), many studies which can be done on the pregnant animal cannot be done even on human subjects because humans have too long gestation period to give results for a study in reasonable time. So indeed, animal experimentation is a very essential requirement of the pharmaceutical industry.
Moreover, it is not all about benefits to the humans, animal experimentation has benefited animals as well. Due to animal experimentation, we have understood different dietary, psychological, and physiological needs of the animals, and thus we are better able to serve to animals around us, for example our pets. Moreover, we have also able to link different man-made changes to different problems in the animals, and thus by controlling them we have improved life quality of animals in the wild, as well.
The same methods that have been developed to prevent and treat diseases in humans have improved the lives of countless animals. Vaccines, antibiotics, anesthetics, surgical procedures, and other approaches developed in animals for human use are now commonly employed throughout veterinary medicine. Pets, livestock, and animals in zoos live longer, more comfortable, and healthier lives as a result of animal research.
In many cases, treatments have been developed specifically for animals. Vaccines for rabies, canine parvovirus, distemper, and feline leukemia virus have kept many animals from contracting these fatal diseases. Animal research has also been integral to the preservation of many endangered species. The ability to eliminate parasitism, treat illnesses, use anesthetic devices, and promote breeding has improved the health and survival of many species. Through techniques like artificial insemination and embryo transfer, species that are endangered or have disappeared in the wild can now be managed or maintained. Research on the sexual behavior of animals has made it possible to breed many species in captivity, enabling endangered species to be reintroduced to the wild. (“How do animals benefit from Animal Research?”)
The most important benefit is the availability of funds, since these tests are actually meant for human benefit. If animal experimentation for human benefit is banned then there would be no sustainable source of funds, and hence benefits to animals will decrease. The ‘benefit to risk ratio’ which was discussed in the first paragraph, can be applied to the animals, as even though the animals used in experimentation centers are mostly killed at the end of experiment still their species as a whole gets benefited. Thus despite the loss of life of some animals, they are eventually getting benefited.
Despite all these benefits, many people believe that animal experimentation should be banned because it is unethical and is no longer necessary, due to other technological advancements. So what does ‘ethics’ actually means? “Ethics is the branch of philosophy which refers to the principles, rules and values people use in deciding what is right or wrong” (Bateman and Snell 169). There are many different ethical systems which are used as guide, for example Universalism and Utilitarianism. Universalism is “The ethical system stating that all people should uphold certain values that society needs to function” (Bateman and Snell 169); so even though it does not define exactly what values should be up held, however for society to function we certainly need medicinal drugs. Moreover, Utilitarianism is “an ethical system stating that the greatest good of the greatest number should be the overriding concern of decision makers” (Bateman and Snell 171); and since we have already established that animal experimentation benefits both humans and animals, so looking at the greatest good of greatest number we should continue animal experimentation. According to some other ethical systems animal testing might be unethical, but then the debate is which ethical system is correct? Moreover, despite technological advancements we still need animal experimentation:
Around half the diseases in the world have no treatment. Understanding how the body works and how diseases progress, and finding cures, vaccines or treatments, can take many years of painstaking work using a wide range of research techniques. [Thus] there is overwhelming scientific consensus worldwide that some research using animals is still essential for medical progress. (“Research Using Animals: an overview”)
So considering the many benefits of animal experimentation in developing drugs, and looking at the number of incurable diseases in the world, animal experimentation is totally ethical and necessary. Furthermore, rights to health, medical care, and security in the event of sickness, are the basic human rights, according to the Universal Deceleration of Human Rights, and these rights can only be given if animal experimentation is continued. Additionally, the organizations involved in animal experimentation do follow the 3 R’s (Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement) strategies to make experiments more humane (“Animals Used for Scientific Purposes.”), so experimenters are trying to maximize benefits and minimize losses.
Anyone who is still believes that animal experimentation should be banned, he or she should meet a thalidomide child. Thalidomide was a sedative used by pregnant women from 1957 to early 1960s. The drug did not have any short term side effect, expect for causing extremely rare kind of fetal malformation (i.e. deformation of limbs) in the babies whose mothers took the drug during their pregnancies. Up to 6000 deformed babies were born in Germany and 400 in Britain before it was realized that thalidomide was the reason behind it, and animal tests by “two researchers at the pharmacology department of Pfizer, Inc., did succeed in producing deformed fetuses in monkeys with the drug” (Ross 29), after which the drug was banned. At that time animal testing was not mandatory is Germany, but it was mandatory USA and the drug was still being tested in the US. We should learn this very clear lesson from the history; otherwise history will repeat itself until we learn. Sitting in front of one of the victims of thalidomide disaster, no one can claim that animal testing should be banned even at that cost.
Animal experimentation is a need of scientific community, and we should not let the emotions of a few people hinder in the scientific process which is certainly benefiting millions of humans and animals. There are many other places were animals are unnecessarily being tortured, for example bull fighting; so if these people actually care about animals, they should focus their attention to those places.
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