Vivisection is a complex issue, one that is difficult to examine free from emotional impulses. Crucially however, it is an activity that saves human lives – a goal surely the majority would be in support of? Not only that, it prevents the loss of life – both in literal terms and by alleviating the symptoms of debilitating, painful and chronic illnesses.
Vivisection has assisted in the prevention and treatment of tuberculosis, diabetes, polio, Parkinson’s, disease, muscular dystrophy and high blood pressure.
One in ten children in the UK currently receive treatment for asthma; inhalers – both ‘reliever’ and ‘preventer’ – were developed after work on guinea pigs and frogs.
Leukemia treatments, including chemotherapy, have advanced massively through animal experimentation: today eight out of ten children diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia survive for at least five years whereas twenty five years ago, seven out of ten children with the disease died within five years.
The anti-viral rejection medication used in heart and kidney transplants was also developed using animals. The involvement of animals in biomedical research is absolutely essential. However, this use is not undertaken lightly.
Few would advocate the suffering of animals for little actual gain.
Since 1960 the government has pursued a programme of replacement, reduction and refinement – to find humane alternatives wherever possible, to reduce the numbers of animals used and to minimize any pain and distress the animals may experience.
There have been some notable successes in replacing safety tests. However, progress is limited and difficult. This is partly due to regulatory authorities’ cautious approach to safely testing new medicines and other products.
There seems to be a certain hypocrisy – an unwillingness to allow potentially unsafe products onto the market coupled with a misplaced moralism over animal research.
Approximately three million animals are used each year in animal testing. While this may seem excessive, it is estimated that UK meat and fish eaters consume 2.5 billion animals annually, nearly seven hundred times the number used in research. Misunderstandings and misconceptions abound the vivisection debate.
Primates constitute but 0.12% of the animal species used in laboratories and the use of chimpanzees, orang-utans and gorillas is banned in the UK.
Non-medical safety testing makes up only 2% of total procedures and the testing of costmetic and toiletries has been banned since 1998 with an EU-wide ban that came into effect in 2010.
An argument frequently cited to attack vivisection is that the research produces little actual result, as animals and humans are so genetically and biologically different and that diseases humans suffer, are not recreated in other species.
In acctuality, many veterinary medicines are the same as those used for human patients – antibiotics, pain killers and tranquilisers. Any differences between the way a disease effects animals may add to our understanding. If we knew why the mouse with muscular dystrophy suffers less muscle wasting than human patients, we may discover a treatment for this debilitating and fatal disorder.
Emotionally manipulative images of animals in intense pain simply do not reflect reality. The 1986 Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act safeguards laboratory animal welfare while allowing important medical research to continue.
These controls are widely regarded as the strictest in the world. Living arrangements must be adequate and species-appropriate. Anaesthetics are used for all surgery. Painkillers are given as necessary. If animals have a painful or fatal disease, scientists are legally obliged to slaughter them humanely before they show severe symptoms.
Few of the immense advances made in the realm of medicine would have been possibly without this necessary pursuit.
There is a fundamental moral disconnect here, whether you consider human life of greater essence than the lives of animals. And yet those who deny animal testing as an ethically viable means of research would, I suppose, be unlikely to refuse life-saving medication produced through these very means.