I didn’t quite catch the animal rights protest last Sunday; although I was unaffected, several other fellow students were not quite so lucky.

I’ve heard countless tales of colleges that have been effectively on
lockdown because the protestors were considered to be a security risk.
But whilst the Oxford Life Sciences department is undoubtedly doing
valuable research into how to save millions of human lives, sympathy
for the anti-vivisection movement is lacking.

But what on earth was the demonstration for? Many anti-vivisection
activists would maintain that they are in favour of more humane methods of testing, but that is not the main message of these demonstrations. They never put themselves first and foremost in favour of more
efficient methods of medical experimentation. They always portray a
negative message – what one must not do rather than what one should.

The most controversial actions of the movement are all attempts at stopping scientific enquiry, rather than providing any concrete grounds for improvement. If we consider social movements to be an editing process, the anti-vivisection campaign is something like an indiscreet, chunky rubber.

Not only do they offer no constructive solutions, but their analysis of the problem is also incredibly misleading. For example, PETA claims that the cure for diabetes was delayed because we studied it in other species, with the inference being had we only tested on humans more then we might have found a cure sooner.

Rubbish. Our knowledge of diabetes in humans yielded no results; it was only after a Canadian surgeon named Frederick Banting carried out some perhaps questionable experiments on a diabetic dog that we actually managed to find a working cure. Today, 3 million people live with diabetes, the emphasis being  on “live”. Yet many anti-vivisection groups wilfully blind themselves to this fact.

The World Day for Animals in Laboratories claim that 18,000 people a year are killed by drugs that are tested on animals, whilst failing to mention the millions of people worldwide who are cured from debilitating diseases by medicines –
that also happen to have been tested on animals.

This sort of deception is only necessary because the case against animal testing is impossible to make on pragmatic grounds. If animal testing for medical purposes was really unnecessary, then it would have gone the same way as testing for cosmetic purposes, which is widely unpopular for the simple reason that such procedures are pointless. Nobody is at risk because the secret ingredient in their moisturiser is no longer bunny tears.

However, although there have been consistent reductions in the amount of medical experimentation that does go on, it will never be completely eliminated simply because the alternative methodology does not exist, and the only other option is that people will die. One protestor from Saturday is quoted saying, “We have wonderful techniques – we don’t need old-fashioned cruel experimentation.” Most of the “alternatives” to animal testing that either still require the sacrifice of some animal life, use human volunteers (but only for fairly minor conditions), or required computer models that are  considered amongst the scientific community to be inadequate compared to the amazing complexity of even a mouse brain.

There is a difference between human and animal pain. We do not know if all animals feel a continuity of pain. It is entirely correct to place severe restrictions on testing on primates, because we know that as well as feeling pain, they can suffer – they can remember unpleasant experiences, and can fear future ones.

However, we do not have any evidence whether mice are traumatised by experimentation, or if they merely experience a sequence of individually unpleasant moments. What we do have evidence for is the suffering that diseases cause to humans, both through the unpleasant effects it has physiologically speaking and the emotional pain caused to the families of those afflicted by terminal illness. I don’t wish to be judgemental, but I have never seen a mouse attend a funeral.

I’m not in favour of causing unnecessary suffering to animals. The scientists who perform these experiments almost certainly aren’t. These  experiments are not conducted to be cruel to animals, but to be good to human beings. That is why the public accepts them despite the fact that there is pain involved.

Only when the anti-vivisection movement has a similar positive message and a sense of what it actually wants to achieve will it be credible.