Is Animal testing necessary?

“A key question in science is not whether something can be done, but whether it should it be done.”- Dr Maggy Jennings, Research Animals Department, RSPCA. The use of animals in research generates two key questions: Are animal experiments necessary and are they morally justified? These points are hotly debated, but there are no simple, black and white answers.

The use of animals in experiments is one of the traditional approaches to finding out how human and animal bodies work (both when healthy and in times of illness or disease) and for testing products such as medicines and industrial chemicals. Scientists who use animals argue that there is no other way of achieving their scientific objectives, and that alternative methods, such as using computer models or cell cultures, will not provide the information they require.

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However, there is serious debate about the value of information obtained from much animal use – for example, whether the results from experiments on mice are relevant to human biology and medicine. The motivation for undertaking some experiments is also questionable – will they answer important questions, or are they simply driven by curiosity or commercial interests? With the continuing development of non-animal approaches to research, the claim that animal experiments ‘are essential’ for particular purposes must be constantly scrutinised and reassessed.

There is a range of opinion on whether it is justifiable to cause animals harm in scientific research. Opinion polls show that most people think some animal use may be justified, but they usually set limits relating to the use of particular species, the level of suffering involved and the purpose of the experiments. These viewpoints are reflected in UK law. Before granting a licence to carry out research using animals, the Home Office has to be satisfied that the harm caused to the animals is outweighed by the potential benefits of the project. This ‘harm/benefit analysis’ is part of ethical review. The Home Office also has to be satisfied that there are no non-animal alternatives available and that the number of animals used, and their suffering, is minimised.

Apart from the scientists themselves, and the Home Office, there are other influences. For example, Regulatory bodies implementing the laws concerning the safety of medicines and chemicals may require testing on animals; major funders of research (such as the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust), and medical research charities, decide which experiments to fund; and Scientific journals can influence whether and how research is done as their editors decide what research is published.

There should be much greater challenge to the ‘status quo’! The need to use animals in experiments, and the justification for the suffering caused, should be critically questioned. There are limits to what should be done to animals in the name of science and we believe that these limits are exceeded. Badly designed and poorly carried out experiments are invalid science, waste animals’ lives and are not justifiable; even scientifically valid research may not be worthwhile or may only be of interest to a few people – there may be better ways of spending scarce funds; if research results are not subsequently put to good use then animals’ lives have been wasted, and Decisions about animal use are largely made by scientists, for scientists. The serious ethical dilemmas involved demand that a wider range of perspectives is included in decision making.

We just know that in the 21st century, we can now accomplish all of this without using animals. Recent advances in cell biology and biotechnology provide humans with incredible new opportunities to make great advances in fighting human diseases without using animals, which can often be poor models for how humans will respond to drug therapies. I vote for not torturing innocent animals and caging animals that belong in the wild and testing on prisoners with life sentences and those on death row. No matter how many “pain killers” they administer, animals don’t understand what’s going on, and they don’t deserve to be tested on.

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