Animal Testing: Cruel or Crucial?
Testing on animals is one of the most talked about and problematic issues in moral debates. This hot topic raises ethical concerns which infuriate a numerous amount of people. Should animals have the same rights as humans? Is animal welfare being forgotten about and should we be mindful that it is just as important as human welfare? Animals of all shapes and sizes across the world are used in the development of medical trials and treatments to determine their toxicity and safety for human beings to use. And, as expected, during this process animals are harmed in unimaginable ways which are where the concerns lie. However, if this process was not in place would human lives be in danger when trying out new medicines? Most likely. Ultimately, would medical science be advancing at the rate it is without animal experimentation?
Animal testing is the primary source for medical research as it has enabled a plentiful number of life-saving treatments and medical breakthroughs. Worldwide medicines including penicillin, insulin, and polio treatment have all been discovered and made safe for humans to take advantage of. All of which directly used animal testing. As a result of the polio vaccine, the number of people suffering from polio since 1988 has decreased by 99%. Without the process of animal testing, researchers' knowledge and understanding of major conditions such as breast cancer, childhood leukemia, and cystic fibrosis would not have been expanded to the wide degree that it is now. Animal testing has not just played a part in the research of various conditions, but also in developing equipment that is crucial to the survival of patients. This could include pacemakers and cardiac valve substitutes. The animal testing stage is essential to releasing new medicines otherwise it will not be known to man if they are safe or not. So, to prevent great danger this stage cannot be skipped, some would say it's crucial. Overall, science has achieved huge revolutions in the means of animal testing, which would otherwise not have been possible, and we must be thankful for such discoveries.
Having said that, animal testing can come across to people as being cruel and inhumane, and to put it plainly, they are not wrong in thinking that. Most animals are not protected by laws and rights in the way that humans are. In the USA, the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which was originally passed in 1966, has not yet succeeded in preventing horrific cases of animal abuse. The New Iberia Research Centre (NIRC) in Louisiana, USA, violated the Animal Welfare Act, in 2015, by mistreating their animals. The exploitation of such guidelines included chimpanzees being shot with dart guns and other mammals being wide awake and alert during unpleasant experiences. 25 million animals in the US are without protection from mistreatment, meaning only 5% of animals used in experiments are protected by law. The AWA does not apply to 95% of animals involved in animal testing procedures including mice, rats, fish, and birds. These animals might not come across as being the most important in general society but, they do however have feelings and it could very well be argued that they do not deserve to be treated so ruthlessly. It has been proven that animals are just as, if not more, intelligent than humans so why is it any different to test on them than it is to test on us? Dr. Arthur Santiotis, a visiting researcher at the University of Adelaide school of medical science, has said that science tells us that animals can have cognitive faculties that are superior to human beings. Animals are not stupid, they are not silly, and they know what it is that`s happening to them when they are being tested yet they are just expected to sit through it and let it happen. By what means can people think that`s okay?
On the other hand, human's superiority over animals often results in animals being used for testing. Helpfully, animals are quite comparable to humans in that they are known for sharing a lot of their DNA and are similar in terms of genes. For example, mice are around 85% genetically like humans and have the same organs. This gives an accurate representation and reliable information to work with. We have not found any other suitable substitute for testing that is realistic. Studying cell perception in Petri dishes does not provide the information needed to study movements happening in organisms such as the Central Nervous System. However, as expected, animal testing can provide this. It could also be argued that it is not just humans who benefit from treatments derived from animal experimentation, animals have done so in the past; in terms of them suffering from the same diseases and being cured in the same way. These treatments could also be used to save animals from life-threatening conditions; the black-footed ferret, native to Central America, has been saved from extinction, as have others. If animals are prone to the same conditions as humans like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, then surely it makes sense to test them. An example in more recent times is COVID-19. The recently discovered vaccine was tested on animals and appeared to have protected six rhesus macaque monkeys by removing the virus from their airways and lungs, enabling them to recover from COVID. Animals are proven to be reliable and comparable, and we know it works.
A lot of experiments are flawed because the treatment could potentially not be 100% safe for humans. An example of this is the 1950s sleeping pill, known as Thalidomide. It was tested on animals and regarded as being safe, yet it caused 10,000 babies to be born with deformities detrimental to their life and well-being. So, it was taken off the market in 1961 and is only legal under strict, prescribed conditions. The arthritic drug, known as Vioxx, was also tested using animals and yet it caused 27,000 heart attacks and so was also taken off the market, in 2004. It is in fact true to say that around 90% of drugs that pass the animal testing stages fail in human clinical trials. It is evident that animal testing is not always the best way to analyze samples and is not reliable in all cases. Even though it is not common, humans can give consent and volunteer themselves to be tested and so, in such instances, animals are not necessarily needed. And just to clarify, medical breakthroughs have been made without the use of animals. There are various alternatives to testing such as using in-vitro cells, which just means using cells outside of the body to test potentially harmful substances. This process has many advantages including it being cheaper to run, and it of course does not harm anyone. With the increasing advancement of computers, the capability to recreate features of the human body is becoming ever more possible. They can be used to run virtual tests using data from scientists. If there is an option to carry out some clinical trials without testing on animals, then why do it? Having read this information, it can be argued that it is clear animal testing is unnecessary.
Without a doubt, testing has contributed massively to the advancement of medical science over the years and there is no question that it will continue to do so. Without it, so much would not have been achievable, and it has helped us to understand the effect of certain viruses and bacteria. But there is also the realization that it raises ethical concerns for a large number of people, which are not going to be resolved unless a more permanent solution is found in the absence of animals. We know animal testing has played a huge part in saving human lives, which we are grateful for. However, it has been proven that in some cases, treatments can be discovered without the need for animal testing. And so, the question still lies; should we be relying on animals to ensure the medicine is safe for humans? Is it cruel or is it crucial?