Animal experimentation. Where do our moral obligations lie? To what extent is animal testing considered ethical or unethical?
Since the dawn of time, animal experimentation has been a hotly debated issue. The concern from all sectors is so great that the consensus is divided. Those who support animal experiments claim that the benefits for humanity are so numerous that it is morally acceptable to put animals in a situation that may harm them for scientific research. Those who strongly oppose such experiments argue that these so-called benefits to humans are not proven and that there are other alternative methods with which to perform such testing.
So where do we draw the line? To form our own conclusions, we must first understand the past, present, and future challenges of animal testing.
Animal experimentation is a term used to describe the use of non-human animals in scientific research, tests, or experiments. It is also known as animal research and in vivo testing. There are also other terms related to this field which have the same denotations but have different connotations. One example is that of “vivisection” which is defined as the surgery conducted on a living organism for experimental purposes.
One of the earlier references to animal experimentation was discovered from the ancient Greek writings between the 2nd and 4th centuries BC. Erasistratus, together with Aristotle, was one of the few known individuals to perform scientific experiments on living animals. In 2nd century Rome, a physician named Galen was the first to dissect goats and pigs for various experiments. For his efforts, he was named as the father of vivisection. During 12th century Moorish Spain, there was also an Arabic physician who practiced dissection.
His name is Avenzoar and he used animals as an experimental platform for surgical procedures before applying them to humans.
There are a lot more invertebrates that are being used for animal experimentation compared to vertebrates. This may be due to the fact that their studies are not usually regulated by law. The fruit fly is one of the most commonly used species of invertebrate along with the nematode worm. Researchers have found some advantages that these invertebrates have over vertebrates in terms of animal testing. This would include easy housing for large numbers to be studied along with their short life cycles. Worms, however, lack having an adaptive immune system while their simple organs discourage researchers in using them for various aspects in medical research.
A lot of toxicology tests involve the use of non-human primates for studies under neurology, reproduction, behavior, genetics, and even on the study of AIDS. Many of them have been caught in the wild while some have been bred for the sole purpose of scientific experimentation. This is especially true in countries like China and the United States.
The number of mice and rats used in animal testing can reach up to an estimated 20 million per year in the United States. There are also other rodents that are frequently used in biomedical research such as gerbils, guinea pigs, cats, and hamsters. The most commonly used vertebrate species in animal experimentation are mice due to their low cost, small size, speedy reproduction rate, and ease of handling. They are widely considered as the best model with regards to inherited human diseases while also sharing 99% of human genes.
The discovery of the technology called genetic engineering has allowed mice to be generated as models for a host of human diseases today.
Today, a variety of regulations are being applied to the animals within laboratories depending on their species. In the United States, any type of procedure could be performed on animals if the organization doing so can arguably justify that these animals are being used scientifically. The country follows this law which is under the provisions on the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals as well as the Animal Welfare Act.
The researchers are normally required to have a consultation with the veterinarian of the institution and the IACUC or the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. This is an obligation for every research facility and needs to be strictly maintained in order to continue conducting animal experimentation.
Alternative methods have been proposed to replace the use of animals in research, but scientists justify that there are still some experiments that cannot be done even with modern technology. An example of that is the modelling of complex interactions between molecules, cells, tissues, organs, and the environment. Over the years, there have been important breakthroughs in new medicines and treatments that depended on animal research; this includes the discovery of antibiotics, anesthetics, and treatments for genetic diseases.
The topic of animal experimentation is indeed a very difficult ethical challenge. After all, animals do feel suffering and pain. If we accept that animals also have rights, and that experimenting on them violates those rights, then we can all agree that testing on animals is a moral violation of their rights. Hence, any possible benefit to humanity is completely irrelevant as far as morality is concerned.
According to the 1985 International Guiding Principles for Biomedical Research Involving Animals, the use of animals in research should be in accordance to humane practices. It states that animal testing is desirable, so long as animal suffering and use is minimized, and “only after due consideration of their relevance for human or animal health and the advancement of biological knowledge”.
Whether we believe that animal experimentation is a poorly regulated scientific practice, or whether we favor the beneficial results for humanity, perhaps it is best to take into careful consideration our moral duties to respect all living creatures, as well as our obligation to promote human welfare, when seeking to enhance the quality of life for both humans and animals.