Animal testing has played a major role in many medical and scientific developments during the 19th century and has continued to assist human in the treatment of different illnesses. Animal testing came to the spotlight following the thalidomide tragedy which occurred during the late1950s and early 1960s. Thalidomide was a drug that was put into the market as a cure for morning sickness, and its introduction did not follow extensive testing (Goldman 471).
Less than five years after its introduction, it was discovered that the drug had a major side effect in the form of causing birth defects. Since animal testing had been relied on extensively in the initial thalidomide tests, the tragedy demonstrated the limitations of such tests. Following this tragedy, governments imposed more tough measures to be passed by new drugs before they were approved for use (Goldman 471).
Nonetheless, animal testing is seen to have been of great use to the human society in the understanding of illnesses and their corresponding treatments. Even so, much debate concerning the topic has sprung up with proponents of animal testing stating that medical accomplishments depend on animal use in some manner, whereas those against challenge its necessity.
This paper will argue that while animal testing is at times necessary for advances in biomedicine, it should not be over-relied on since it has some major demerits including; unreliability in predicting consequences in humans, poor scientific practice and that animals have intrinsic rights and thus not to be used as objects of research.
Brief History of Animal Testing
Animal testing is a very old tradition with Rowan and Francis suggesting that it dates back to the early days of domestication when the primitive man gave new food to household pets and other animals to test if it was poisonous (194). The Roman Empire, with its sophisticated public health system engaged in animal testing on a higher level.
The prevalence of animal testing in Roman times is attributed to the Christian view that animals were merely objects devoid of personality or rights since they did not have the ability for reasoning. Even so, the systematic testing of man-made substances on animals to establish their effectiveness and safety began in the twentieth century. This is the period when vaccines and other biological therapeutics were developed and began to be used on a significant portion of the population (Rowan and Francis 194).
Animal testing experienced stead from the 1920s. As of 1921, only 20,000 animals were used in England for testing. By 1940, this figure had risen to 365,000 animals per annum, and by 1975, the figure had grown to 3.5 million. Rowan and Francis note that while earlier tests were initially limited to vaccines and biological therapeutics, the classifications of testing were altered to mandatory testing for all products (195). This caused a large number of animal testing taking place up to date.
Arguments against Animal Testing
Opponents of the animal testing state that all animal experimentation should stop since it is an abuse of other species for man’s selfish gains. High profile campaigns for animal welfare and animal rights in Britain have led to a more negative attitude towards testing. The analysis of Tannenbaum and Rowan literature suggests that animals must be equally and fairly considered. Their arguments are based on moral grounds and the justification of the procedure.
They argue that animals have the right to live and using them for experimental purposes is ethically and morally wrong. Making an animal blind just to get a new form of facial makeup is unjustified. What is more, animals and humans react differently to drugs and so the research results might portray inaccurate influences on a human making it inapplicable.
When an animal reacts positively to a drug it does not necessarily mean that the drug is safe for humans as the results could be misleading. In reaching this conclusion, they put the following instances into consideration; parsley is poisonous to parrots while in humans it is used in flavoring food. Similarly, arsenic is poisonous for human beings while for sheep it produces no harm. In human beings, morphine acts as an anesthetic but if given to cats they produce frantic excitations (Tannenbaum and Rowan).
Another major argument against animal testing is that animals and humans react differently to drugs. A drug that may be safe for animals may, therefore, prove to have bad effects for human beings. Animal tests are at times irrelevant to human exposure or insufficiently accurate to be used for regulatory decision making (Rowan and Francis 201). As such, animal tests are useless since side effects still occur in human beings despite not occurring in animals.
For example, the drug thalidomide was tested extensively in rodents. Goldman reveals that later discoveries showed that “the metabolite responsible for thalidomide’s teratogenicity in humans is not present in rodents” (472). The unforeseen consequences of thalidomide which were caused by the over-reliance on animal testing taught sober lessons on the necessity for extensive drug testing not only in animals but also in humans (Goldman 472).
Other arguments brought forth include the fact that AIDS research on animals has been ineffective. Animals infected with the disease have not successfully developed the same signs as those of human beings. Over ten years, more than a hundred chimpanzees have been infected with the pandemic and only two have become sick. This indicates the ineffectiveness of using animals to find a treatment for humans. Thus, in the view of those against animal testing, the practice should be prohibited at once (Festing and Wilkinson).
Another argument raised against animal testing is that the ethical costs of these tests are too high to justify. Rowan and Francis articulate that animal testing results in great animal suffering while the knowledge gained from this is trivial (202). In addition to this, the tradition of animal testing has become too ingrained in the system and no real efforts are being made to promote or find alternatives that would produce less animal suffering.
Arguments for Animal Testing
Those for animal testing have argued that animal research is reasonable as it aids in the discovery of new ways of assisting humans as well as animals in the healing of diseases. The article by Matthews cites that, for success in the area of medicine, animal research is a necessity but only in the absence of other alternatives.
He further mentions that animal testing helps in determining whether the medicinal substance under research is harmful to individuals therefore, ensuring human safety. Through animal testing, human suffering is reduced by the generation of valuable information on how newly discovered drugs respond within a body of a living organism (Matthews).
Animal testing is of great importance before medicines can be tested on humans. Bishop notes that the law actually requires that all new medicines be first tested on animals so as to ensure patient safety (2). Only after safe animal testing can the drug be cleared for preclinical trials where the safety and efficacy of the drug in humans are tested.
Most of our knowledge of the poisonous nature of a new chemical and the associated risks of human exposure is derived from animal tests. Animals are essential for toxicity tests where acute, sub-chronic, chronic and irritation studies are undertaken on them (Rowan and Francis 197). These studies help in the study of the adverse effects of exposure to drugs.
Festing and Wilkinson are of the view that, without animal testing, the currently used medicaments and procedures would not be existent and establishment of treatments in time to come would be very limited. Animal testing is used in the trial of several products as face masks, shampoo, wrinkle creams, anesthetics, and new medicinal drugs across the globe. They continue to argue that, as a result of surgery practiced on animals, organ transplant has been made possible.
The positive impact that animal testing has had on human health cannot be understated. For example, in the early twentieth century, monkey’s played a crucial role in the development of a vaccine against polio, which is a viral disease which causes paralysis in children. Vaccines for other illnesses such as measles and tuberculosis have also been discovered because of animal testing.
Moreover, the discovery of antibiotics, cancer treatment, and HIV drugs has all been due to animal testing. The most evolutionary advancements in reproductive health like the use of contraceptive methods in family planning are also attributed to animal testing (Festing and Wilkinson).
Also, testing animals is of use to the cosmetic industry. In Oborska’s view, the industry of cosmetics is about making profits and thus the use of animal testing in the industry emits economic benefits. First, animal testing helps in the manufacture of products that are not harmful to the skin through testing of toxicity and mutation effects. If the tests show that the product is totally harmless, then the consumers can buy them increasing the profits for the industry.
Of all the cosmetics, she states, swine placenta has been regarded as the favorite of the cosmetics industry, not at all that it is inexpensive and is easily obtained but because of its biological likeness to the human placenta as well as its splendid skin healing attributes. Many cosmetic companies have resorted to animal testing, as a result, rendering them capable of maintaining a competitive edge over their competitors as users continue to demand that industries avail safe products. Animal testing is useful in the determination of the harmful effects of a certain product to the environment (Oborska).
As can be seen, animal testing has many significant problems which need to be addressed. The unnecessary suffering of animals is one of the problems which researchers today have tried to address. Since the welfare of research animals is today one of the top considerations by a scientist during tests, pain alleviation is employed to make animal testing more humane.
Festing and Wilkinson argue that animal testing is crucial for medical advances and therefore aids in the improvement of human living. Testing on animals leads to an increased understanding of the nature of diseases by scientists. Without the animals, scientists would not be able to carry out risky experimentations and most breakthroughs would not be made. However, by having animal welfare as a top concern, the negative impacts of animal testing can be reduced.
Another problem noted is a large number of animals used in testing. Festing and Wilkinson show that animal testing has shrunk in size over the past decade as scientists try to use replacement for animal research (527). Animal testing is today only a small part of biomedical research and scientists are keen to ensure that they do not use animals unnecessarily or cause them suffering when it can be avoided.
In addition to this, replacements for the animal researcher are increasing in many biomedical institutes. Non-animal tests are gaining prominence and their use before the animal testing stage results in fewer animals being used (Festing and Wilkinson 527).
This paper set out to discuss the merits and demerits of animal testing so as to demonstrate that it should not be over-relied on in biomedicine. This paper has shown that animal tests are not very accurate and also result in the suffering of animals for no reason at times. However, the paper had taken care to note the many benefits that have resulted from animal testing.
It has proceeded to show that animal testing cannot be completely replaced as this would have a negative impact on medical research as well as public health. However, the number of animal testing can be reduced significantly and human tests used to verify the results of animal tests to make sure that the public receives maximum benefit from biomedical advances.
Bishop, Tina. “Understanding drug trials.” Practice Nurse, 40.1 (2010). 1-3.
Festing, Simon and Robin Wilkinson. “Talking Point on the Use of Animals in Scientific Research.” The Ethics of Animal Research 8.1 (2007): 526 – 530. Print.
Goldman, Deborah. “Thalidomide Use: Past History and Current Implications for Practice.” Oncology Nursing Forum, 28.3 (2001): 471-479.
Matthews, Robert. “Medical progress depends on animal models – doesn’t it?” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (2008): 95-98. Print.
Oborska, Anna. “Alternatives to Animal Testing: A Review of Trends and Perspectives.” Issue of Cosmetics & Toiletries (2009): 42-48. Print.
Rowan, Andrew and Francis Couvares. The Remaking of Pittsburgh: Class and Culture in an Industrializing City 1877-1919. NY: Suny Press, 1984. Print.
Tannenbaum, Jerrold and Andrew Rowan. “Rethinking the Morality of Animal Research.” Hastings Center Report October 1985: 32-43. Print.