The debate about whether to conduct experiments on animals, known in the animal rights community as vivisection, is one of the most difficult to understand.Why do animal rights activists oppose using non-human animals for medical research?
Animal rights activists are opposed to using animals for medical research because humans do not have the right to use animals. With few exceptions, we do not experiment on human subjects without their consent. Just as we do not experiment on humans who are incapable of consenting to experimentation, we should not experiment on non-human animals. Non-human animals cannot give informed consent, and the vast majority of experiments using animals are so invasive and injurious, we would never even consider allowing humans to consent to being subjects in such experiments.Isn’t there a law to protect animals in laboratories?
In the United States, the Animal Welfare Act appears to set certain minimum requirements for the humane treatment of non-human animals in laboratories and other settings, but in fact is very ineffective. For example, the AWA explicitly excludes from protection all rats and mice, which make up approximately 95% of the animals used in laboratories. The AWA also requires institutions that perform vivisection to have Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees that are supposed to oversee and approve the proposed use of animals, making sure that non-animal alternatives are considered. However, since IACUC’s include the institution’s own researchers, they tend to rubber stamp the proposals. Furthermore, the AWA does not prohibit invasive procedures or the killing of the animals when the experiments are over. The AWA tends to address more superficial concerns, such as cage size, toys, and anesthesia.
However, regardless of how large the cages are or whether the animals are anesthetized before they are cut open, vivisection is antithetical to animal rights because animals have a right to be free from experimentation, imprisonment, and killing.
How many animals are used in vivisection every year in the US?
No one knows. Because the AWA does not cover mice or rats, these animals go unreported unless the experiments lead to published research. Estimates range from 17 million to 70 million to 100 million.
Doesn’t the end justify the means?
Just as unethical experimentation on a group of humans cannot be justified by a benefit to humanity at large, the same holds true for animal experimentation. Like humans, animals are sentient beings with interests in their own lives and freedom. To treat them differently and say that experimentation on non-human animals is justified but experimentation on humans is not would be speciesist.
Does ending vivisection mean ending medical progress?
Ending vivisection would not end medical progress, because non-animal research would continue. There are so many medical issues that go unexplored because of lack of resources, if we took all the resources that go into animal research and redirected them towards non-animal research, we would continue to make medical progress. Some examples of the types of research that would still continue include human cell and tissue cultures, epidemiological studies, and ethical human experimentation with fully informed consent.
What kinds of medical advances were made without vivisection?
The cause and cure for scurvy were discovered without using animals, with studies done on human subjects who already had scurvy. The first vaccine was invented in the 18th century without animal experimentation, when people were inoculated with cowpox in order to build up their resistance to smallpox. Penicillin was also discovered without animal research. More recently, the Heimlich maneuver was developed without vivisection and has saved countless lives. Also, studying human populations has led to many important medical discoveries, including the connection between heart disease and cholesterol, and the connection between smoking and cancer.
Doris Lin, Esq. is an animal rights attorney and Director of Legal Affairs for the Animal Protection League of NJ.