In the course of medical development, experiments on live matter have become an integral part of medical research. Striving to discover and explain the peculiarities of body functioning, already ancient Greeks and Romans resorted to vivisecting pigs; the scientific revolution of the Enlightenment era witnessed animal testing becoming the leading trend and a conventional method of medical practice. Nowadays application of animals for testing a variety of products ranging from household compounds and cosmetics to pharmaceutical products is seen as an inevitable part of humankind striving for a healthier existence. However, for the past half a century the topic of animal rights has become a moot point that is debated throughout all layers of society, as certain ethical considerations lead to questioning the rightfulness of conducting tests on animals. But with all the respect to animal rights movement, animal testing still appears to be of vital importance for human beings, as despite the suggested alternatives it does not have adequate substitutes, nor does its renunciation provide a healthy perspective for humankind.
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Considering the issue from the viewpoint of animal rights activists, one faces the idea of animals as beings with their own beliefs, desires and self-consciousness. Thus, imposing human will on them in the form of violent experiments is viewed as infringement on animal rights. Moreover, in the majority of cases the standard research methods cause pain, suffering and discomfort to animal — and as it has been scientifically proved that animals do feel pain, such practices are classified as ‘cruel’ and not supported for humanistic reasons. Laboratory animals’ freedom is limited by cages in which they spend their lives; to make matters worse, after the experiments, the animals who participated are doomed to destruction. All of the above-mentioned presents the animal research activities as a process of animal confinement, abuse and massacre by more powerful creatures, the humans.
However, addressing the medical part of the problem, one may recollect the remote mid-twentieth century, when American population was terrorized and locked indoors by the disease raging across the country: polio was affecting thousands of children, turning them into life-long cripples and leaving their parents desperate (Watson, 2009). At that same time diseases such as diphtheria, whooping cough, tuberculosis, measles and mumps were far from harmless and often lead to fatal outcome. Humankind used to be helpless in the face of ailments which, if called deadly nowadays, would bring a puzzled look to any of society members.
The factors that have changed the situation so dramatically are the vaccines against all the aforementioned diseases — and obtaining those vaccines would have remained an unattainable dream but for carrying out laboratory experiments using monkeys, rats and mice. Animal testing for medical purposes has led to stunning results and achievements, which briefly can be summed up as follows:
“…antibiotics which treat bacterial infections; insulin, a treatment for people with diabetes, and methods to deliver insulin (such as a skin patch) so that diabetics do not have to inject themselves with a needle every day; open-heart surgery and organ transplant surgeries, as well as drugs to prevent people who receive a transplant from rejecting their new organ; medications to treat AIDS and cancer; drugs that slow memory loss in people with Alzheimer’s disease (a disorder of the brain); statin drugs, which help reduce the build-up of a fat-like substance called cholesterol in the blood and reduce the risk of heart attacks; new spinal cord treatments to help return movement to people who have been paralyzed from an injury; drugs, such as medications to reduce depression, to help people with mental illnesses lead more normal lives.” (Watson, 2009, p. 30)
As it appears, millions of people have benefited from all the drugs, vaccinations and medicaments which have been developed due to medical laboratory tests carried out on animals; without that hope would be lost to them and their lives would be doomed to misery and suffering. The beneficial effects of animal testing on the health of the whole humankind cannot be overestimated: animal testing results have appeared as a lifeboat for patients in most diverse areas of medical science.
Predictably enough, despite all the success of animal-based research, a question may emerge of whether it is possible to substitute animal test material with any other. As experts state, the age of animal experiments may be short as methods such as computer modeling and tests on banks of living cells are becoming more and more popular equivalents for involvement of animals (Lister, 2009). On the other hands, quality medical research requires several stages of test conducting: initially tests are held ‘in vitro’ using test tubes, and by means of computer modeling and analysis that allows uncovering the basic biological issues related to a disease; further on, a potential treatment, cure or preventative strategy frequently must be tested on a complex living organism in order to see how it functions within a body, as no computer simulation may be enough to predict the possible behavior of a medicament in real-life environment; and only if tests with animal models turns out to be promising and safe enough, the medical material is brought on further to human clinical trials.
For those opponents of animal testing who claim that it is a cruel process of animal exploitation for the benefit of humans only, facts exist proving that animal testing has turned out to be of unsurpassed significance also for their fellow-animals. Devised from research on animals, heart worm medication has saved the lives of multiple dogs; research conferred on felines has allowed a better understanding of cat nutrition and brought about improvements to cats lives, letting them live longer and remain healthier. Among the ones who have benefited from animal research are also cattle, poultry and other farm animals, as vaccines have been developed that have promoted improvement and stabilization of their health. Another result of successful animal testing in medicine that enjoys wide application among modern vets has taken the form of vaccines for HIV and rabies, not to mention effective treatments for such widespread animal ailments as parasites, arthritis, heart disease and various kinds of allergies. Due to the achievements of animal research, animal health issues are addressed much more efficiently now, inter alia, helping to eliminate hereditary diseases. (Still, 2005)
However dramatic the picture may be painted by animal rights protectors, laboratory animals’ situation cannot be classified as horrifying in any case. Following the three R’s of laboratory animal research — replacing animals where possible by computer models; reducing the number of animals require for experiments by optimizing the test process; and refining the existing procedures and techniques of research in order to minimize animal suffering and pain, — scientists ensure that animals used in research do not suffer more pain or distress than animals outside the lab; and in fact, laboratory animals often receive the best of care because of their value to researchers (Hayhurst 2000, Still 2005).
Therefore, whatever drama animal rights activists may stage in relation to animal testing, using simple logics and statistics one easily recognizes the prevalence of unquestionable benefits of animal testing for humanity and for animals themselves. The price of animal lives in laboratories is adequate compared to the price humankind could be paying if animal testing was never done.
Hayhurst, C. (2000). Animal Testing: The Animal Rights Debate. New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc.
Lister, S. (2009). Animal Experiments Could End in a Generation. The Times. Web.
Still, T. (2005). Animal Testing: Beyond the Protests, Instances of Mistreatment are Rare. Wisconsin Technology Network. Web.
Watson, S. (2009). Animal Testing: Issues and Ethics. New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc.