Over the past few decades, there has been an extensive debate over the use of animals in medical and product testing. Heartbreaking images of animals in cages awaiting experimentation in laboratories and suffering animals post-testing convince many that animal testing is cruel, immoral and unwarranted. However, the belief in the use of animal testing to ensure product safety and improve human health keeps the majority of people in support of animal testing. This debate has succeeded in forcing researchers and the greater population to evaluate the potential benefits and harmfulness of animal testing. Throughout history and still today, animal testing was and continues to be a widespread debate, specifically in regard to its effect on drug testing, organ testing, genetic engineering and student studies.
Professor Sir George Radda, the former chief executive of the Medical Research Council, strongly believes in the power of animal testing. While in his post, Radda was quoted saying: “…animal research is essential to tackling major twenty first century health problems such as cancer and heart disease. Without the use of animals it would be impossible, in many cases, to develop drugs or any sort of medical treatment.” Proponents agree with Radda and emphasize the power of drug testing with animals as way to perfect a new drug without risking harm or death to humans. Currently, animal testing is so advanced that it can determine information about drug absorption, toxic side effects, dosage levels, drug metabolism and excretion rate. These results inform the researcher if and how the new drug can be tested on or used on humans. Every year, millions of lives are saved due to the use of various antibiotics, vaccines and other types of drugs, none of which would exist if not for animal testing. Almost every protocol for prevention, control and cure of disease is based on knowledge obtained by animal research.
Scientists also use animals for organ research. Animals closely resemble humans and are therefore near perfect for organ research. Canine cardiovascular and respiratory systems are so similar to humans and are therefore essential in lung and heart research. Additionally, recent Nobel Prize winning research with felines tremendously contributed to the world’s understanding of eye disorders such as strabismus and amblyopia, serious impairments that can cause blindness in one or both eyes. Moreover, surgical protocol for modern day kidney surgery was only made possible by first experimenting and perfecting it on dogs. Potential cures for cancer that are currently underway would not be possible without the availability of animal experimentation.
Advocates further argue that animals play a vital role in genetic engineering. Transgenic animals, animals that carry a gene deliberately inserted into their genome, help researchers produce various proteins and other material that can benefit humans. For example, scientists are currently researching genetically engineered pigs with organs genetically similar to that of a human. Their hope is that these organs can be transplanted and accepted by the human body, saving millions of human lives. Furthermore, diabetics depend on mice since each batch of insulin needs to be tested for correct strength and purity. Many genetically engineered proteins like insulin are able to compensate for those in humans whose bodies lack them, essentially saving many human lives.
Animals also serve as a practical tool in schools. Through animal dissections, students learn and explore various functions of the body and its importance. Moreover, it provides medical students the ability to practice and perfect their surgical skills before being sent into real-life situations.
Although it may have many advantages, opponents argue that animal testing is morally wrong because laboratory animals suffer and often die from the procedures or are put to death by researchers after they are no longer needed. For example, caustic substances are injected into the eyes of living rabbits while they squirm, scream and eventually break their necks and bones. Furthermore, although it has been proven that humans and animals are very similar, they are not one hundred percent alike. Therefore, many drugs passed by animal testing often fail the human trials, resulting in animals being tortured for no reason. Also, medical drugs are not the only type of drugs tested on animals. Every year cosmetic companies in the United States kill millions of animals when testing their products; opponents believe that this is completely immoral and unacceptable. In regards to genetic engineering and organ research, opponents argue that animal testing is an injustice against animals and believe that there would not be an organ shortage if more people were willing to become organ donors.
Justin Goodman, a University of Connecticut graduate student, protested the use of animals for scientific research, arguing that animals feel pain and should not have to withstand scientists’ pokes. Goodman further argued, “If you step on our dog’s paw, he yelps because it hurts. Animals experience pain. We need to consider that, because when we don’t, we run into these problems of mistreated animals.” Goodman represents the underlying opinion of many opponents—animals feel pain and are harmed in laboratories. Opponents assert that there are alternatives that could be effectively used instead. For example, organs on a chip, computer models, and/or human studies could all be used. Additionally, existing genetic testing can help doctors decide whether they should prescribe a drug to an individual or not.
Animal testing is essential because it saves millions of human lives every year; however, it should be modified to be more humane and animal friendly. Guidelines should be put into place to ensure the best possible treatment for animals. These guidelines are essential because they allow scientists and the world to reap the benefits of animal research, while keeping the research humane by minimizing animal harm. Richard Jones, a biology professor at Colorado University, once said, “Nobody that I know of, in biological research, who has to sacrifice animals, likes it. It’s a matter of simply priorities. You do what the greater good is.” The vastness of past medical breakthroughs involving animal testing have improved human health and thereby warrant the animal sacrifice.