People don’t like getting sick, and they like even less discussions about how treatments for illness are developed. This is where animal testing comes in, which has long been an uncomfortable subject for people. Emotion-evoking pictures of caged animals make it easy to forget the frequently laudable ends that are met through animal testing (most notably, the Covid-19 vaccine). When heartstrings are being tugged, it’s also easy to forget to ask: To what extent should ethical concerns about respecting animal life dictate the extent to which science and industry should advance?
Let’s explore three reasons in support of animal testing, and three reasons against it.
It’s time to leave animal testing behind.
Animal testing doesn’t guarantee safety for human use.
The FDA requires all chemical materials, like cleaning products and cosmetics, to be tested on animals before introducing them to humans. The only trouble is, many toxicity tests performed on animals do not always predict severe human toxicity, which is bad news for millions of mice, and for some humans too. A lack of correlation between animal and human reactions have also been reported in clinical trials, some of which have caused human subjects to suffer permanent physiological damage. If animal testing cannot give full guarantees of safety or results, is it really meeting its ends?
There are plenty of viable alternatives to animal testing.
Improved imaging methods, in vitro, and computer models represent some of the many emerging options for conducting research without animals. Governments, scientists, and even the commercial science industry agree that alternative approaches are preferable, especially given that when a test is repeated on an animal, scientists get the same outcome only 60-70% of the time. For commercial science enterprises, non-animal experiments have the dual benefit of cost efficiencies and less regulation. It stands to reason that the more the public nudges researchers toward alternative testing measures, the more encouraged they’ll be to find them.
Animal testing tacitly promotes a speciesism that undermines the very humanism the sciences are meant to promote.
Science has helped us to do away with a lot of fruitless ideas, and scientists would do well to ask themselves whether man’s dominion over animals isn’t one of them. The idea of man as lord of beasts is as old as Adam and Eve, and arguably, this idea of man’s privilege has discouraged him from collaborating with his environment in favor of exploiting it. In a man-first paradigm, it begs the question of whether humanity is out of sync with its surroundings – we extract minerals from the Earth and, in return, poison our natural resources with fossil fuels and plastics. And why should we care? Man is in charge and the world is our oyster.
Animal testing is still necessary.
The advances afforded to humanity through animal testing are undeniable.
Covid-19 is still fresh in everyone’s minds, as is the relief the world felt once the vaccine was distributed (at record speed), thanks to animal research. Polio, one of humanity’s oldest and most pernicious killers, was also eradicated with the help of animal testing, as was smallpox and rubella. Plus, diabetes can now be controlled through insulin, which was discovered with the contribution of animal testing. Add to that new developments in HIV, cancer and diabetes treatments, and even electronic implants that can give patients the chance to activate paralyzed limbs, and it becomes clear that human medicine without animal subjects would be a mere shadow of itself. Animal research is the primary vehicle for understanding how disease affects the human body. When we say no to animal testing, we also say no to deeper understanding and possibility.
Human medicine advances animal medicine.
Animals and humans are often afflicted by the same infectious and congenital diseases. Almost all of our pets die from diseases which are well known to us – the most common cause of sudden death in cats is heart disease, the same disease that kills the most women in the US every year. Medicines developed via animal testing for human use often end up benefitting the very animal populations upon which they were first tested. (For example, monkeys, Ebola’s first victims, could benefit from a developmental Ebola vaccination). The reflexive nature of advances and human sciences is expressed in the One Health initiative, whose central premise connects human health to the health of animals as well as the environment. As such, animal testing is not merely subjugation of animal life to human life, but a necessary step in preserving Earth’s biology writ large.
Lab animals lead fine lives.
Lab animals are cared for by dedicated veterinarians who are committed to ensuring test animals have a high quality of life. Sources say that by law, labs provide animals much more than their basic needs; they must be free of pain or distress, meaning that they receive pain medication, enrichment devices, social group housing, and other provisions to ensure that their health and welfare are maintained. In a nutshell, animal research labs are legally and ethically obligated to provide their test subjects with conditions that will allow them to live out their lives as any other member of the species would. And given the abundance of nutritious food, the safe environment, and rigorous monitoring, lab animals also lead longer, healthier lives than most animals in the wild and even pets.
The Bottom Line: Researchers, laboratories, and governments do take great pains to ensure that animal testing achieves the highest possible ethical standards. That being said, as a species for whom incarceration is one of the steepest punishments, we must continually investigate our motivations and justifications for using almost 20 million animals in 2020 for animal testing across the US. In what cases do you think animal testing is justified?