Medical Research on Animals - Right or Wrong?
Medicine and science have come a long way since the ages when we used to puncture holes into our skulls to release tension or fend off evil spirits. During the last century, numerous treatments to various illnesses have been discovered, some diseases have even been eradicated, vital vaccines have been developed and surgical techniques have been improved, and all these because we used medical research on animals. But is animal experimentation justified? Is it moral? Is it really necessary? This research paper aims to take a closer look at this matter and find an answer.
We Wouldn't Be Where We Are without Animal Testing
Indeed, animal testing has advanced science and specifically medicine to a great extent, and, who knows, maybe we may not even exist as a species now if it weren't for it. According to research papers and statistics, children born today in a developed country is expected to live 70-80 years on average, whereas children born at the beginning of the 20th century had a life expectancy of only 40 years. While environmental and habit changes played a role here too, it was medical research based on animal testing that has led the most to this incredible progress.
Animal Testing Isn't What It Used To Be
Many state that animal testing is cruel, that it basically entails torturing and killing innocent beings. It is undeniable that some subjects may be harmed or even die. However, animal research is not what it used to be decades ago. For instance, everybody knows of Pavlov's conditioning experiments, but not many mention the full details and how cruel and unethical they really were.
Today, animal testing is much more closely regulated and much more humane. Before conducting any studies on animals, scientists must first make absolutely sure that such experiments are, indeed, needed. For over 50 years, researchers have relied on the principle of 3R: Reduction (reducing the number of subjects used in experiments), Replacement (using alternative techniques to animal testing whenever possible), and Refinement (improving techniques and living conditions to minimize suffering).
The Moral Factor
No matter how much it has helped us progress and regardless of how well regulated it is today, medical research still means harming innocent beings for the sake of our species. One may say that it is for the greater good and such an act is justifiable, but that greater good isn't even always certain, as what may work on animals may not always work on humans as well. Furthermore, just like humans, animals have rights too, and their rights should never be violated, even if it's for the benefit of humanity - especially since these innocent beings aren't as strong as we are and do not have the mental capacity we have. According to moral philosopher Peter Singer, animal testing is just as ethical as conducting the same experiments using a mentally disabled human.
While animal testing has proven useful for science in many instances, it has multiple limitations. Animal organisms, however similar to ours, are not our equivalents. There are differences in organ structure, anatomy, function, drug and chemical absorption, toxin metabolism, DNA repair mechanisms, and many more. This can create difficulties and even lead to errors when applying data gathered from animal experiments to human drug responses and diseases. Furthermore, medical research on animals is also highly expensive and time consuming, not to mention the lives it costs. Mice and rats comprise more than 90% of research subjects not because they are the most appropriate and reliable models, but because they are less expensive to buy and to maintain and are more easily disposable without the public concern and rage other species may cause.
Humane alternatives to animal testing have started to appear, and they are becoming more accurate and viable as technology develops. For instance, a team of scientists at the University of Maryland has been working on the use of adult stem cells to test the effects of various substances on humans, while a bioengineering PhD student has begun pioneering the use of 3D printing technology to replace animal testing. Unfortunately, these new solutions are still in an incipient phase and it will take a while until they can become common practice.
Medical research on animals has certainly helped us to a great extent; however, it is undeniably immoral and it isn't short of limitations either. Yes, animal testing has evolved to be more humane, and we wouldn't be where we are today without it, yet it still implies harming innocent beings that cannot defend themselves. Animal research is an essential part of medical history, but history is where it belongs. This is why our focus should be on developing and improving the humane alternatives that have started to appear, so that we can let this practice behind us as soon as possible.