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Published: Thursday 31st of October 2013
The use of various animals other than humans in laboratories for research purposes has been a long-standing tradition dating back to ancient Greeks. It is used to test the efficacy as well as the safety of certain drugs, cosmetics, and other chemical products before conducting human trials. In fact, the World Medical Association Declaration of Helsinki mandates that all human trials should be preceded by tests on animals. Experimenting on animals is based upon the similarity argument, which states that we share at least 98% of our DNA with other mammals. In the case of chimpanzees, the similarity of DNA is 99%. However, opponents of animal testing argue that in spite of DNA similarity, there are significant anatomic, metabolic and cellular differences between animals and humans. Supposedly, these differences make it unreliable to come to conclusions on how a human body would react to specific drugs or chemical agents, just by drawing parallels with reactions observed in animals tested in laboratories. The drugs found to be safe on animals will not necessarily be safe for humans. In the 1950s a sleeping pill called Thalidomide caused around ten thousand babies to be born with congenital disabilities because their mothers were prescribed this drug during their pregnancy. The drug had previously been found to be entirely safe for mice. Conversely, some chemicals, like Aspirin, that are ineffective or even harmful in animals can prove beneficial in humans.
Using new chemical products and drugs on animals first is necessary to check for possible severe side-effects due to the product`s toxicity, and to fully understand the pharmacological effects of certain drugs before proceeding to human trials. It is believed to be the safest and the most efficient way to develop new drugs. The inventions such as insulin, polio vaccine, hepatitis B vaccine, etc. which saved countless human lives would not have been possible without conducting experiments on animals. Although some experiments can be done in Petri dishes or using computer simulations, not many processes of the human body can be studied in this way. Since animals have a shorter life-span than humans, the effects of particular genetic manipulations can be easily observed across several generations. Also, animal testing can benefit other animals as well, and help save endangered species from extinction.
The opponents of animal testing contend that the animals are unable to consent to being used in experiments like human subjects can. Human volunteers are capable of understanding the implications of laboratory tests and give informed consent to participating without being forced or coerced. Animals lack the cognitive ability, language skills and ability for moral judgment, nevertheless they are capable of feeling pain, and they do suffer during experiments. They are taken from their natural habitats, forced to live in small cages, deprived of normal interaction with other animals, they are poked and prodded, given toxins to see how they would react, they are operated on, and even have parts of their bodies amputated. Animal welfare advocates find this to be a cruel and unnecessary act of discrimination against animals, and in a way no more justifiable than discriminating against human beings with severe cognitive impairments.
However, the overwhelming majority of scientists approve animal testing and so do all major religious traditions, including Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. Churches allow for human domination over animals as long as no unnecessary pain is inflicted upon them and the real possibility of achieving significant benefits for human beings exists. At the same time, Church calls for merciful conduct towards animals and prohibits doing them harm which can be in contrast with allowing for animal laboratory testing.
The Animal Welfare Act represents a series of laws passed by various national courts worldwide, aimed at protecting animal rights. It succeeded in protecting the animals against extreme abuse and inhumane treatment in laboratories. Then again, 95% of animals are not covered by this Act, including mice, rats, birds, and cold-blooded animals like fish and reptiles.
To conclude, one can argue that no significant medical breakthrough could have happened without experimenting on animals. Nowadays, research methodology has evolved to a point when it is possible to grow human organs, like skin for example, for testing purposes and use elaborate computer models so that we can avoid inflicting any unnecessary pain on animals. This is done whenever possible although there is a considerable number of areas in which animal testing still is and will remain of paramount importance in the foreseeable future. When animal test subjects are used, they are taken good care of and treated with all attention, – this way we avoid unnecessary cruelty and misuse. Animals continue to contribute to scientific development aimed at improving human health; they are currently being used for educational purposes and in biomedical research exercising utmost caution and respect for their lives and wellbeing.