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Trends in Animal ResearchIncreased concern for animals,
among scientists as well as the public,
is changing the ways in
which animals are
used for research and safety testing
by Madhusree Mukerjee, staff writer
ANTIVIVISECTION POSTER attacks the rationales
behind animal research.
The Numbers of
There is no question about it: the number of animals used in laboratory
experiments is going down. In the U.K., the Netherlands, Germany and
several other European countries, the total has fallen by half since the
1970s. In Canada, mammals have largely been replaced by fish. The figures
for the U.S. are unclear. The U.S. uses between 18 and 22 million animals
a year, but exact numbers are unknown for roughly 85 percent of
these--rats, mice and birds. Primate use has stayed constant, whereas the
use of dogs and cats is down by half since the 1970s.
No one reason accounts for the decline, but several factors are
obvious. In 1975 the animal-rights movement exploded onto the scene with
the publication of Animal Liberation by the Australian philosopher Peter Singer.
The book's depiction of research, and a series of exposÚs by suddenly
vigilant activists, threw a harsh spotlight on scientists. In the
following years, public perceptions of animals became increasingly
Fossey, Jane Goodall
and other ethologists
related to an enthralled audience tales of love, sorrow, jealousy and
deceit among primates. Although not so popular with scientists, such
anthropomorphic views of animals fueled the passage of laws regulating
And the scientists
have changed. Those entering the biomedical profession in recent
decades have imbibed at least some of the concerns of the movement, if not
its ideals; many are willing to acknowledge the moral dilemmas of their
craft. Some experiments that were applauded in the 1950s would not be done
today, because they would be deemed to cause too much suffering.
Oftentimes biotechnology is allowing test tubes to be substituted for
animals. And a few researchers, cognizant that only their expertise can
help reduce the need for animals, are avidly seeking alternatives. All
these efforts are bearing fruit.
The underlying force behind these changes appears to be society's
evolving views of animals. These perceptions owe a great deal to
philosophy and to science--and very little to religion. The Bible
is unequivocal about the position of animals in the natural order: God
made man in his image and gave him dominion over all other creatures. And
envisage a hierarchy of organisms rather than a sharp division, their
influence on the animal-rights movement is limited to vague inspiration
recipes. The real roots lie in secular philosophy. In 1780 the English
Bentham asked what "insuperable line" prevented humans from extending
moral regard to animals: "The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can
they talk? but, Can they suffer?"
The question became more poignant in 1859 with the advent of Charles
Darwin's theory of
evolution. The theory provided a scientific rationale for using
animals to learn about humans, and Darwin endorsed such use. But he also
believed in an emotional continuum between humans and animals and was
troubled by the suffering that experimentation could cause. This dichotomy
inspired clashes between animal lovers and experimenters in 19th-century
England, culminating in the 1876 British
Cruelty to Animals Act regulating animal experimentation. But the
phenomenal success of medicine in the next century made the
animal-protection movement recede into the background.
It rebounded in the 1970s, with Singer's attack. A philosopher in the
utilitarian tradition of Bentham, Singer holds that
in all decisions the total amount of good that results--human and
animal--should be weighed against the suffering--human and animal--caused
in the process. Not that to him the interests of humans and animals have
equal weight: life is of far greater value to a human than, for example,
to a creature with no self-awareness. But if there is something one would
not do to, say, a severely incapacitated child, then neither should one do
it to an animal that would suffer as much. Ignoring the interests of an
animal just because it is not human is, to Singer, "speciesism,"
a sin akin to racism. Invoking the connections between humans and the
great apes, Singer, Goodall and others have issued a call for these
creatures, at least, to be freed from experimentation.
Although Singer started the modern animal-rights movement, it takes its
name and its most uncompromising ideas from Tom Regan's
"The Case for Animal Rights" (University of California Press, 1983). Regan
believes that all humans and most animals have inherent rights, which he
describes as invisible "no trespassing" signs hung around their necks.
They state that our bodies may not be transgressed, no matter how much
good might thereby result. Regan does not equate humans with animals--to
save survivors in a lifeboat, a dog could be thrown overboard before a
human would--yet he states that animals cannot be experimented on, because
they are not merely means to an end.
Many other philosophers have lent their voices to the animals, but few
have come to the aid of researchers. One who did so, Michael A. Fox,
author of "The Case for Animal Experimentation" (University of California
Press, 1986), later declared himself convinced by his critics and became
an advocate for animals. Attempts to refute Singer and Regan usually
involve pointing to morally relevant criteria that separate humans from
G. Frey of Bowling Green State University has written that animals
cannot have interests, because they cannot have desires, because they
cannot have beliefs, because they do not have language. Regan counters
that a dog may well believe "that bone is tasty" without being able to
formulate the phrase and that a human infant would never learn to speak
unless it could acquire preverbal concepts to which it could later assign
words, such as "ball."
Another supporter of research, Carl Cohen of the University of Michigan, has argued that
rights are not inherent: they arise from implicit contracts among members
of society, and they imply duties. Because animals cannot reciprocate such
duties, they cannot have rights. This argument meets with the retort that
infants and the mentally ill cannot fulfill such obligations either but
are not left out of the realm of rights: Why omit animals? (One response
is that human rights are based on characteristics of "typical" humans, not
on borderline cases, prompting animal advocates to ask what these special
qualities are--and so on and on.)
Some research proponents also note that nature is cruel: lions kill
zebras, cats play with mice. Evolution
has placed humans on top, so it is only natural for us to use other
creatures. This argument, which some say elevates "survival of the
fittest" to a moral philosophy, falls prey to a proposition called the
naturalistic fallacy. To paraphrase the 18th-century philosopher David Hume, what
"is" cannot dictate what "ought to be." So natural history may well
illuminate why human morals evolved into their present form, but humans
can transcend their nature. One animal advocate declares: "Killing and
eating [meat] is an integral part of the evolution of human beings. Not
killing and not eating [meat] is the next step in our evolution."
Many philosophers fall into the troubled middle, arguing for interests
or rights to be ordered in a hierarchy that allows some uses of animals
but bars others. Such distillations of animal-liberation ideas have been
finding their way into legislation. The U.K., Australia, Germany and
several other nations require a utilitarian cost-benefit analysis to be
performed before an animal experiment can proceed. And in November 1996
the Netherlands passed into law the statement that animals have "intrinsic
value": they are sentient beings, entitled to the moral concern of humans.
Not that, of course, all the Dutch are vegetarians. Rational
argumentation may have influenced public opinion, but as Harold A. Herzog,
Jr., a psychologist at Western Carolina
University, remarks, the average person's stance on animal issues
remains wildly inconsistent. In one survey, questions phrased in terms of
rats yielded a far more provivisection outcome than those mentioning dogs.
Jesse L. Owens, a neuroscientist at the University of Alaska, protests
that medical research is "the only use of animals that is essential" and
like other researchers is bewildered by people who eat meat and in the
same gulp condemn experimentation.
Not surprisingly, the animal-liberation movement has coincided with
society's becoming increasingly distant from farms--and shielded from the
reality behind dinner. Those who grew up on farms often see animals as
objects to be used, whereas those who had pets tend to express more
sympathy. One line along which attitudes divide is gender. In all
countries surveyed, women are more pro-animal and antivivisectionist than
men, and three quarters of American animal-rights activists are women.
Also noticeable is a generation gap. Surveys by Stephen R.
Kellert of Yale University find that those who are older or less
educated are more likely to see animals as resources, whereas those who
are younger or more educated tend to view animals with compassion.
Public support of animal experimentation, though higher in
the U.S. than in Europe, has been slowly declining. In 1985, 63
percent of American respondents agreed that "scientists should be allowed
to do research that causes pain and injury to animals like dogs and
chimpanzees IF it produces new information about human health problems";
in 1995, 53 percent agreed. Even in disciplines that have traditionally
used animals, the trend is unmistakable. A survey by Scott
Plous of Wesleyan University finds that psychologists with Ph.D.'s
earned in the 1990s are half as likely to express strong support for
animal research as those with Ph.D.'s from before 1970. (Part of this
result comes from the increased presence of women, but there is a
significant drop among men as well.)
Opposition to animal experimentation is often said to derive from
antiscience sentiments, aggravated by poor public knowledge of science.
But according to a 1994 survey led by Linda Pifer of the Chicago Academy of Sciences, negative
attitudes toward animal experimentation in the U.S. correlate only weakly
with lack of knowledge about science. And in Belgium, France and Italy,
for instance, greater scientific literacy is connected with an increased
rejection of animal experimentation.
Sociologists agree that opposition to vivisection derives primarily
from sympathy for animals. Almost all animal rightists are vegetarians;
many are "vegans,"
eschewing milk, eggs, leather and other animal products. "My philosophy of
living as softly on the earth as I can is my life," one activist told
Herzog. In striving to cause the least suffering possible, these
individuals labor under a heavy moral burden that sits lightly on the rest
of us. Some activists have indulged in threatening researchers, breaking
into laboratories or even arson. But the number of such illegal acts,
listed by the U.S. Department of Justice, dropped from about 50 a year in
1987 to 11 in 1992. (More recent figures are unavailable but are believed
to be small.)
Many animal experimenters are also animal lovers. Surveys by Harold
Takooshian, a sociologist at Fordham University, reveal that
biomedical researchers have the same mixed feelings about animals and
animal research as does the general public. (The groups that gave animals
the lowest rating and vivisection the highest were farmers, hunters and
the clergy.) Thomas M. Donnelly, a veterinarian at the Rockefeller
University's animal center, also runs a shelter to which he takes cats
that are no longer needed for research. Almost all the toxicologists and
pharmacologists at a 1996 meeting on alternatives to animal
experimentation had experience with using animals and were moved enough by
it to seek substitutes. Scientists choose to use animals because they feel
it is the only way to help humans. Donald Silver, who did cancer studies
on mice at Sloan-Kettering Hospital in the 1970s, recounts that whenever
he had doubts about his work, he had only to think about the terminally
ill patients in the children's ward.
Of course, scientists' perceptions of animals have evolved as well. In
the early 20th century Darwinian worries about emotions were dispelled by
the rise of behaviorism.
Because thoughts cannot be measured, but behavior can, practitioners such
Lloyd Morgan and, later, B. F.
Skinner sought to describe animals purely in terms of their responses
to stimuli. Bernard Rollin, author of "The Unheeded Cry" (Oxford
University Press, 1989), argues that at some point, the animal psyche went
from being impossible to measure to being nonexistent. The test of a good
theory, "Morgan's canon," required all actions to be interpreted in terms
of the lowest psychological faculties possible. In practice, this meant
that a rat would not be feeling pain even if its "writhes per minute" were
being used to test the efficacy of an analgesic. Its neurochemistry was
merely inducing a physiological reflex.
"We were taught as undergraduates not to think of animals as other than
stimulus-response bundles," asserts Melanie Stiassney, an ichthyologist at
the American Museum of Natural History. "The dogma is you can't credit
them with feelings." In turn, it is often thought undesirable for a
researcher to have feelings about the animal under study: emotions can
impair professional judgment and also make it hard to perform certain
Arluke, a sociologist at Northeastern University who studied animal
laboratories from 1985 to 1993, reports that some technicians were deeply
disturbed when a playful dog or a roomful of mice had to be put down. Such
distress was officially discouraged and therefore kept secret. But after
being "burned" by the death of a favorite animal, laboratory workers
learned to avoid emotional connections with the creatures.
The resulting dissociation, which is often likened to that of a surgeon
from a patient, allows a researcher to function with a minimum of stress.
But given the emotional separation, a scientist may not realize when an
animal is in pain--especially if the very existence of pain is in doubt.
Nowadays, many researchers are aware of dissociation and seek objective
ways to detect distress. And animal pain has come into its own. At a 1996
meeting on the "Guide to
the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals"--a collection of guidelines
that all researchers funded by the National
Institutes of Health have to follow--veterinarian Gerald
F. Gebhart of the University of Iowa stated that the pain-sensing
apparatus is the same throughout the vertebrate kingdom and offered this
rule of thumb: "If it hurts you, it probably hurts the animal."
Increasingly, animal experimenters try to balance scientific
imperatives with humaneness. Keith A. Reimann, a veterinarian at Harvard
University's animal facility, does AIDS-related research in monkeys. He
insists that a macaque be euthanized as soon as it becomes sick, even if
additional information might be gained by following the course of the
illness. Franz P. Gruber of the University of Konstanz in Germany, who
serves on a board overseeing animal experimentation, says his committee
does not allow "death as an end point"--studies in which the animal dies
of the disease or procedure being studied. Instead the committee works
with the researcher to define a stage at which the creature can be put out
of its misery.
One area of concern to American veterinarians involves paralytic drugs.
These agents immobilize an animal for surgery, for six or more hours at a
time; anesthesia, however, may wear off in an hour or two. A few
researchers are reportedly reluctant to administer additional anesthetics
for fear that an overdose could kill the animal before the experiment is
over, leading to a loss of data. But without such "topping up," the animal
may become conscious during the operation and not be able to convey, by
twitch or cry, that it is in agony. And some scientists object to using
painkillers because they do not want to introduce a new variable into the
Compassionate feelings for animals also influence studies, although
researchers rarely admit to such unscientific, if creditable, motivations.
When asked about their choice of species subjects, for example, three
neuroscientists--working on monkeys, rats and frogs, respectively--replied
unhesitatingly that it was determined by the scientific question at hand.
But later in the conversation, the frog experimenter confided that he,
personally, could not work on "a furry animal," and the rat experimenter
said he would not work with a cat or even with a rat in a more painful
Image: Foundation For Biomedical
of animal experiments is emphasized
in a pro-research poster.
Scientists' concern for animals first became visible professionally in
the 1950s, when the behavioristic paradigm came under attack. British
zoologist William M. S. Russell and microbiologist Rex L. Burch published
"The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique" (Methuen, London, 1959),
in which they put forth the "three
Rs." This principle sets out three goals for the conscientious
researcher: replacement of animals by in vitro, or test-tube, methods;
reduction of their numbers by means of statistical techniques; and
refinement of the experiment so as to cause less suffering. Although they
took some decades to catch on, the three Rs define the modern search for
Starting in the 1960s, humane organizations and governments began to
fund studies in alternative methods. European governments, especially,
have invested considerable resources. For the past 15 years, Germany has
been giving out about $6 million a year in research grants alone; the
Netherlands spends $2 million a year (including overheads for its
alternatives center). The European
Center for the Validation of Alternative Methods, a body set up in
1992 by the European Commission, requires another $9 million annually. In
the U.S., governmental interest has been comparatively low; the National Institute of Environmental
Health Sciences (NIEHS) is now offering $1.5 million worth of grants a
year, for three years. And industry provides the $1 million a year that
the Center for Alternatives to
Animal Testing (CAAT) at Johns Hopkins University disburses in grants.
(Although 15 federal agencies have recently formed the Interagency
Coordinating Committee for Validation of Alternative Methods, this venture
is as yet unfunded.)
All this effort has yielded a variety of means for reducing animal use.
Statistical sophistry, for example, is allowing the classical LD50 (or
lethal dose 50 percent) test for acute toxicity to be eliminated. This
test requires up to 200 rats, dogs or other animals to be force-fed
different amounts of a substance, to determine the dose that will kill
half a group. Although in vitro alternatives are still far away--because
the mechanisms underlying toxicity are poorly understood--protocols
currently accepted worldwide call for a tenth the number of animals. The
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, for example, asks
for between three and 18 animals to be used: if the substance kills the
first three, it need be tested no further.
Another unpleasant procedure is the LD80 test for vaccines.
Experimental animals are vaccinated against a disease; they and a control
group are then exposed to it. The vaccine passes only if at least 80
percent of the experimental group remains healthy and if 80 percent of the
control group dies. Again using statistics, Coenraad Hendriksen of the
National Institute of Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands
found a way of testing diphtheria and tetanus vaccines that requires
simply checking the level of antibodies. Apart from greatly reducing the
suffering, it uses half the number of animals.
"Data mining"--the sifting of mountains of information for relevant new
findings--has also proved astonishingly helpful. Horst Spielmann of ZEBET,
the German center for alternatives to animal testing, surveyed decades of
industry data on pesticides and concluded that if mice and rats prove
sensitive to a chemical, it does not have to be tested on dogs. Spielmann
anticipates that 70 percent of the dog tests can be dispensed with. Klaus
Cussler of the Paul Ehrlich Institute in Langen, Germany, reviewed data on
the "abnormal safety test" for vaccines (called the "mouse and guinea pig
safety test" in the U.S.), which involves vaccinating mice and guinea pigs
and watching for untoward reactions. Their findings led to the test being
dropped for vaccines checked in other standard ways. "It was so
senseless," Cussler shakes his head.
In 1989, after observing that production of monoclonal antibodies in
mice with tumors causes much suffering, ZEBET funded industry research
into test-tube alternatives. Consequently, the antibodies, used in cancer
therapy, are now rarely manufactured in mice in Europe (although mice
remain the norm in the U.S.). Production of polio vaccines is another
success story. In the 1970s the Netherlands used 5,000 monkeys a year; now
kidney cell cultures from just 10 monkeys provide enough vaccine for
everyone. Hormones or vaccines manufactured in cell cultures are also
purer than those made in vivo (that is, in the animals themselves), so
each batch need not be tested as before for safety and efficacy.
In 1993 the Department of Transportation became the first U.S. agency
to accept in vitro tests, for skin corrosivity. The traditional test
requires placing a substance on a rabbit's shaved back to see how far it
eats in. The test's replacement uses reconstructed human skin or a
biomembrane such as Corrositex--testimony
to the role played by venture capital in finding alternatives. Several
cosmetics manufacturers have entirely eliminated animal testing: they rely
on in-house substitutes or use ingredients that have been tested in the
As yet, most researchers in the basic sciences see little hope of
replacing animals. They stick to reduction or refinement, such as using an
animal lower on the phylogenetic tree. The next spate of cuts in animal
use, Spielmann predicts, will come in the field of medical education, for
which alternative teaching tools have been devised. British surgeons, in
fact, have not trained on animals since the 1876 act banned such use;
instead they practice on human cadavers and later assist experienced
surgeons in actual operations. In the U.S., more than 40 of the 126
medical schools do not use animals in their regular curricula. The most
significant change has been in mind-set. Since 1985 in the Netherlands,
every scientist starting research on animals has been required to take a
three-week course. They learn hands-on procedures, proper anesthesia,
specifications of inbred strains and so on--as well as the three Rs. First
the students design an animal experiment; then they are asked to find ways
of answering the same question without animals. The resulting discussion
and hunt for information induces a new way of thinking. "It gives them
time for reflection," says Bert F. M. van Zutphen of Utrecht University,
who pioneered the course. "It's of utmost importance. To know how far I
can go for my own conscience."
Another source of change in scientists' attitudes has been legislation.
In the U.S., laws tend to derive from isolated incidents. The Animal Welfare Act of 1966--the
federal law regulating animal use--came into being because of Pepper, a
Dalmatian believed by its owners to have been stolen and sold to a lab,
and a "Life" magazine article depicting starving dogs in dealers' pens.
Perhaps the most significant change came in 1985, in the wake of two
exposes involving primates. In Silver Spring, Md., macaques belonging to
Edward Taub of the Institute for Behavioral Research were found to be
chewing on their limbs, to which the nerves had been cut. And in 1984
videotapes from the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center displayed
laboratory personnel mocking baboons whose heads had been smashed in
during experiments on head trauma. The outcry following these revelations
allowed Senator Robert Dole of Kansas to bring an amendment to the act. It
animal care and use committees The "well-being" clause can be
considered an instance of the public's imposing a scientific paradigm on
scientists. An inspector from the U.S. Department of
Agriculture, which administers the Animal Welfare Act, sought expert
advice at that time on primate psychology. There was no such thing, he was
told. Now, just 10 years later, primates have emotions. At the 1996 NIH
meeting, Gebhart listed fear, anxiety, boredom, separation and isolation
as conditions to which experimenters should attend in their subjects. And
a few labs are even trying to enrich the lives of their rabbits.
The laws have generally had the effect of driving up the costs of
animal research. Animal protectionists complain, however, that the Animal
Welfare Act and its amendments invariably get diluted at the
implementation stage. The act, for instance, refers to warm-blooded
animals, but the regulations written by the USDA exclude rats, mice and
birds. The agency says it does not have funds for inspecting the
laboratories that use these creatures, which is true; animal welfarists,
however, say the omission originally came from lobbying by the biomedical
community. In 1990 humane organizations sued to have these animals
included. Although they initially won, the suit was thrown out on appeal,
on the grounds that animal protectionists have no legal standing: only
those who are injured--that is, the rats, mice and birds--can bring a
civil suit. Dale Schwindaman of the USDA has promised, however, to include
these animals within the next five years.
Another controversy has to do with so-called performance standards.
When writing regulations for the 1985 amendments, the USDA refrained, for
example, from stating how many times a week the dogs had to be walked.
Such specifics are referred to as engineering standards. Instead the
agency allowed each facility to come up with its own plans for dog and
primate well-being, the "performance" of which was to be evaluated.
(Because these plans are kept in-house, and not with the USDA, the public
cannot obtain them through the Freedom of Information Act.)
Researchers are enthusiastic about the flexibility of performance
standards, whereas Martin L. Stephens of the Humane Society of the U.S. calls
them "euphemisms for no standards." USDA inspectors are divided. Some
argue that the standards are vague and unenforceable. Among others, Harvey
McKelvey of the USDA's northwestern region says they let him use his
judgment: "If I see an animal is bored with its toy, I can write that it
needs a new one. I couldn't do that with engineering standards." The new
NIH guide also embraces performance standards.
The animal care committees have empowered those scientists who wish to
cut down on wastage and improve conditions for animals. "If you have an
institution with conscientious people, the IACUC system works fairly
well," says Ralph A. Meyer of Carolinas Medical Center. Cathy Liss of the
Animal Welfare Institute in
Washington, D.C., agrees that some committees do far better than the law.
But there is concern about the remainder. In 1992 an audit of the USDA's
enforcement activities by the Office of the Inspector General revealed
that out of 26 institutions selected at random, 12 "were not adequately
fulfilling their responsibilities under the act." Everyone agrees that
enforcement is inadequate: at present, there are only 69 inspectors, who
may not be able to visit each of the 1,300 regulated laboratories (and
also animal dealers, transporters and exhibitors) every year.
As a result, the inspectors rely on whistle-blowers. "We need eyes out
there," McKelvey explains. It might be an animal-rights activist who has
infiltrated a laboratory: groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment
of Animals (PETA)
prepare detailed case histories that they present to the USDA or the NIH.
Or it might be a researcher or technician.
Still, the USDA can offer few reassurances to informants. A former
member of the animal care committee at New York University Medical Center
claims to have
been fired in August 1995 for protesting irregularities in N.Y.U.'s
labs and cooperating with the USDA's investigations. The university states
that his position became redundant. But the scientist, along with an
administrator who was also dismissed, is suing N.Y.U., as well as the
USDA--which, he says, failed to provide whistle-blower protection. (The
agency did fine N.Y.U. $450,000 for assorted violations of the Animal
Welfare Act.) Several USDA inspectors express frustration with their
agency's provisions on informants. "We can't protect a whistle-blower,"
McKelvey says. "The regulation is weak." Unlike civil-discrimination
suits, which require only a concatenation of circumstances, the USDA needs
to prove that the person was fired because of having blown the whistle.
Also controversial are the statistics on pain and distress provided by
the IACUCs to the USDA. They indicate that in 1995, 54 percent of the
regulated animals had no pain or distress, 37 percent had distress
alleviated by painkillers, and only 8.8 percent suffered unalleviated pain
or distress. The data have been widely criticized for being unreliable,
because the USDA does not specify how to classify pain. Andrew N. Rowan of
the Tufts University Center
for Animals and Public Policy has noted that some rather painful
procedures, such as toxicity testing or antibody production, are commonly
placed in the nonpainful category. Although the USDA proposed a pain scale
in 1987, it was withdrawn after objections by researchers.
There are difficulties with assessing animal distress. Nevertheless,
many European nations, as well as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, have
developed pain scales in which each procedure is assigned a grade. As a
result, their reports are more informative. The Netherlands listed in 1995
that 54 percent of animals had minor discomfort, 26 percent had moderate
discomfort, and 20 percent suffered severe discomfort.
A pain scale would make it easier for IACUCs to rate the suffering
involved in different schemes for doing an experiment. At present, the
committees are required to certify that the animal researcher has looked
for alternatives and that the number of animals used is reasonable. Alan
M. Goldberg of CAAT wishes that they would also evaluate the experimental
design. "Right now, using method A, they check: Is it the right number of
animals? They don't look at method B or C"--which could involve in vitro
techniques. Nor--unlike committees in Germany, Australia and
elsewhere--are they required to weigh the benefits of research against the
suffering or to include representatives of animal-welfare organizations in
the review process. (The IACUCs do have to include someone unaffiliated
with the institution, but who fills that position is again a source of
Change in the U.S. has been slow and painful. Notwithstanding some
evolution of practices, the ferocity of the attacks by the most fervent
animal rightists has led to a sense of moral outrage and an unwillingness
to compromise--on both sides. Almost all activists insist that animal
research is unnecessary; to them, investigators using animals are cruel
and corrupt, consumed by a desire for ever more papers and grants. One
antivivisection tract is entitled "Slaughter of the Innocent," and the
cover of another features splashes of blood. To animal liberators, the
killing of more than six billion animals a year, mostly for food,
represents a holocaust, and Adolf Hitler's doctors are proof that
experimenters can be inhumane.
Many animal researchers, in turn, think of animal rightists as being
brainless "bunny huggers" at best and dangerous fanatics at worst.
Leaflets published by the American Medical
Association represent the animal-rights position as equating humans
with animals; a quote from Ingrid Newkirk of PETA, "A rat is a pig is a
dog is a boy," is offered as evidence. (Newkirk claims her statement was
"When it comes to feeling pain, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.")
In an essay entitled "We Can't Sacrifice People for the Sake of Animal
Life," Frederick K. Goodwin, former head of the National Institute of Mental Health,
has argued that the issue of animal rights threatens public health. In
this vein, research advocates sometimes portray proposals to control
animal research as being attacks on human life. For instance, one
organization advises this response to a query about experimentation on
pound animals: "How would you feel if the one research project that may
save your child's life was priced out of existence because pound animals
were banned?" Some writers invoke Hitler as proof that animal advocates
are antihuman: he was an animal lover who passed anticruelty laws in 1930s
Finding itself under moral--and sometimes physical--siege, the research
community has often retreated behind electronic surveillance systems--and
an ethical code that frequently denounces internal dissent as treason,
"giving ammunition to the enemy." One scientist interviewed for this
article said that if his criticisms became known, he would be fired. In
1991 two animal researchers, John P. Gluck and
Kubacki of the University of New Mexico, wrote a treatise deploring
the lack of ethical introspection in their field. Gluck testifies that the
article quickly changed his status from an insider to a distrusted
outsider. Arluke's studies revealed an absence of discussion about ethics:
in 33 of 35 laboratories, moral positions were defined institutionally.
Newcomers were given to understand that senior scientists had answered all
the difficult questions, leaving them little to worry about.
The insulation has made it difficult for changes in other branches of
the life sciences--or from across the Atlantic--to filter in.
Primatologists, for instance, have been discussing complex emotions in
their subjects for decades. But many American experimenters still refuse
to use the word "suffering," because it suggests an animal has awareness.
Even the word "alternatives" is suspect; instead the NIH describes these
as "adjuncts" or "complements" to animal research. Some researchers seem
to regard the three Rs as an animal-rights conspiracy. Robert Burke of the
NIH has stated: "To argue that we must refine our methods suggests that
they are currently inadequate or unethical.... In my view, it is
intellectually dishonest and hypocritical to continue to advocate the
original three Rs as a goal for science policy. It is also, without
question, dangerous to give our enemies such useful tools with which to
pervert the scientific enterprise."
Of the 17 institutes included in the NIH, only the NIEHS has been
active in researching alternatives. Following a directive by Congress, the
NIH awarded about $2.5 million in earmarked grants between 1987 and 1989.
But F. Barbara Orlans of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown
University charges that the money did not constitute a special allocation
for alternatives: 16 of the 17 grants went to studies that had
traditionally been funded. (Like other public health agencies worldwide
the NIH supports research into invertebrate, in vitro and computer models
that are not billed as alternatives.)
In 1993 Congress directed the NIH to come up with a plan for
implementing the three Rs. The resulting document, entitled "Plan for the
Use of Animals in Research," is an overview of biomedical models, with
some emphasis on nonmammalian systems. "The central message of the plan,"
explains Louis Sibal of the NIH, "is that scientists have to decide for
themselves what the best method of solving their problem is." Whereas the
European Union plans to cut animal use in half by the year 2000, a 1989
NIH report stated that animal use is not likely to decrease.
One arena in which the propaganda battles have been especially fierce
is the classroom: both sides see dissection as the key to the next
generation's sympathies. Animal advocates say dissection in schools is
unnecessary and brutalizing and that the 5.7 million vertebrates (mostly
but also cats, fetal pigs, pigeons and perch) used every year are procured
in inhumane ways. Research advocates fear that without dissection,
instruction will be inadequate, and fewer students will be attracted to or
equipped for the life sciences.
In 1989, when the National
Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) announced a new policy
encouraging alternatives, it provoked a violent reaction. Barbara Bentley
of the State University of New York at Stony Brook, for instance,
denounced the monograph on implementing the policy as "an insidiously evil
publication--evil because it is a barely disguised tract produced by
animal rightists." An intense campaign followed, and in 1993 the NABT
issued a new policy statement, warning teachers to "be aware of the
limitations of alternatives." There is no high school dissection in most
"It is possible to be both pro research and pro reform," Orlans says.
She and others in the troubled middle have a simple message: the impasse
must end. Animal liberators need to accept that animal research is
beneficial to humans. And animal researchers need to admit that if animals
are close enough to humans that their bodies, brains and even psyches are
good models for the human condition, then ethical dilemmas surely arise in
using them. But the moral burden is not for scientists alone to bear. All
of us who use modern medicine and modern consumer products need to
acknowledge the debt we owe to our fellow creatures and support science in
its quest to do better by the animals.
IN THE NAME OF
SCIENCE: ISSUES IN RESPONSIBLE ANIMAL EXPERIMENTATION. F. Barbara
Orlans. Oxford University Press, 1993.
WARS. Deborah Blum. Oxford University Press, 1994.
THE ANIMAL RESEARCH CONTROVERSY: PROTEST, PROCESS AND PUBLIC POLICY.
Andrew N. Rowan and Franklin M. Loew, with Joan C. Weer. Center for
Animals and Public Policy, Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine,
The following organizations (along with a number of others linked to in
the main text of the article) represent a variety of viewpoints in the
American Anti-Vivisection Society
People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals
Alternatives to Animal Testing
The Animal Rights Law Center
at Rutgers University
Animal Welfare Information
American Association for Laboratory
Americans for Medical Progress
The Foundation for Biomedical