Frequently Asked Questions: Vivisection
What is wrong with experimenting on
animals? No lab rat (or dog or monkey…) ever signed a
consent form. In and of itself, this constitutes an ethical problem
with the practice of experimenting on non-human animals for the
hypothetical benefit of humans.
What animals are
used and why? A complete count of animals used in research
is unknown because federal laws do not require research institutions
to record the number of rats, mice and cold blooded animals that are
used in experimentation. Estimates for total numbers are between
20-70 million. Of the animals who are counted, here is what we know:
The number of warm-blooded vertebrate animals used in science each
year in the United States is approximately 28 million. Of that
total, about 18 million animals are killed for research, compared
with 2.51 million in England, 1.66 million in Canada, and 0.73
million in the Netherlands.
Doesn't the law protect
animals used in research? The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) is
the primary law covering laboratory animals in the United States.
The AWA was passed in 1966 and amended in 1970, 1976 and 1985. The
scope of the AWA is limited, in that, it does not restrict what can
be done to an animal during a study - it only applies to the type of
care an animal receives before and after experimentation. The
following provision grants animal researchers impunity to do as they
wish in the course of an experiment: "Nothing in these rules,
regulations, or standards shall affect or interfere with the design,
outline, or performance of actual research or experimentation by a
research facility as determined by such research facility."
The AWA only requires that research facilities count the
number of dogs, cats, primates, guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits,
(some) farm animals, and other animals that are used in experiments.
Rats, mice, birds, and cold-blooded animals are not protected by the
AWA and represent approximately 85 percent of the total number of
animals used in experimentation.
What about all the
breakthroughs we've gained through animal research? The
historical value of animal research with regard to human health
remains in question.
Researchers from Harvard and Boston
Universities concluded that medical measures (drugs and vaccines)
accounted for between 1 and 3.5% of the total decline in mortality
rates since 1900. Scores of animals were killed in the quest to find
cures for tuberculosis, scarlet fever, smallpox and diphtheria,
among others, but was their unwilling contribution important to the
decline of these diseases? Dr. Edward Kass of Harvard Medical
School, asserts that the "primary credit for the virtual eradication
of these diseases must go to improvements in public health,
sanitation and the general improvement in the standard of living."
These benefits have nothing to do with animal studies.
Animal research appropriates money, time, personnel,
facilities and other resources that would save more lives if those
same resources were placed into, let's say, education or prevention.
In the end, it becomes a question of priorities - do we want to
focus on supporting what we know works or do we place our faith in
serendipity? Over 44 million Americans have either no or inadequate
health care coverage, if we really want to "improve human health" we
need to provide adequate access to care, not fund more animals
experiments, which offer no promise of success (in fact their track
record is abysmal) and divert funds, support and attention from more
What about drug testing?
The Journal of the American Medical Association reported in April
1998 that adverse reactions to prescription drugs (all of which must
first pass a battery of animal tests) kill more than 100,000 humans
each year. Animal tests failed to predict these dangers. This is not
surprising since non-human animals are unable to relate the most
common side effects that occur with prescription medicines such as
headaches, dizziness, malaise, depression or nausea. These symptoms
are often the initial warning signs of more severe problems.
Those who are opposed to animal experiments should
not accept drugs that have been produced after animal testing was
done. It is impossible to take drugs that haven't been
tested on animals because currently the Food and Drug Administration
requires animal tests for pharmaceuticals. Hence, virtually all
drugs have been, at some time, tested on animals. But just because
drugs have been tested on animals doesn't make animal tests any more
relevant, useful or valid to humans (see above).
animal experimentation is of such questionable value, why does it
persist? There are several likely explanations:
Vivisection is easily published. In the "publish or perish"
world of academic science, it requires little originality or insight
to take an already well-defined animal model, change a variable (or
the species being used), and obtain "new" and "interesting" findings
within a short period of time. In contrast, clinical research (while
much more useful) is often more difficult and time-consuming. Also,
the many species available and the nearly infinite possible
manipulations offer researchers the opportunity to "prove" almost
any theory that serves their economic, professional, or political
needs. For example, researchers have "proven" in animals that
cigarettes both do and do not cause cancer - depending on the
Vivisection is self-perpetuating.
Scientists' salaries and professional status are often tied to
grants, and a critical element of success in grant applications is
proof of prior experience and expertise. Researchers trained in
animal research techniques find it difficult or inconvenient to
adopt new methods, such as tissue cultures.
appears more "scientific" than clinical research. Researchers often
assert that laboratory experiments are "controlled," because they
can change one variable at a time. The control, however, is
illusory. Any animal model differs in myriad ways from human
physiology and pathology. In addition, the laboratory setting itself
creates confounding variables - for example, stress and undesired or
unrecognized pathology in the animals. Such variables can have
system-wide effects, skew experimental results, and undermine
extrapolation of findings to humans.
lucrative. Its traditionally respected place in modern medicine
results in secure financial support, which is often an integral
component of a university's budget. Many medical centers receive
tens of millions of dollars annually in direct grants for animal
research, and tens of millions more for overhead costs that are
supposedly related to that research. Since these medical centers
depend on this overhead for much of their administrative costs,
construction, and building maintenance, they perpetuate vivisection
by praising it in the media and to legislators.
Vivisection's morality is rarely questioned by researchers,
who generally choose to dogmatically defend the practice rather than
confront the obvious moral issues it raises. Animal researchers'
language betrays their efforts to avoid morality. For example, they
"sacrifice" animals rather than kill them, and they may note animal
"distress," but they rarely acknowledge pain or other suffering.
Young scientists quickly learn to adopt such a mindset from their
superiors, as sociologist Arnold Arluke explains:
message - almost a warning - that newcomers got was that it was
controversial or risky to admit to having ethical concerns, because
to do so was tantamount to admitting that there really was something
morally wrong with animal experimentation, thereby giving
"ammunition to the enemy."
Animal researchers' ethical
defense of the practice has been superficial and self-serving.
Usually, they simply point to supposed human benefits and argue that
the ends justify the means. Often, they add that nonhuman animals
are "inferior," lacking certain attributes compared to humans, such
as intelligence, family structure, social bonding, communication
skills, and altruism. However, numerous nonhuman animals - among
them rats, pigs, dogs, monkeys, and great apes - reason and/or
display altruism. There is accumulating evidence that many animals
experience the same range of emotions as humans. Chimpanzees and
gorillas can be taught human sign language, and sign with one
another even without humans present.
The general public,
which cares about animal welfare, has been led to believe that
animals rarely suffer in laboratories. Animal researchers often cite
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics (derived from
researchers themselves) that only 6 to 8 percent of animals used in
vivisection experience pain unrelieved by anesthesia or analgesia.
Evidence indicates, however, that many animal researchers
fail to acknowledge - or even perceive - animal pain and suffering.
For example, sociologist Mary Phillips observed animal researchers
kill rats in acute toxicity tests, induce cancer in rodents, subject
animals to major surgery with no post-operative analgesia, and
perform numerous other painful procedures without administering
anesthesia or analgesia to the animals. Nevertheless, in their
annual reports to the USDA, none of the researchers acknowledged
that any animals had experienced unrelieved pain or distress.
Phillips reported, "Over and over, researchers assured me that in
their laboratories, animals were never hurt...'Pain' meant the acute
pain of surgery on conscious animals, and almost nothing
else...[When I asked] about psychological or emotional suffering,
many researchers were at a loss to answer."
Specifics which might come up:
Diabetes: Human studies by Cawley,
Bright and Bouchardat in the 18th and 19th centuries first revealed
the importance of pancreatic damage in diabetes. This predates the
dog studies by Banting and Best by over a century. Human studies by
Paul Langerhans in 1869 led to the discovery of insulin-producing
islet cells. Although cows and pigs were once the primary sources
for insulin to treat people with diabetes we are not bound to the
methods of the past. Human insulin can now be duplicated in vitro
and is the product of choice for insulin dependant people with
Polio: Studies on monkeys led to
gross misconceptions that delayed the fight against poliomyelitis,
according to a statement made to Congress by Dr. Albert Sabin, the
inventor of the oral polio vaccine. The erroneous conclusion that
the polio virus infects through the monkey nervous system
contradicted previous human studies which demonstrated that the
gastrointestinal system was the primary route of infection. This
resulted in misdirected preventive measures and delayed the
development of a vaccine.
What kinds of alternatives
are there? An animal alternative falls into one of three
categories: replacement of an animal method; reduction in the number
of animals used; or refinement of the experimental design and
methods to reduce pain and distress to animals. It is important to
understand that a procedure that uses animals can still be
considered an alternative by the scientific community.
Animals Used in Product Testing
Eye Irritancy Tests: In these
tests, a liquid, flake, granule, or powdered substance is dropped
into the eyes of animals, usually rabbits. The animals are often
immobilized in stocks from which only their heads protrude. They
usually receive no anesthesia during the tests.
placing the substance in the rabbits' eyes, laboratory technicians
record the damage to the eye tissue at specific intervals over an
average period of 72 hours, with tests sometimes lasting 7 to 18
days. Reactions to the substances include swollen eyelids, inflamed
irises, ulceration, bleeding, massive deterioration, and blindness.
During the tests, the rabbits' eyelids are held open with clips.
Many animals have broken their necks or backs while struggling to
The results of eye irritancy tests are questionable,
as they vary from laboratory to laboratory and even from rabbit to
rabbit, as well as between species.
Tests: Acute toxicity tests, commonly called lethal dose or
poisoning tests, determine the amount of a substance that will kill
a percentage, even up to 100 percent, of a group of test animals. In
these tests, a substance is forced by tube into the animals'
stomachs or through holes cut into their throats. It may also be
injected under the skin, into a vein, or into the lining of the
abdomen; mixed into lab chow; inhaled through a gas mask; or
introduced into the eyes, rectum, or vagina. Experimenters observe
the animals' reactions, which can include convulsions, labored
breathing, diarrhea, constipation, emaciation, skin eruptions,
abnormal posture, and bleeding from the eyes, nose, or mouth.
The widely used lethal dose 50 (LD50) test was developed in
1927. The LD50 testing period continues until at least 50 percent of
the animals die, usually in two to four weeks.
irritancy tests, lethal dose tests are unreliable at best. Says
Microbiological Associates' Rodger D. Curren, researchers looking
for non-animal alternatives must prove that these in vitro models
perform "at least as well as animal tests. But as we conduct these
validation exercises, it's become more apparent that the animal
tests themselves are highly variable." The European Center for the
Validation of Alternative Methods' Dr. Michael Ball puts it more
bluntly: "The scientific basis" for animal safety tests is "weak."
Is product testing on animals required by law?
No. Unlike drugs, there is no law which requires animal testing for
cosmetics and household products. The Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) requires only that each ingredient in a cosmetics product be
"adequately substantiated for safety" prior to marketing or that the
product carry a warning label indicating that its safety has not
been determined. The FDA does not have the authority to require any
particular product test. Likewise, household products, which are
regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) the
agency that administers the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA)
do not have to be tested on animals. A summary of the CPSC's
animal-testing policy states, "[I]t is important to keep in mind
that neither the FHSA nor the Commission's regulations require any
firm to perform animal tests. The statute and its implementing
regulations only require that a product be labeled to reflect the
hazards associated with that product."
Testing methods are determined by manufacturers. The very
unreliability of animal tests may make them appealing to some
companies, since these tests allow manufacturers to control the
variables and put virtually any product on the market. Companies can
also use the fact that their products were tested on animals in
attempts to defend themselves against consumer lawsuits.
Alternatives to Animal Tests
than 500 manufacturers of cosmetics and household products that have
shunned animal tests. These companies take advantage of the many
technologies that are better than antiquated animal tests, including
cell cultures, tissue cultures, corneas from eye banks, and
sophisticated computer and mathematical models. Companies can also
formulate products using ingredients already determined to be safe
by the FDA. Most cruelty-free companies use a combination of methods
to ensure safety, such as maintaining extensive databases of
ingredient and formula information and employing in vitro (test
tube) tests and human clinical studies.
Product Testing Anecdote :
For seven years, Tom's
of Maine petitioned the American Dental Association (ADA) to grant
its seal of approval to Tom's of Maine toothpastes. Other toothpaste
companies unquestioningly conducted lethal tests on rats in order to
be eligible for the ADA seal (one example: researchers brush rats'
teeth for more than a month, then kill the animals and examine their
teeth under a microscope). Tom's of Maine worked with researchers to
develop fluoride tests that could safely be conducted on human
volunteers. The ADA accepted the results of these tests and granted
its seal to several of the company's toothpastes in 1995. The
groundbreaking effort by Tom's of Maine to find a humane alternative
to cruel but accepted testing practices sets a precedent that other
manufacturers can follow.
The Press reported in December 1995 that
"...two-thirds of 1,004 Americans polled agree with a basic tenet of
the animal rights movement: An animal's right to live free of
suffering should be just as important as a person's right to live
free of suffering."
A survey by the American Medical
Association found that 75 percent of Americans are against using
animals to test cosmetics.
Furthermore, a national,
telephone survey conducted in 2003 of 1,505 non-elderly adults ages
18-64 with permanent physical and/or mental disabilities found that
when asked to choose the most important disability-related priority
for the government to address, 41% said improving prescription drug
coverage; 26% said helping people work and keep their disability
benefits; 14% said making it easier for people to apply for
benefits; 11% said helping with the cost of home care, personal
assistance and equipment; and 5% said improving transportation
services. No mention of more animal experimentation was given.
Animals Used in Education
the practice of cutting up animals in classroom exercises. It is a
common exercise in biology, anatomy, and physiology classes. Three
to six million frogs and thousands of mice, rats, rabbits, pigs,
cats, dogs, and other animals are dissected annually.
Where do animals for dissection come from?
Frogs and other small animals area often bred by animal
supply houses. Frogs are also captured in the wild, which causes
serious environmental problems. In Bangladesh, the mass exportation
of frogs for food and experiments has resulted in an overpopulation
of crop-damaging insects that the frogs once controlled. Cats and
dogs can be taken from pounds and shelters, or rounded up or trapped
by dealers and bunchers (see pet theft section).
animals used for dissection suffer? Animals bred or
captured for dissection can suffer from the trauma of confinement,
inadequate food and care, crude transport, and inhumane killing
methods. Live frogs are not always accurately "pithed" (their spinal
cords severed), so they are sometimes cut open while still
Is dissection a necessary or educational
exercise? Dissection is not only unnecessary, it runs the
risk of desensitizing students to the suffering of others and
teaches them that animals can be used and discarded without respect
for their lives. In Great Britain, dissection is being phased out of
school curricula, and the right of students not to dissect is being
established and upheld in the United States as well (including
California). By using only humane teaching methods, instructors can
teach science and ethics simultaneously.
the alternatives to dissection?
Exciting computer programs
(where a student can not only take an animal apart, but also put
them back together further enforcing the learning process),
realistic or larger-than-life models, films, and diagrams are all
effective ways to teach anatomy and physiology without harming
animals. "Visifrog," a wonderful computer simulation of a frog
dissection, teaches the structure and function of various organs.
Students who object to dissection may call IDA at 415-388-9641 for
advice or information.