The use of any living organism by humans creates numerous ethical problems. However, animal testing results in the most significant implications. For centuries, biological and medical research has involved experiments on animals. As a result, each year, millions of animals are dying in the course of medical testing. In particular, advocates of animal rights argue that the number of animals dying in the laboratories exceeds 115 million, which accounts for a half of the U.S.A. population. Moreover, there are reasons to believe that the actual figures are higher as it is impossible to track down and document all the lethal cases of animal testing. The controversy surrounding the question why and how the animals are used in the laboratories does not subside, often taking a sharp and dramatic turn. Currently, there are two points of view on this problem, and, therefore, two different solutions. The first one is to ban such experiments, since they impose pain and sufferings on animals, and often lead to their deaths, which is immoral. Another solution is to allow the experimentation in compliance with the principles of humane treatment of animals, as it prompts further progress in science and human welfare. However, due to the complicated nature of the problem of animal testing (the compliance with animal rights versus the well-being of humankind), there is no one clear solution. Therefore, the following paper presents two alternative perspectives on this issue, discussing the point of view of the animal rights proponents versus medical researchers, in order to define whether the use animals in medical research is advocated.
Perspective 1: Animal Rights Proponents
Prior to considering the first perspective, it is necessary to understand the meaning of the concept of animal rights. Of course, animals care about each other by themselves, and this process has nothing to do with rights. People coined the very term right and, therefore, it is not valid for any other living creatures. Nevertheless, advocates still raise the problem of animal rights. The reasoning is that animal rights actually establish boundaries for people. Without setting legal limits on people, which identify an acceptable way of treating animals, it is impossible to bring those who violate the rules to responsibility. At the same time, the way animals are treated and their rights, which are recognized by people, refer to the field of ethics. In particular, according to Albert Schweitzer, such ethics should be based on the principle of compassion. No rationale can convince enough people that animals have rights, even if they agree that other living organisms have inner dignity. Without compassion, no legal action can be established. At the same time, the concept of animal rights can be interpreted quite differently. Some people want to keep the right to kill animals with the purpose of consumption or sports, while others strip themselves of the right to kill even the smallest animal.
Since the concept of animal rights has been defined, it is possible to review the problem of medical experiments on animals from the point of view of animal rights proponents. First, the selection of animal species for carrying out medical experiments depends on such factors as cost, ease of cultivation and maintenance, and size. As a result, rodents have become the most popular laboratory animals used in about half of all the experiments. In addition, the experiments on rats and mice result in a far less resistance from the community than those on cats and dogs that many people favor.
However, as claimed by the advocates of animal rights, the tests carried out on rodents lack serious scientific background. In particular, their reaction to various substances and elements is significantly different from humans. For example, Aspirin is an analgesic for humans while causing birth defects in mice and rats. People that got burned are better kept at a higher temperature than usual, on the other hand, this treatment is dangerous for the burned rats. Moreover, the types of cancer that rodents suffer from are very different from those that humans experience. At the same time, the situation is not much better with cats, dogs, monkeys, and any other laboratory animals. Testing drugs on animals does not provide reliable data on their effects on people but helps the pharmaceutical companies to receive permission from the authorities to sell their products. Sometimes, it leads to the appearance of dangerous drugs with unpredictable effects in the market.
In this regard, the sensational story of thalidomide is particularly indicative. Thalidomide is a drug, the intake of which has resulted in the birth of more than ten thousand children with defects during the 1960s. About a half of them died in infancy. Thalidomide was conceived as a remedy for cramps, since animal experiments had shown that the drug did not have any negative effects. Since an overdose of the drug did not kill mice, scientists believed it was harmless. Later, when it was tested on humans, it turned out that thalidomide was a perfect sleep-inducing drug. Most importantly, it was safe, as its overdose did not result in death on the contrary to other sleeping pills. However, in the case with mice, thalidomide had no sedative effect. Thus, to prove its efficiency and obtain a license in Germany, the researchers had to build a special cell, in which mice moved slowly. Thalidomide was sold in 46 countries of Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America. However, only after five years, it was revealed that between the 20th and 36th weeks of pregnancy, the intake of the drug might cause fetal defects.
During the XX century, medical experiments on animals have resulted in more than a hundred of dangerous drugs appearing in the market. It is difficult to imagine how many effective drugs and methods of treatment came late or never saw the light due to such experiments. For example, the development of one of the types of heart surgery was covered for many years because it did not work for dogs. For years, scientists have argued about whether the asbestos can cause cancer, since such effect was not noticed in animals.
In general, the experiments on animals in the name of science are defended by the fact that people supposedly have to choose between their loved ones and anonymous rats to become test subjects. However, from the perspective of the proponents of animal rights, people have to choose between good and bad science and recognize that science that is based on animal testing is a bad one. Indeed, the analysis of the achievements of the modern medicine has shown that its progress is associated with clinical observations of patients rather than with experiments on animals. For example, the war against cancer has started in 1971 but it is still not successful, although the cost of the experiments using animals exceeds one billion dollars per year. The development of a single drug requires significant financial resources, which can rather be spent on persuading people to lead a healthy lifestyle. At the same time, about 90% of the drugs are rejected at the stage of early clinical trials, rendering medical experiments on animals to be meaningless.
Nowadays, there are many alternatives to animal experiments, including in vitro tests, the use of unicellular organisms, bacteria, physic and chemical models, cell cultures, and computer models. In particular, these methods are considered to be cheap and efficient, allowing the identification of the toxicity of the test drugs on a deeper level, namely cellular or sub-cellular.
Perspective 2: Medical Researchers
However, from the point of view of medical researchers, it is too early to drop the use of animals as test objects. In the second half of the XX century, scientists have come to the unanimous recognition of the need to conduct the research on experimental animals. At the same time, it is stressed out that certain ethical requirements have to be respected during this process. These requirements have become a prerequisite for carrying out the experiments on animals throughout the world. These requirements included such conditions as animals should not suffer from pain, the conditions for detention should be comfortable, and the feasibility of experiments had to be justified. The results of experiments, which cause unnecessary suffering of animals, cannot be presented in any scientific journals or at scientific conferences and congresses. For example, the majority of peer-reviewed journals present the following requirements to the scientists that want to publish their articles. First, when working with live animals, the researchers are not allowed to cause them pain or discomfort beyond the absolute inevitability. In case of painful procedures, simple immobilization of the animal without the use of appropriate methods of pain relief is completely unacceptable. A necessary condition for the release of the results of research is a detailed description of procedures used for anesthesia and surgery. The authors must prove that they have taken all appropriate measures in order not to cause the unnecessary suffering to the animals.
Moreover, at the beginning of 1985, the Council of International Organizations of Medical Sciences (CIOMS) published a set of guidelines, which contain international recommendations for biomedical research when using animals as test objects. This code of ethics formulates a number of theoretical principles and ethical rules that may be adopted as a basis for the development of regulatory measures concerning the use of animals for biomedical research. Moreover, both scientists and the public animal protection groups consider it acceptable. In general, the guidelines are based on the following provisions:
- The use of animals for scientific purposes is not desirable;
- If possible, it is required to use research methods that do not require the use of animals;
- At the current level of knowledge, the use of animals as test objects is inevitable;
- The moral duty of scientists is to treat experimental animals humanely, i.e. not to cause them pain and discomfort if possible, and constantly strive to find new ways to achieve the same result without involving live animals.
The researcher should remember that he/she holds the responsibility for the general condition of the experimental animals. They must be kept in good conditions, receive enough food, and be serviced by qualified personnel.
Of course, biomedical research that is based solely on the results of computer simulation seems to be an ideal alternative to animal testing. However, according to scientists, it is a very distant prospect. Even if such approach is implemented in the future, it will rely on the extensive knowledge that was primarily obtained in the course of conducting experiments on laboratory animals.
To create an efficient way of treatment, humans must understand their own material nature. It is a task of biology and medicine. Humanity, in its present form, largely owes its existence to these sciences. Biologists have studied the laws of nature while physicians have used the acquired knowledge to create drugs that are more effective and efficient methods of medical treatment. These combined efforts have saved many human lives. The lives of millions, especially those living under the conditions of extreme density in urban areas, are dependent on a constant medical care. Medical advances attribute to significant reduction in mortality and epidemics, as well as an increase in life expectancy, which has nearly doubled over the past 150 years.
At the same time, pathogens evolve very quickly, so during the times of intensive use of antibiotics, certain forms of microorganisms develop resistance to them. As a result, there are fewer efficient antibiotics available to the physicians since the old, proven medications are no longer active. In case if the doctor uses the time-tested antibiotics, the inflammation of the appendix and peritonitis, or inflammation of the lungs can cause the patient to die. Moreover, nowadays, children have become one of the main groups at risk of tuberculosis. However, tubercle bacillus has lost sensitivity to isoniazid, which has been considered the most efficient drug to fight it. Staphylococci also acquire resistance to one antibiotic after another. According to the scientists, microorganisms are not as primitive as they have been considered half a century ago. Besides the fact that pathogens acquire resistance to certain chemical compounds remarkably quickly, they are able to create a universal system of protection from large groups of potential antibiotics (multidrug resistance).
The creation of new antibiotics requires their validation through the testing on laboratory animals, and hence the inevitability of deaths among them in case the new test drug is ineffective. In case such tests are rejected, and, thus, the creation of new ways to combat the pathogens is stopped, they will have a stronger impact on the humankind, as in ancient times. As a result, the majority of people living on the Earth can become victims of various epidemics.
At the same time, the alternative methods proposed by the animal rights activists are far from being efficient. In particular, the use of cell cultures in vitro to test the drugs is so expensive that the transition to it will require a tremendous reduction in the number of studies. As a result, most of the seriously ill people may die, since scientists will not be able to develop the required medication. Moreover, the transition to such method of research does not solve the ethical problem, as any cell culture requires a growth medium, the main components of which are of animal origin. Typically, cell cultures require large amounts of expensive fetal bovine serum. The cheaper serums, namely the ones retrieved from the newborn calves, and especially adult animals, are suitable for the cultivation of only a few cell types. The physiology of the cells in culture and in vivo is not identical. Various other cell types in the vicinity, extracellular matrix molecules, signaling molecules secreted by the surrounding cells, specific mechanical effects, and many other factors affect cell physiology in vivo. Obviously, such a complex regulation cannot be recreated in the cell culture. It is also impossible to simulate cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases, diabetes, cancer, as well as other diseases of complex etiology and the spontaneous abortions in women by using cell cultures.
Finally, the allegations of the defenders of animal rights concerning the fact that animals are radically different from humans and, therefore, cannot serve as model objects, are far from being true. Scientists are already well aware of the similarities and differences between the physiology of each species of laboratory animals and humans. Most effects of drugs are consistently reproduced in mice while some, especially those associated with the impact on the psyche, can be detected only at the last stage of testing, when the drug is tested on humans. Scientists are doing everything what depends on them to detect the negative effects at the earliest possible stages of testing, namely before they begin to test the drug on animals.
The problem of animal testing is perhaps one of the most controversial issues of the modern science. Scientists are experimenting with animals for the various purposes, including the research of body functioning, development of potential methods of treatment of human diseases, as well as checking the safety and quality of drugs. The supporters of experiments on animals, namely the medical researchers, point to the enormous progress in medicine that has been made due to the animal testing, such as an increased life expectancy. The opponents of such experiments, namely the advocates of animal rights, consider this method cruel and senseless, as the obtained results are not always applicable to humans.
Both sides offer strong arguments to justify their position. However, by analyzing the issue from the two opposite points of view, it is possible to make a conclusion. Animals should be used for medical research, at least for now. Of course, as it was mentioned before, one of the primary principles of such research is the undesirability to use animals for scientific purposes. However, this rather pragmatic statement can be justified by the following facts. First, currently, the very concept of animal rights is rather unclear and cannot be viewed unambiguously. Thus, it is quite difficult to impose legal limitations on the medical researchers and pharmaceutical companies and make them stop using animals as test subjects. At the same time, the current level of knowledge and technology does not allow shifting to the alternative methods of research, such as the use of cell cultures and computer modeling. Moreover, their implementation will not eliminate the existing ethical issues as some of the alternative methods still depend on the use of animals for scientific purposes (e.g. the acquisition of fetal bovine serum). In turn, the so-called vicious circle is formed, which is not conducive in solving the problem. Finally, the limitations on the experiments involving animals that were established by CIOMS are primarily based on the principle of compassion, meaning that animal rights (if it is possible to view them as such) are being respected. As a result, the use of animals as test objects will be inevitable for the time being, meaning that its ban will not have any positive effects on the development of medical science, and, thus, the process of finding the alternative methods for research will eventually solve the discussed issue.