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The Ethics of Using Animals in Biomedical Research

More than 115 million animals are used in laboratory research a year, and many of these animals are subjected to horrible cruelty such as toxicity testing, genetic manipulation, harsh behavioral experiments, and more. However, without these animals, many of our scientific knowledge would never have been discovered, and the use of animals in biomedical research has saved millions of lives. Is it ethical for scientists to use animals in their research? Are there any alternatives to animal testing?

Animals are often subjected to experiments to test for drug toxicity and observe symptoms of a disease. Image Source

Why are animals used in biomedical research?

Some of the animals most commonly used for biomedical research include mice, rats, birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, farm animals, dogs, primates, and cats. Because mice share 98% of their DNA with us and can reproduce up to 10 times a year, mice and rats make up around 90% of all animals used for research.

They can also get many of the same diseases as us, such as cancer and diabetes, and since they have relatively short lifespan, we can study how the disease acts and progresses.

Why do we need animal testing?

Almost all advancements in the field of biomedical research involved animal testing, from vaccines to surgeries, and most of us living today have probably benefited from animal testing in some way.

Additionally, in 1938, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act was passed, requiring that all food, drugs, medical devices, and cosmetics must go through animal toxicity testing. This law still exists today, as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates that all drugs, with some exceptions, must go through an animal testing phase to prove that it is safe and effective before it can be tested on humans.

To illustrate, during the Preclinical Research stage, the drug is tested for dosage and toxicity levels using in-vitro or animal models. This stage is designed to screen for possible negative effects on humans, and with the use of animal models, it has reduced the number of people harmed by clinical trials.

In fact, only about 12% of drugs make it past the Preclinical Research phase, so animal testing can help eliminate some of the potentially dangerous drugs. Without animal testing, scientists would not be able to determine the safe dosage and the pharmacokinetics, the movement and reactions of a drug within a body, of a drug in a complicated multi-celled organism.

Can computers or microorganisms replace animal testing?

In addition, animal models are crucial in helping us develop cures for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, spinal cord injuries, and more. The effects of the disease can be studied in the animals, and this also provides insight into treatments that could be developed with the help of animal testing in biomedical research.

While some may say that computer models or in-vitro testing are more ethical alternative to animal testing, computer models won’t work if we don’t understand biological systems, and our knowledge with computer models simply isn’t enough to model the effect of a disease if we can’t study animals to understand their biology.

Juan Carlos Marvizon, a PhD at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA describes it as, “The human genome contains 20,000 to 25,000 genes, and we still don’t know what most of them do. A computer, no matter how powerful, is not going to tell us… A computer cannot guess what goes on inside the body, just like it cannot guess the content of a book that it has not read.”

“The human genome contains 20,000 to 25,000 genes, and we still don’t know what most of them do. A computer, no matter how powerful, is not going to tell us… A computer cannot guess what goes on inside the body, just like it cannot guess the content of a book that it has not read.”

Juan Carlos Marvizon, PhD at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

Also, microorganisms and other tissue cultures can’t show the effect of a disease or treatment in an organism with a complex organ system, so animals are still critical for understanding the biology of living things, particularly multicellular organisms.

Some recent developments involving animal testing in biomedical research include the study of Alzheimer’s Disease using mouse models, although scientists have not yet developed a therapeutic treatment for the disease. There’s no doubt that animal research has been crucial for human health and medicine, but what about the animals that have no voice in the debate?

Animals shouldn’t be stripped of their right to respectful treatment because they cannot vocalize their opinions

Throughout American history, fair representation and voicing our opinion has been fundamental to the society we know of today. However, not everyone has a voice. While informed consent is critical in doing experimental treatments in humans, animals do not have a choice when participating in experiments, even though many of these experiments have significant effects on their health.

Animals shouldn’t be stripped of their right to respectful treatment only because they are unable to vocalize their opinions, but yet, we take away their right to consent, without any thought about the impact on the animals’ lives.

According to Tom Regan, a philosophy professor at North Carolina State University, “Animal [experimentation] is morally wrong no matter how much humans may benefit because the animal’s basic right has been infringed. Risks are not morally transferable to those who do not choose to take them”. Why is it that humans have a higher moral status than animals, and therefore can use animals purely for our own gain?

“Animal [experimentation] is morally wrong no matter how much humans may benefit because the animal’s basic right has been infringed. Risks are not morally transferable to those who do not choose to take them.”

Tom Regan, philosophy professor at North Carolina Sate University
Animals such as rats are often experimented with due to their fast reproduction rates and usefulness in understanding disease. Image Source

Animals don’t benefit much from the studies either

Animals are frequently subjected to torturous experiments because it benefits humankind, and most of the animals used in research die or are euthanized after the experiments.

Most of these animals don’t benefit much from the study, because animal testing is done mainly to benefit humans rather than animals, even though occasionally, biomedical research can contribute to veterinary medicine.

Mice are perfectly capable of feeling pain, and show signs of pain like humans do. Image Source

Yet, some people believe it is more ethical to conduct experiments on animals rather than 5 day old blastocysts

Animals are perfectly capable of feeling pain, and while many people object to the use of blastocysts in embryonic stem cell research, animals can feel much more pain than five day old embryos possibly could. To illustrate, blastocysts are five to seven day old clumps of cells that have not separated into germ layers, much less developed a functioning nervous system.

Yet, many seem to believe that it is more ethical to conduct experiments on animals with functioning nervous systems and pain responses rather than clumps of human cells.

While it doesn’t mean that blastocysts should have a lower moral standing purely based on their age and development, some scientists believe that stem cell research have the possibility of reducing animal testing, and by using embryonic stem cells without a functioning nervous system, this could help prevent some animals from being subjected to painful experiments.

To summarize, in the article, Save the Animals: Stop Animal Testing, it states that, “However, many people believe that animal testing is justified because the animals are sacrificed to make products safer for human use and consumption. The problem with this reasoning is that the animals’ safety, well-being, and quality of life is generally not a consideration. Experimental animals are virtually tortured to death, and all of these tests are done in the interest of human welfare, without any thought to how the animals are treated.”

“However, many people believe that animal testing is justified because the animals are sacrificed to make products safer for human use and consumption. The problem with this reasoning is that the animals’ safety, well-being, and quality of life is generally not a consideration. Experimental animals are virtually tortured to death, and all of these tests are done in the interest of human welfare, without any thought to how the animals are treated.”

Save the Animals : Stop Animal Testing

In the end, animal testing is nearly inevitable in biomedical research

Animal testing is philosophically wrong, but scientifically needed. Without animal testing, the life-saving treatments that many of us rely on wouldn’t exist, and these treatments and discoveries have saved millions of lives. Yet, why does being human mean that our lives are more important than animals’ lives?

Even as morally wrong as animal testing may seem, if a loved one had a disease that could potentially be treated with animal testing in biomedical research, most of us would instinctively choose to sacrifice animals to save our loved ones. However, without reliable alternatives, animal testing is currently the only option we have to save humankind from disease, even though it is morally unjust.

Bibliography

About Animal Testing. (2020, May 27). Retrieved August 11, 2020, from https://www.hsi.org/news-media/about/

Animals used in biomedical research FAQ. (n.d.). Retrieved August 11, 2020, from https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/animals-used-biomedical-research-faq

Animal Research at Stanford. (n.d.). Why Animal Research? Retrieved August 11, 2020, from https://med.stanford.edu/animalresearch/why-animal-research.html

Medical Advances. (n.d.). Retrieved August 11, 2020, from https://fbresearch.org/medical-advances/

Norman, G. A. (2020). Limitations of Animal Studies for Predicting Toxicity in Clinical Trials. JACC: Basic to Translational Science, 5(4), 387-397. doi:10.1016/j.jacbts.2020.03.010

Salazar, A. M., Leisgang, A. M., Ortiz, A. A., & Kinney, J. W. (2019, August). Dementia Insights: What Do Animal Models of Alzheimer’s Disease Tell Us? Retrieved August 11, 2020, from https://practicalneurology.com/articles/2019-aug-july/dementia-insights-what-do-animal-models-ofalzheimers-disease-tell-us

Marvizon, J. C. (2020, January 07). Computer models are not replacing animal research, and probably never will. Retrieved August 11, 2020, from https://speakingofresearch.com/2020/01/07/computer-models-are-not-replacing-animal-research-and-probably-never-will/

Save the Animals: Stop Animal Testing. (n.d.). Retrieved August 11, 2020, from https://www.lonestar.edu/stopanimaltesting.htm

Foundation for Biomedical Research (Director). (2015, June 1). Why Animals Are Needed in Research [Video file]. Retrieved August 10, 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iA_FfVuTfoM

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