By: Driscoll, Sally, Finley, Laura, Points of View: Animal Experimentation, 2015

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Animal Experimentation: An Overview.

By: Driscoll, Sally, Finley, Laura, Points of View: Animal Experimentation, 2015

Animal experimentation has been instrumental in many medical and pharmaceutical advances that have benefited humans. While most Americans value these achievements, new understandings about the nature of animals have caused many people to reconsider the ethics of using animals for human gain, and so the debate over animal experimentation is primarily a philosophical one. The resulting increase in public awareness has resulted in some legislation, and animal rights organizations continue to fight for additional changes to policies. Concern about the use of animal experimentation for cosmetics and other personal care items has increased the pressure from animal rights groups.

In the United States, all pharmaceuticals, food additives, and garden chemicals must first be tested on animals before they can be tested on humans. One controversial test commonly employed is the LD50, which measures toxicity. Products that are not required by law to be tested include household items, cosmetics, and personal care products, although the controversial Draize test on rabbits is commonly used in these industries to measure eye irritation.

Approximately 95 percent of the millions of animals used in experiments are mice and rats, with the remaining 5 percent comprised mostly of dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, birds, and non-human primates (chimpanzees, baboons, monkeys, and macaques). In addition to research conducted by professionals and scholars, millions of schoolchildren dissect frogs, earthworms, and other animals in biology classes.

Those who support animal rights and/or animal welfare, including members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and the National Anti-Vivisection Society, are responsible for helping to raise awareness of animal suffering and unnecessary animal testing. As a result, scientists now employ the "3Rs" in their research: replace, reduce, refine. In addition, about two-thirds of the medical schools in the United States have discontinued the use of animals for training purposes.

Supporters of animal rights oppose all animal experimentation and believe that animals should be entitled to the same respect for life and liberty provided to humans. They accuse scientists of "speciesism," a lack of compassion, and of being manipulated by corporate greed. Further, they maintain there are legitimate alternatives to using animal experimentation, and that human comparisons are necessary to truly understand the root causes of human diseases and to develop effective responses. In fact, critics assert that some animal testing has actually held back advancements in understanding of diseases, such as polio and lung cancer. In response, members of the Coalition for Animals and Animal Research, National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), National Research Council, and Americans for Medical Progress tend to view animal rights activists as being anti-scientific and hostile toward humans.

A 2003 Gallup poll determined that most Americans support the use of animals in research that advances medical knowledge, but favor policies that require humane treatment and limit pain and suffering. In other words, most Americans support "animal welfare" protections, but only 25 percent support "animal rights."

Understanding the Discussion

Animal Testing: While this term is often interchangeable with "animal experimentation," it is usually used to refer to research conducted on animals by the cosmetic, household products, and personal care industries, for which testing is not mandated by the federal government.

Animal Welfare Act (AWA): Federal legislation enacted in 1966 and amended five times that regulates the sale and treatment of non- human primates, dogs, cats, and other animals used in research. A1985 amendment established an information service to identify potential duplicate, unnecessary experiments.

Choice-in-Dissection Laws: Often referred to as "student choice" laws, these permit students to opt out of K-12 lessons that include dissection and other activities that are harmful to animals. As of 2006, nine states have choice-in-dissection laws and other states are currently debating the issue.

Dissection: The cutting up of non-living organs, tissue, or bodies for scientific or medical purposes.

Draize Test: A laboratory test in which a cosmetic or drug is dropped into a rabbit's eyes, which are held open with clips, to determine the level of irritation. Named after John Henry Draize, a twentieth century pharmacologist with the United States Food and Drug Administration.

LD50 Test: A toxicity test used in animal testing that is performed until 50 percent of the animals are dead.

Speciesism: A term coined by Richard Ryder in 1973 that refers to humans discriminating against one or more animal species. Used by animal rights activists to refer to the attitude that humans are superior to all other animals.

Vivisection: The cutting-up or other invasion of a live animal for scientific or medical purposes.


A curiosity about the mechanics of life, the belief that animals do not experience pain, and the belief that humans have dominion over all other animals provided the foundation for centuries of animal experimentation. Beginning in ancient Rome and Greece, vivisection was a routine method of experimentation. William Harvey, the eighteenth century English physician who discovered the principle of circulation, was known for his matter-of- fact approach to vivisection, which he frequently conducted on rabbits, pigs, and other animals to demonstrate his discovery.

In the late eighteenth century, English philosopher Jeremy Bentham initiated public debate over animal experimentation and generated a following of animal rights activists. Bentham's remark in reference to animals that "The question is not, 'Can they reason?' nor 'Can they talk?' but rather, 'Can they suffer?'" is often cited by proponents of animal rights.

After several decades of philosophical debate, in 1824 animal rights activists founded the Vivisection Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in England. In 1875, Frances Power Cobb founded the Victoria Street Society for the Protection of Animals (SPCA).

Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" (1859) and "The Descent of Man" (1871) added fuel to the support for animal welfare laws. In 1876, the English parliament passed the Cruelty to Animals Act. Americans formed the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in 1866, the American Humane Society in 1877, and the American Anti-Vivisection Society in 1883.

The animal welfare movement gained momentum during the twentieth century, although significant medical advances set the movement back. Some of the most notable achievements include the development of polio, smallpox, and hepatitis vaccines that were first tested on monkeys, and the development of penicillin, which was first tested on mice.

The United States passed the first Animal Welfare Act in 1966. The legislation regulated the sale, transportation, and handling of many animals used in research and the registration of research centers.

The 1970s marked the beginning of a shift in attitudes about experimentation on animals, especially primates. Behavioral researchers had proved that primates had high intelligence levels, social skills, and a range of emotions, while other scientists had identified genetic similarities between humans and other primates.

In 1975, Peter Singer, an Australian philosopher who became professor of bioethics at Princeton University, wrote "Animal Liberation," the "bible" of the contemporary animal rights movement. Singer promoted the idea of speciesism and defended animals as being as worthy as humans regardless of their intelligence and abilities.

In 1980, Alex Pacheco and Ingrid Newkirk founded PETA. A year later, the organization was responsible for the removal of monkeys from the Institute of Behavioral Research, a National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded laboratory in Silver Springs, Maryland. The head researcher was convicted of providing inadequate care, and the case was well-publicized.

Another case that received a great deal of media attention involved 150 brain-damaged baboons at the University of Pennsylvania's Head Injury Clinic in 1983. The Animal Liberation Front, a group that uses threats, sabotage, and other illegal means to draw attention to animal cruelty, claimed responsibility for a raid at the clinic, and worked with PETA to publicize the situation.

During the 1980s and 1990s, PETA and other organizations brought awareness to the use of animal testing in the cosmetics and personal care industries. In response to negative publicity, many companies sought out alternatives to animal testing. Products developed without animal testing now carry the symbol of a rabbit with a line drawn through it.

PETA and other groups also influenced the design of computer simulations and models that can be used in lieu of dissecting frogs in biology classes, and influenced choice-in-dissection laws that have been enacted by school districts and states.

Animal Experimentation Today

Currently, it is estimated that between 50 and 100 million vertebrate animals worldwide undergo experimentation each year. Far greater numbers of invertebrates are used, for example, flies and worms. Generally, these animals are euthanized after the experiment.

As a result of illegal acts committed by Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty and Animal Liberation Front, the United States House of Representatives passed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act in 2006. If the bill becomes law, it will give the United States Department of Justice additional power to investigate and prosecute "eco-terror" cases.

In 2005, the first chimpanzees that had been retired from research were moved into Chimp Haven in Shreveport, Louisiana. Chimp Haven is the first sanctuary in the country built under the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance, and Protection (CHIMP) Act that President Bill Clinton signed into law in 2000. The United States currently has seven facilities dedicated to research on chimps, with more than 1,000 of these primates currently employed in experiments. Animal rights organizations have been pushing for the United States and all countries to join Sweden and New Zealand in banning the use of chimps in research. Opposition groups continue to be active, advocating for epidemiological studies and research on human subjects as well as computerized models as viable alternatives.

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