Sadly, much medical research into human health problems involves experiments on animals. Official estimates for animal experiments globally are around 100 million experiments each year. Cats, dogs, rabbits, mice and other animals, no different to those we have as pets, are used in experiments. Animals are force-fed harmful substances, infected with lethal viruses, subjected to brain damage, heart attacks, stokes, cancers and ultimately killed. As well as causing pain and suffering, animal experiments are unreliable because of differences between humans and animals.
The Dr Hadwen Trust is the UK's leading medical research charity that funds and promotes exclusively non-animal research techniques to replace animal experiments. The Trust is opposed to animal experiments for ethical and scientific reasons.
The ethical case against animal experiments
UK law recognises that animals used in research are capable of experiencing "pain, distress, suffering and lasting harm", but these sentient animals are unable to give their consent to participate in research. The fact that animals are used to study pain, depression, anxiety, and to test pain-killing drugs for human use, demonstrates that scientists recognise that animals are capable of suffering in many ways just like humans.
For some people the fact that animals can suffer and experience pain is sufficient reason to refrain on moral grounds from harming them. Beyond pain, there is also persuasive evidence that animals, in particular mammals and birds, have thoughts, intentions, and memories. This means they can be harmed by confinement, frustration, fear, isolation, and loss of life - experiences unavoidable for animals confined in laboratories and used in experiments.
The measurement of stress hormones, and presence of ulcers, immune suppression, abnormal behaviour and brain dysfunction in laboratory animals, provide further evidence that animals commonly used in labs do suffer pain and distress.
Some people claim that because animals do not have duties or responsibilities in the way humans do, they are not deserving of the same protection. However, some humans have no responsibilities or duties, such as babies, the mentally ill, or very infirm, yet they are not stripped of their rights in this way. Indeed, such individuals are usually considered more deserving of protection, not less.
Others argue that the potential benefit to human society justifies experiments on animals. However this argument is a slippery slope, as this reasoning would also justify experiments on a few non-consenting humans for the ultimate benefit of human society - a clearly unethical scenario.
The scientific case against animal experiments
The scientific objections to animal experiments are based on the problem of species differences and the artificiality of the diseases induced in them, meaning that results from animal experiments may be of dubious value to humans.
A major weakness of medical research on animals is the differences between species, which can make results from one type of animal inapplicable to another. Some of these variations are known and can perhaps be taken into account; but others, such as reactions to new drugs or the function of an area of the brain, are not yet discovered - in these cases, the results from animal experiments can be seriously misleading.
Pursuing a line of research on animals can produce conflicting or confusing results, of unknown relevance to human beings. This can have serious implications, at worst misleading researchers about an illness and delaying medical progress.
In medical research animals are used to model a variety of illnesses. This usually involves artificially inducing some of the symptoms of the human condition, whilst failing to replicate the underlying cause. Animal 'models' can therefore seriously mislead. Results from animal experiments all too often raise patients' hopes of an imminent cure, only to have them dashed when the promised therapy fails to work in humans.
For example, 'strokes' are induced in monkeys and rats by blocking an artery to the brain, causing brain damage. Decades of animal research have produced numerous stroke drugs that protect animals, but none of them are effective in humans.
Monkeys are injected with a toxic chemical that induces a disorder superficially similar to human Parkinson's disease, but the monkeys recover from the condition when the injections stop. The human condition remains incurable.
Dogs are widely used for research into heart disease, despite numerous differences between dog and human hearts, blood vessels and circulation. For example, high blood pressure in obese patients is associated with high insulin levels in the blood, yet in dogs high insulin levels actually lower blood pressure.
Septic shock, the leading cause of death in intensive care units, has been studied for decades in animals. Of numerous therapies found to improve survival in animal models of septic shock, none have worked in humans and even worse, some have decreased patients' survival.
Billions of pounds have been spent on trying to create animal models of AIDS with little success. Now increasingly animals are being genetically modified in attempts to model human illnesses. Even when these GM animals have an identical defective gene they do not always develop the same disease as humans, or indeed any disease at all.
We all want medical research to succeed in finding cures and treatments for human health problems. At the Dr Hadwen Trust we believe animal experiments are unacceptable and so we are finding ways to replace them. We have over 35 years' experience of funding top-quality, innovative research to advance medical progress and replace animals. We are dedicated to the principle of excellence in medical research, which can and should be pursued without animal experiments.