|According to the U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services, animal
research has helped extend our life
expectancy by 20.8 years.
In recent years, the debate surrounding the use of animals to serve human needs has intensified. Most controversial of all is the issue of animal use in biomedical and behavioral research and in the testing of commercial products.
A few years ago, Congress passed a series of amendments to the Federal Animal Welfare Act, a body of laws covering animal care in laboratories and other facilities. These amendments have become known as the three R's: Reduction in the number of animals needed for research; Refinement
of techniques that might cause stress or suffering; Replacement
of live animals with simulations or cell cultures whenever possible. As a result, the total number of animals used each year in research and in testing of commercial products has declined. Developments in cellular and molecular biology also have contributed to a decreased use of animals for research and testing. The animal rights movement, composed largely of vocal antivivisectionists, has created an awareness of the needs of animals used in research and has stimulated researchers to discover cheaper, more efficient, and more humane alternatives.
However, computers and culturing of cells can simulate the effects on organismal systems of, for instance, drugs, only when the basic principles involved are well known. When the principles themselves are being scrutinized and tested, computer modeling is not sufficient. A recent report by the National Research Council concedes that although the search for alternatives to the use of animals in research and testing will continue, “the chance that alternatives will completely replace animals in the foreseeable future is nil.” Realistic immediate goals, however, are reduction in number of animals used, replacement of mammals with other vertebrates, and refinement of experimental procedures to reduce discomfort of the animals being tested.
Medical and veterinary progress depends on research using animals. Every drug and every vaccine developed to improve the human condition has been tested first on animals. Research using animals has enabled medical science to eliminate smallpox and polio, and to immunize against diseases previously common and often deadly, including diphtheria, mumps, and rubella. It also has helped to create treatments for cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and manic-depressive psychoses, and to develop surgical procedures including heart surgery, blood transfusions, and cataract removal. AIDS research is wholly dependent on studies using animals. The similarity of simian AIDS, identified in rhesus monkeys, to human AIDS has permitted the disease in monkeys to serve as a model for the human disease. Recent work indicates that cats, too, may prove to be useful models for the development of an AIDS vaccine. Skin grafting experiments, first done with cattle and later with other animals, opened a new era in immunological research with vast ramifications for treatment of disease in humans and other animals.
Research using animals also has benefited other animals
through the development of veterinary cures. The vaccines for feline leukemia and canine parvovirus were first introduced to other cats and dogs. Many other vaccinations for serious diseases of animals were developed through research on animals: for example, rabies, distemper, anthrax, hepatitis, and tetanus. No endangered species is used in general research (except to protect that species from total extinction). Thus, research using animals has provided enormous benefits to humans and other animals. Still, much remains to be learned about treatment of diseases such as cancer, AIDS, diabetes, and heart disease, and research with animals will be required for this purpose.
Despite the remarkable benefits produced by research on animals, advocates of animal rights often present an inaccurate and emotionally distorted picture of this research. The ultimate goal of most animal rights activists, who have focused specifically on the use of animals in science rather than on the treatment of animals in all contexts, remains the total abolition of all forms of research using animals. The scientific community is deeply concerned about the impact of these attacks on the ability of scientists to conduct important experiments that will benefit people and animals. They argue that if we are justified to use animals for food and fiber and as pets, we are justified in experimentation to benefit human welfare when these studies are conducted humanely and ethically.
The Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International supports the use of animals to advance medicine and science when nonanimal alternatives are not available and when animals are treated in an ethical and humane way. Accreditation by this organization allows research institutions to demonstrate excellence in their standards of animal care. Nearly all of the major institutions receiving funding from the National Institutes of Health have sought and received this accreditation. See the web site at http://www.aaalac.org
for more information on accreditation of laboratory animal care.
References on Animal Rights Controversy
Commission on Life Sciences, National Research Council. 1988. Use of laboratory animals in biomedical and behavioral research. Washington, D.C., National Academy Press. Statement of national policy on guidelines for the use of animals in biomedical research. Includes a section on the benefits derived from the use of animals
Goldberg, A. M., and J. M. Frazier. 1989. Alternatives to animals in toxicity testing. Sci. Am. 261:24–30 (Aug.). Describes alternatives that are being developed for the costly and timeconsuming use of animals in the testing of thousands of chemicals that each year must be evaluated for potential toxicity to humans.
Pringle, L. 1989. The animal rights controversy. San Diego, California, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers. Although no one writing about the animal rights movement can honestly claim to be totally objective and impartial on such an emotionally charged issue, this book comes as close as any to presenting a balanced treatment.
Rowan, A. N. 1984. Of mice, models, and men: a critical evaluation of animal research. Albany, New York, State University of New York Press. Good review of the issues. The Reproductive Process deals with the use of animals in education, and notes that our educational system provides little help in resolving the contradiction of teaching kindness to animals while using animals in experimentation in biology classes.
Sperling, S. 1988. Animal liberators: research and morality. Berkeley, University of California Press. Thoughtful and carefully researched study of the animal rights movement, its ideological roots, and the passionate idealism of animal rights activists.