Head to Head: Vivisection

Should we RECOGNISE SENTIENT NON-HUMANS’ rights or is animal research crucial to progress.



Animal rights advocates face what appears to be a mammoth task. We want people to go vegan, to recognise sentient non-human individuals as rights-holders, accept the validity of the claim that the use of non-human animals is a rights violation, and help bring down the bastion of cultural speciesism. A big task, without doubt. Animal rights advocates, of course, want the abolition of animal experimentation.
There are at least two major problems about non-human animal experimentation. Firstly, the practice is immoral, and secondly, it does not do what it says on the tin. These problems are articulated by two positions: the animal rights position and the scientific anti-vivisection position.
Although the two stances are often combined, there are tensions between them. Some scientific anti-vivisectionists are opposed to rights-based thinking about human-non-human relations, and tend to consider most human beings selfish animals, who act only in self-interest or in the interests of near-kin. The animal rights position is much more positive, assuming that most human beings are potentially moral agents who can conceive of, and abide by, ethical principles.
Because the animal rights position regards sentient non-human and human animals as rights bearers, experimentation on those who do not consent, in this view, is a gross violation of rights. The animal rights position argues that non-human animals cannot be viewed as property, so just holding them in cages violates their rights. Rights-based animal advocates tend not to separate animal use issues, instead adopting an abolitionist approach. Therefore, most animal experimenters will also be violating animals’ rights by eating meat and wearing leather.
Animal experimenters are speciesists whose speciesism is highlighted in specific ways. For example, since vivisection involves systematically overriding the rights of some individuals to benefit others, and since it is clear that the most valid data comes from research on the species intended to benefit, the logic of vivisection is to use human beings as its experimental ‘models’. As rights philosopher and law professor Gary Francione explains;
“Data gained from experiments with animals requires extrapolation to humans in order to be useful at all, and extrapolation is a most inexact science under the best of circumstances. If we want data that will be useful in finding cures for human diseases, we would be better advised to use humans.”
Of course, we don’t advocate researching on unconsenting humans, because we think that they have rights that cannot be overridden even if it benefits general welfare to do so. We also do not research on human beings who themselves show little or no respect for the rights of others. Now, vivisectors themselves, that’s another issue entirely. They claim research on ‘whole mammalian systems’ is vital; they support animal experimentation; they want it, and they say their number one priority is the general health of the whole of humanity. They should clearly research, therefore, on themselves. Indeed, there is a long, impressive and well-documented history of self-experimentation dating back to the 19th century.
The pro-vivisection side will suggest that animal rights advocates regard the health of a mouse higher than that of a human being. This is not true, even though there is a greater probability that the mouse will be a vegan. What we say is that it is the values of speciesism that automatically declares non-humans “lesser-than” in every case, and we oppose speciesism and the rights abuses that flow from it. We are not opposed to medical research that does not violate rights. We are very much in favour of preventative research and practice. If researchers really value human health, we suggest that they pool their expertise and knowledge. We are sceptical of health and research systems in which profit and personal gain are principal motivating factors. These are surely not needed within a community whose number one priority is the general health of all of humanity.

– Roger Yates is spokesman for Alliance for Animal Rights

Animal research crucial to progress

Tom Holder

Animal research plays a crucial role in the development and safety testing of the many medicines we take for granted everyday. The discovery of older medicines, such as Penicillin, Insulin, and the Polio vaccine, all relied on animal research and have gone on to save millions of lives.

More recently, research using monkeys with experimentally induced parkinsonism has led to a treatment that has alleviated the tremors and pains of tens of thousands of Parkinson’s patients around the world. Looking to the future, animal models of genetically inherited diseases such as cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease are enabling the development of treatments that offer hope to millions of people.

Just this week, work on the link between the human papilloma virus (HPV) and cervical cancer, as well as the discovery of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), have brought three scientists Nobel Prizes. Although their work did not directly involve the use of animals, work on vaccines and treatments for both diseases have relied heavily on animal research. Recently two new HPV vaccines were brought to the market after an extensive development stage in dogs, rabbits and cows.

Animal testing to assess toxicity and pharmacokinetics played a key role in the development of anti-HIV drugs, but is not limited to this. Studies with simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) infected monkeys provided the first evidence that Tenofovir is effective at preventing infection after exposure to the virus, and is now widely used for post-exposure disease prevention. Its ability to prevent mother-to-child transmission of SIV in monkeys has lead to promising early results in clinical trials.

With over 70% of Nobel Prizes in physiology or medicine going to those who have used animals in their research, it is little wonder that scientists believe that such methods are still crucial in helping treat and cure modern diseases. Medicines are not the only end product of such research; many surgical techniques such as heart and kidney transplants, and advanced diagnosis methods like MRI and CT scanning, have been developed with the help of animals.
You might wonder how we can learn anything about ourselves from a mouse. In fact, we share over 95% of our DNA with these rodents. Mice have the same organs, performing the same functions in more or less the same way. Mice suffer from many of the same or equivalent pathologies, and genetic modification presents opportunities to make them even more like us. Recently, GM mice were given the common cold, something previously only possible in higher animals such as primates, giving hope for new treatments to help fight rhinoviruses which can trigger asthma attacks, and acute attacks of chronic bronchitis and emphysema, both of which kill many people in the UK and Ireland.

The use of GM animals also allows the evaluation of gene therapy and RNAi approaches to treating disease. These potentially powerful and dangerous new techniques need to be carefully studied in living animals before they can be considered for trials in humans.

Animal research is strictly regulated in both Ireland and the UK, with new projects having to pass ethics committees to ensure that the potential benefit to humans outweighs the cost to the animals involved. Underpinning the high welfare standards are the 3Rs; replacement of animal methods with alternatives wherever possible, reducing the number of animals used, and refining our care for animals by ensuring suitable enrichment activities.

Overall, while animal research may account for only a fraction of the overall medical research effort, it is crucial to medical progress. It is highly regulated to ensure animal welfare is a top priority. The development of cutting edge medicines to fight cancer, AIDS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other life threatening or debilitating diseases depends on it.

Finally, it is currently irreplaceable. Although we may find replacements for individual areas of research, in general, methods such as computer modelling and in vitro testing are not so much replacement methods as they are complementary ones, useful when being used alongside the animal research.

– Tom Holder is spokesman for Speaking of Research Protest group