BLOG: Vivisection: A Study in Suffering – Lauren Davies

“The question is not, ‘Can they reason?’ nor, ‘Can they talk?’ but, ‘Can they suffer?’” – Jeremy Bentham.

Vivisection is the exploitation of animals in scientific experiments, in which animals are poisoned, deprived of food and water, isolated, paralysed, injected with diseases, burned, gassed, electrocuted, surgically mutilated and much more. As a result, most of these animals are killed. Approximately 11.5 million animals are used for vivisection in Europe every year, with rats and mice being experimented on the most. The products tested on these animals include pharmaceutical drugs, bleach, tobacco, and cosmetics, and these tests can last for months, years, or for the duration of the animal’s life. And all of this happens legally.

Vivisection in the U.K. is regulated under the Animals Scientific Procedure Act of 1986, defining animal experiments as causing “pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm equivalent to or higher than that caused by inserting a hypodermic needle … to protected animals which include all living vertebrates other than humans”. But most experiments cause the animals incredible stress and lasting harm from which they will never recover. A painful procedure is defined by the 1986 Act as one that “cause(s) more than slight or momentary pain or distress in a human being to which that procedure was applied”. When animals are subjected to a painful stimulus they often exhibit behavioural changes such as increased or decreased vocalisation, change in facial expressions (grimacing), loss of appetite, and depression; they may also try to jump away from the stimulus or lick the painful area if they can. In some experiments, it is not required to provide the animals with pain relief if the drug would interfere with the results of the experiment. The animal’s welfare is clearly of less importance to these researchers than the results of their study.

While some might argue that animal testing has contributed to human/animal vaccinations and treatments for some diseases, reactions to different chemicals vary drastically among species, making it ineffective to apply the data to humans. In 1950, the sleeping pill Thalidomide caused 10,000 babies to be born with severe deformities even after tests on pregnant mice, rats, guinea pigs, cats, and hamsters did not result in any birth defects at similar dosages. The arthritis drug Vioxx showed that it had a positive effect on the hearts of mice, but caused more than 27,000 heart attacks in humans, some resulting in death. These conclusions demonstrate the danger in using results from animal experiments as a foundation to treat human conditions.

Animal testing is slow to yield results, expensive, and time-consuming. The 1986 Act states that “experimentation is only permitted when there is no practical alternative research technique”, but there are many effective alternatives available. Studying human cell cultures can produce results that are more reliable and relevant. Microdosing involves administering to human volunteers doses of a chemical too small to cause adverse reactions, and blood samples are then analysed to provide further information. Artificial human skin (such as EpiDerm) is grown in test tubes and made from human skin cells which can produce results that are more valid than testing on animal skin. Advanced computer simulators reconstruct human molecular structures and can predict the toxicity of certain substances. This is why such alternatives provide useful results without invasive animal procedures and animal suffering.

Humans are not the only animal with the ability to suffer, and to deliberately inflict pain on any creature is unjustified, cruel, and unnecessary. The Dutch Animal Health and Welfare Act of 1981 states that “animals have value in their own right and as a consequence their interests are no longer automatically subordinate to man’s interests”. Through education and consumer action, we can achieve that same standard in the UK. Greater efforts need to be made towards using non-animal alternatives in testing, and consumers can stop buying products that have been tested on animals. But much of the public don’t know the entirety of what happens in laboratories, because laws ban the release of information and many studies published using animals are anonymous. This undermines public debate and prevents scientific scrutiny, and those of us concerned for animal welfare should do more to lift this veil of secrecy. Fighting against vivisection begins with simple steps: check labels on products, protest against animal testing/suffering when you can, and raise awareness of the unethical procedures forced on animals. Through such efforts, we can help stop these abhorrent procedures from happening.