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Of Mice and Men: Animal Experimentation

In a dimly lit, stark white room, there is a long table standing in the middle of the floor. It’s surrounded by people wearing long white coats, talking as they work. Looking closer, you can see what lies on the table. It’s a beagle, one that has tubes and things sticking out of its body, while the doctors continue their work. Once they are finished, the beagle has a large electrode protruding from his head. They’ve connected it to his brain to run electricity through it. This dog must live the rest of its life with this object in his head. On a nearby counter, a laboratory technician is putting a new kind of lotion on a rabbit’s eye, to see what effect it has. The rabbit shows few signs of any pain, and the lotion passes the test. After further tests the lotion is moved onto clinical trials, where it promptly fails the first test on a human. These are activities that happen every day at an animal testing facility. The seriousness of the tests varies with purpose and different labs. Some experiments cause the animals little or no pain and they survive just fine. Others slowly kill animals or cause them incredible pain. On top of the experiments, most labs keep their subjects in horrible conditions, causing them to have physical and mental problems.
Every year, thousands of animals are used to test new cosmetics, foods, and drugs. In most cases, the animals are burned, blinded, or otherwise injured by these products. Granted, some animals are anesthetized so that they cannot feel the effect of the products, but they are still being injured. The living conditions for these animals are usually horrendous. They live in small confined areas, sit in their own filth, and sometimes develop injured or neurological problems from their confinement. Scientists claim to use animals that have structures and systems that closely resemble those of humans. But, we must ask ourselves, how could a rat, dog, or rabbit be that similar to humans? In many cases, products that pass tests on animals turn out to be unsafe for human use. In my essay, I will examine the reasons why animal testing is not only morally wrong, but ineffective. I will also describe arguments that some scientists make to support animal testing, and provide rebuttals.

The most obvious and most advocated (yet unfortunately most useless), reason that animal testing is so wrong is for moral reasons. Animals are living, breathing creatures that can feel and even think just as humans do. Hurting an animal and hurting a human are only different because the animal doesn’t know why or how it’s being hurt. But the pain is the same. The screaming is the same. Many people believe that animals don’t have emotions, don’t have a conscious mind, and don’t have other human-like aspects, but scientists have done tests to disprove these beliefs. If we think about it, from our oldest memories, the idea has been supported by our parents and society that hurting other people is bad, unforgivable in most cases. Why is that so? Because it causes another person to feel pain. Therefore, shouldn’t harming animals be unacceptable, since it causes the animals pain? Groups such as the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection and the Humane Society of the United States have made many undercover videos of animal testing labs that show what treatments, surgeries, and occasional abuse by lab technicians that the animals are put through. It also shows how much the animals scream because of the pain they are subjected to. If a human caused another human to scream in pain like that, they would be immediately arrested. Some people also seem to think that animal testing is not that wrong, even if they have animals of their own. They think that testing on rabbits and rodents isn’t that big of a deal. In reality, there are hundreds of dogs, cats, and primates that go through testing as well. In addition, there should be no reason why cutting open the brain of a rabbit and doing it to a domestic dog should be so different. Many people also point out that animal testing being morally wrong is not something that can really be scientifically supported, and they look to other reasons why experimenting on animals is bad.

According to some scientists, animals are used for testing human products because they are so similar to humans. Some features of humans and animals are very much the same, but anyone can see that a human and a mouse are far from being very similar. Looking at medicines approved for use by humans after being tested on animals, 90% later proved ineffective or harmful to humans in trials involving humans. Drugs that passed testing on animals have harmed millions of people and lead to costly scientific delays. Two well-known examples are the delay of a polio vaccine by over thirty years and a delay of four years for the use of protease inhibitors, which are used to treat HIV – after the results of animal testing convinced scientists that these interventions were useless. Other examples of medicines that passed animal testing but harmed humans are Cylert, which caused liver failure in 13 children and Opren, which killed 61 people, after both were successfully tested on animals. At the American National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, 392 chemicals tested for carcinogenic effects. 96 of those were negative in the mouse and positive in the rat, or vice versa. To add to those differences, the Institute is unable to say which of these are harmful to humans. As an example, there are many ways that rats differ from humans. The pH value of saliva is different, rats cannot vomit, and rats do not have a gall bladder. If a rat were the size of a man, it would be able to consume 12 bottles of Scotch whisky a day and the effect on its liver would about the same as half a bottle on a human liver.

The scientists and doctors behind animal testing have very reasonable arguments for their cause. For example, they say that animal testing is vital to the medical world. Christopher Anderegg, a member of the Medical Research Modernization Committee, says that for years, observations of the harmful effects of cigarettes on humans was dismissed because tests on animals showed no evidence of any damage. This greatly delayed the warning to the public that smoking does indeed cause lung cancer. In addition to animal testings’ inaccuracies, there are also many ways to test products for humans without the use of animals, and more are being developed all the time. They also insist that animal testing is very beneficial. They argue that many important advances have been made due to animal testing, such as vaccines for polio and research for AIDS treatments. Although those advances were made, in many more cases tests prove misleading when compared to the effects of the same tests on humans. This has proved to be fatal to many people taking ‘safe’ medicines, and the many failures and multiple trials cost far more money than other means of testing products. The previous examples of Cylert and Opren would apply to this, along with many other medicines. A combination of fenfluramine and dexfenfluramine, which was used to help people on diets, is another example of this. Although tests proved that it was perfectly fine for animals, it caused heart valve abnormalities in humans.

There are also many new alternatives to animal testing, ones that are very effective and could almost eliminate animal testing if used more efficiently. Artificial skin is one of the most important breakthroughs in creating alternatives to animal testing. Created by scientists in Europe, the skin is made by taking and growing skin cells left over from plastic surgeries in a gel made from collagen. This new skin is exactly like real skin. This skin is used to test damage and irritation. Scientists have also made artificial eyes and lung cells to test irritations. With all of today’s incredible advances with technology, scientists have found that computers may be used to predict how a drug will affect the human body. Scientists do this by entering what they know about the human cells and the drug being tested. The computer then uses a mathematical formula to predict how the drug may affect cells, organs, and other parts of the body. A new branch of science called toxicogenomics researches how human genes are affected by drugs and the environment to cause disease. Scientists put a test chemical on DNA chips, which show what effects the chemical could have on the body. Scientists can also simply put cells in a test tube and test the effect of a substance. Adding cells from all parts of the body will show how the substance may affect the whole body. More alternatives are being developed all the time.

Animal testing is unnecessary and ineffective. The money it costs to support animal testing labs far outweighs its usefulness, a trait not very welcome with today’s economy. Using alternatives would be more accurate and therefore cheaper than animal
testing. With already so many medicines and other products passing animal testing yet harming humans, or vice versa, why continue with this outdated practice? We now have artificial skin, portable internet, and early prototypes of an invisibility cloak, yet we still keep animals confined in small spaces to test products on them that are meant for humans? How many animals were tested with products that passed with flying colors, but ended up harming and even killing humans? Not only is animal experimentation cruel and morally wrong, it’s also an unnecessary, outdated practice.

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This article has 3 comments. Post your own now!

Mary E. said...
Apr. 11, 2012 at 12:35 pm
Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it!
VIN - UK said...
Jan. 8, 2012 at 6:16 am
This is a great article. Animal models of human disease are so inaccurate that their use is pointless and far inferior to technological methods. Thanks for putting this together in such a well constructed,, well researched and coherent article.
Davidmit said...
Jan. 4, 2012 at 9:10 am
An excellent and well-thought out essay. Pro-vivisectionists argue such animals are kept in excellent condition (as the law requires). So, how is it that every undercover investigation into a lab. shows neglect and cruelty? Its also strange how drug companies, supposed to be so keen to make people healthy/save lives constantly fight other companies producing generic cheaper versions of their drugs. Strange too how many experiments are duplicates of ones already undertaken.. And lets not forget t... (more »)
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