Animal Experimentation

Millions of animals are used in experiments every year. More often than not, they are acquired almost casually, housed abysmally, and denied anything remotely like a life. In addition to suffering through the experiments, they are under constant stress from fear, the loss of control over their lives, and the denial of all that is natural and meaningful to them, such as enjoying the company of others of their own kind and choosing. (Rose, Miller) Animals from giraffes to gerbils are used for everything from forced aggression and induced fear experiments to tests on new football helmets and septic tank cleaner. Baboons are given AIDS-infected rectal swabs, great apes are purposely driven mad to make them crush their infants’ skulls in child abuse studies, and researchers are changing the genes of pigs so they can no longer walk and chickens so they can no longer fly. (Day 11-14)

Animals are burned alive in the cockpits of planes, exploded in weapons tests, and forced to inhale pollutants until they choke to death. They are starved and shot; they have hallucinogenics and electrical shocks administered to them; they are force-fed poisons and used to demonstrate already well established surgical procedures. There are countless examples of wasteful and ludicrous experiments. (Gilland 19-23) This “rubbish research” comes at a time when many Americans do not have health insurance, scores of alcohol and drug treatment clinics have closed due to the loss of funds, the elderly and disabled go without new eyeglasses or dental care, and unless they can afford to buy themselves, disabled people are left without state-of-the-art wheelchairs and home aids that would allow them to participate more fully in society. (Nibert et al.)

Historical Overview
Humans throughout history have utilized animals in a number of different ways. Many of these uses had their origins in early human history, including animals originally hunted for food and clothing, later domesticated as beasts of burden, and ultimately venerated as objects of worship and kept as pets for companionship.  The practice of animal experimentation is generally traced back to ancient Greece. (Day, 4-5) During the ancient Roman and Greek periods, animal experimentation was carried out periodically by individuals, primarily to better understand physiology, but it was far removed from the institutionalized practice that exists today. Although ancient Greece had more diverse views toward animals (some positive and some negative), ancient Rome attached little importance to animals. (Day, 4-6)

During the Middle Ages, experimentation was not widely practiced. The Enlightenment period brought with it two different emphases regarding the treatment of animals in general. As a result of Descartes’ theory that animals could not really feel pain, experimentation became more widely accepted and practiced. The nineteenth century saw the rise of humane societies, beginning in England. (Nibert et al. 7) Although there were individual opponents of animal experimentation prior to this time, the rise of these societies signaled serious systematic opposition to many practices involving animals, and they often took up antivivisection as their particular cause. Alongside this growing humane movement, though, was a concurrent rise in the practice of experimentation. The number of American laboratories grew significantly in the 1880s and 1890s, and America became a leading center of scientific medicine. (Gilland 8-9)

The work of scientists such as Louis Pasteur, whose studies on animals showed that diseases were produced and could be cured by immunization, empirically demonstrated the tremendous advances in human health that could result from animal experimentation. With other scientific advances—some of them taking place in the twentieth century, such as understanding the causes and development of vaccines for diseases such as whooping cough, tuberculosis, measles, mumps, rubella, and polio—the belief in the necessity of animal experimentation for human (and animal) health was a very strong justification for its continuance. (Hart 15-16)

Pros of Animal Experimentation
Many scientists argue that animal experiments are a prerequisite for the development of medicine. Progress in biomedical sciences has been, and still remains, related to the experimental biology in a wider sense, and in particular to animal experimentation. This is the easiest way to get a remarkable insight into the functioning of the living organism in the conditions of health and disease as well as to elaborate suitable therapeutic procedures. The ensuing benefits for human health and welfare have been extremely imposing and significant. From the middle of the nineteenth century, the discoveries have accrued like an avalanche. At the beginning of the twentieth century, early bacteriological research greatly contributed to the struggle against infectious diseases. (Derbyshire)

There is a long list of the most important medical achievements ensuing from experiments carried out on animals. As a rule, whenever new surgical techniques are developed they are verified, as regards their effectiveness and safety, on animals, before being allowed to be performed on humans. Within this field, progress in surgical treatment of congenital heart disease is particularly illustrative: nowadays, three fourths of children born with cardiac defects are able to lead normal life. Another example related to the research on heart diseases is the construction and clinical application of artificial heart (i.e., completely artificial heart and ventricular assist devices are now in the stage of early clinical tests). The artificial heart research, unthinkable without animal experimentation, belongs to the most prestigious research projects of contemporary medical science. (Day, 45-47)

Furthermore, at the present stage of our knowledge no substitute of adequate quality seems to exist that could replace the laboratory animal. Achievements in technological research admittedly support the assumption that, in near future, it will be possible to replace, with adequate substitutes, materials of animal origin that have heretofore been used for clothing and footwear or as our food (if large masses accept the latter choice). As to biomedical research, however, all substitutes proposed so far (e.g., experiments in vitro or computer simulation) still can not replace the use of animals: they merely tend towards its limitation. Therefore, scientists argue that further progress in biomedical research still remains to be conditioned by experimentation on live animals. (Derbyshire)

Student of biology or medicine cannot fail to notice that the contemporary level of natural and biomedical sciences as well as their further development are to be ascribed to animal experimentation. Consequently, the higher education in biology or medicine may be regarded as incomplete if the student gets no impression, possibly also practical experience, of the experimental work on animals (some teachers, nevertheless, do not share this opinion). When performing with his/her own hands a surgical operation on an anaesthetized animal, the student gets a remarkable insight into living tissues and organs, a discerning look accompanied by a peculiar feeling of a contact with the system which is alive. With the exception of surgeons, such an impression, brought about through a direct perception of the dramatic difference between the living organism and a dead body, cannot be experienced in any other way. As a rule, this kind of experience fills a sensitive student with high respect for the phenomenon of life in its wide sense. (Hart)

Cons of Animal Experimentation
Most Americans who favor vivisection do so because they mistakenly believe that animal experiments are essential to curing human illnesses. Animal experimentation is based on the idea that animals can be used as “models” for humans. According to Don Barnes, director of education for the National Anti-Vivisection Society, “it is simply assumed that mammalian similarities are sufficient to counteract species differences, even in the fact of significant evidence to the contrary.” (21) However, animals are not simply smaller versions of humans; each animal species has a unique biological system and therefore responds differently to drugs and surgeries. Not only are animal experiments useless in the quest to combat disease, but they have also been found in some cases to actually hinder medical progress.

The reliance on animal testing to ascertain the safety of chemicals instills a false sense of confidence that the prescription drugs we take are safe. Actually, many drugs that test safe for animals are later found to cause harmful side effects in humans. One source reports that out of 198 drugs tested on animals between 1976 and 1985, 51.5 percent caused human reactions that were serious enough to warrant withdrawal from the market or substantial changes in labeling. Among these negative reactions were “heart failure, respiratory, problems, convulsions, kidney and liver failure, and death.” (Carlson 19) In addition, the use of animal tests to determine a drug’s safety can prevent the approval of drugs that are potentially beneficial to humans. Penicillin, for example, is fatal to guinea pigs and cats, but in humans it halts the spread of infection. Had researchers relied on the results from animal tests, the benefits of antibiotics–one of the most important advances in medical progress–might still remain unknown. (Barnard, Kaufman)

Contrary to what many people believe, animal experimentation is not essential to productive AIDS research. Two of the most vital developments in AIDS research–the isolation of the AIDS virus and the discovery of the mechanism of AIDS transmission–involved no animal experiments. AZT, one of the first therapies available for the treatment of AIDS, was developed using human cell cultures; protease inhibitors, a more recent and effective treatment, were discovered largely because of computer technology. According to Andrew Breslin, Outreach Coordinator for AV Magazine, an antivivisection publication, “Virtually everything we know about HIV and AIDS has come from non-animal methods.” (Breslin 2)
In many cancer experiments, researchers inject rodents with high doses of a substance to test if the substance causes cancer. The results of these tests are unreliable for two reasons. First, some substances that are dangerous to animals are not dangerous to humans, and vice versa. Gasoline, for example, causes kidney cancer in male rats but has no negative effects on humans. On the other hand, attempts to induce lung cancer in monkeys through cigarette smoke have been largely unsuccessful. (Wildavsky 45) Secondly, animal tests do little to predict whether lower dosages of the same chemicals would actually produce cancer. In many instances, chemicals that cause cancer in high doses– aflatoxin, for example, a substance that naturally occurs in peanut butter–have no detrimental effects in low dosages. Therefore, animal-based cancer research generates fear over benign substances, yet it fails to identify truly harmful chemicals. (National Anti-Vivisection Society)

Alternatives to Experiments on Animals
History has already shown that animal experimentation is not essential to medical progress. Vital medical developments such as X rays; a vaccine against yellow fever; antidepressant and antipsychotic drugs; and surgical procedures for cardiac aneurysms, appendicitis, bladder and gall stones, brain tumors and cataracts have all been obtained through research done without the use of vivisection. (Day) Today, highly sophisticated alternatives to animal testing make the need for laboratory animals obsolete. (Animal Testing Alternatives)

With the advance of biomedical research technologies, studies can now be conducted on live human cells that are cultured in petri dishes or test tubes. Using these methods, called in vitro studies, it is possible to project the effects of a chemical on the human body. (Gilland)  In vitro tests are also more effective than animal experiments because they help us understand human reactions to diseases, not animal ones. Virtual reality simulations have replaced the need for animals in medical training. For example, eye surgeons can now practice surgery on a three-dimensional, computer-generated image of a real eye. This simulation is a better representation of a human eye than the eye from any other species. The other advantage is that simulated surgeries can be recorded and played back, allowing surgeons to review their own performances and hone their skills. (Hart)

A number of other ways more or less effective in diminishing the number of animals used for research or testing have been proposed as well. E.g., an appropriate statistical procedure can largely contribute to the decrease of the total of animals used for experiments. The economical aspect seems to be also of some importance. Some reduction in animal research and testing might be obtained by reduction in the number of drugs, which work biologically in the identical or very similar manner. (Gilland)

Furthermore, three of the most prevalent medical problems in the United States–heart disease, cancer, and stroke–are almost entirely preventable. (Carlson) A healthy diet, regular exercise, and quitting smoking reduce the risk of these diseases to extremely low levels. While it’s true that disease is never completely preventable, it is essential to stress prevention in medicine over the dubious results of animal research. The unfortunate fact about medical research is that there are few “magic cures.” (Gilland 134) The reason why animal experimentation is such a contentious issue is that people tend to view it as a decision between saving animals and saving people. However, this is not the case. There are numerous viable alternatives to animal experimentation. It is time to demand an end to a practice that is both medically and morally unsound. (Rose, Miller)


It is easier to develop examples of experiments that would be disallowed than to list permitted experiments is that the developed facts are meant to greatly restrict animal experimentation. Most of the experimentation currently undertaken would probably be prohibited by moral standards, and only truly gentle experimentation would be allowed. However, just as we expect humans to bear the burdens at times of experimentation, it can be argued that animals can assume some burdens in experiments as well. But these burdens should not be excessive. Because animals are sentient, have mental states, possess rights, are valued creatures in the sight of God, and cannot verbally consent, there must be greater restrictions on their use than those that exist in experimentation at the present time. My point of view is that experimentation is traditionally justified by a simple appeal to human benefit, without exploring or fleshing out what that means, and also that pro-experimentation arguments tend to ignore or seriously minimize the extent of the burdens to animals. It is my hope that the facts presented in this paper, if not actually followed, would provoke others in the direction of concretely weighing burdens and benefits in experimentation, keeping in mind the often negative impact on animals.


Day, N. Animal Experimentation: Cruelty or Science? Springfield, NJ: Enslow, 2000.

Gilland, Tony. Animal Experimentation: Good or Bad? London: Hodder ; Stoughton, 2002.

Hart, L. Responsible Conduct with Animals in Research. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Nibert D., Casert, R. and Fox, M. Animal Rights/Human Rights. Lanham, MD: Rowman ; Littlefield, 2002.

Rose, S., Miller, A.  “Animal Research.”  The Humanist, Vol. 61, September 2001

Don Barnes, “Vivisection: A Window to the Dark Ages of Science,” Animals’ Agenda, July/August 1996, p. 21.

Barnard N., Kaufman S. “Animal Research Is Wasteful and Misleading,” Scientific American, February 1, 1997.

Carlson, P. “Whose Health Is It, Anyway?” Animals’ Agenda, (November/December 1996): 19.

Derbyshire, S. “Animal Research: A Scientist’s Defense.” Spiked, March 29, 2001.

National Anti-Vivisection Society, “The Truth About Cancer Research.” Expressions 2, (1994): 22.

Wildavsky, A.”Regulation of Carcinogens: Are Animal Tests a Sound Foundation?” Independent Review, (Spring 1996): 45.

Breslin, A. “Non-Animal Methods Triumph in AIDS Research.” Anti-Vivisection Magazine, (Spring 1997): 2.

“Animal Testing Alternatives” UC Center for Animal Alternatives, 2004 ;;