Should people do experiments on animals? Every year animals are subjected to experiments so painful and damaging that no one would ever do them on humans. On the other hand, these experiments are mostly done so that humansand sometimes animalswill suffer less in the future. Deciding on whether or not to do a painful experiment on an animal can be a tough choice.
And the answer may not be so simple. We must weigh the benefits of the discoveries we hope to make from the research with the costs of making animals suffer. We should be concerned about how animals are treated in research, and we should all work to minimizeif not eliminatethe number of animals who suffer.
How Many Animals Are Used in Research?
It's impossible to know exactly how many animals are being used in research because U.S. laws do not require scientists to report how many mice, rats, or birds they use. But even though no one is sure how many rats and mice are used in research, most sources agree that about 90 percent are rats and mice.
There are many animals that scientists do have to report using in experiments, including dogs, cats, sheep, hamsters, guinea pigs, and primates. Of the animals that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) collects numbers on, 1,438,553 were used in research in 2002.
Since more than 1.4 million mammals other than rats and mice were used in research, and since mice and rats probably make up 90% of the animals in labs, we can guess that about 14 million rats and mice were used in research in 2002. That means that more than 15 million warm-blooded animals are used in research every year.
How Are Animals Treated in Laboratories?
In laboratories, small animals, like hamsters, rats and mice, are usually kept in clear or white plastic boxes about the size of a shoebox. Animals a bit bigger, such as guinea pigs, live in larger boxes about twice the size of a shoebox. Usually, more than one animal lives in a box. Wood chips or something similar covers the cage bottoms. Cage tops are covered by a wire lid with food and water hanging down for the animals to reach.
Larger animals like dogs, cats, and primates usually live in wire cages. Social primates like monkeys often live with other monkeys, but most other large animals usually live alone. Often, primates get to spend some time every day in a larger cage where they can play. Most other animals stay in their cages all the time except when they are being used in experiments.
Should these animals be kept in cages their entire lives? On the one hand, strict laws insure that the cages are warm, clean, and big enough. On the other hand, they are still kept in cages. A cage can never be as interesting, stimulating, or open as a natural habitat. This can be a problemespecially for the more intelligent animals like dogs, cats, pigs, and primates. They can become tremendously lonely and bored unless they have things to play with or ways to get more exercise.
More than half of the 1.4 million animals counted by the USDA that are used in research do not feel pain from the experiments. There is no way of knowing how many rats and mice do not feel pain in research.
Although more than half of the animals used in research do not feel pain or distress during the experiments, 489,262 animals that were used in research last year (not including mice, rats, and birdsno one knows how many of these animals are used in research) were used in research that was either painful, distressful, or both. Most of these animals were given something that either helped take the pain away or helped them get over the pain quickly. For example, most of the animals that underwent surgery were given anesthesia first so they would be "asleep" during the surgery.
Unfortunately, 103,764 of the animals made to feel pain were not given anything to reduce their pain and suffering. This means that more than 100,000 animals were made to feel pain and fear in 2002. Although some of this pain was slightlike getting an injection with a needlesome of it was extremely severe.
Why Animals Are Used in Research?
Why would anyone make hundreds or thousands of animals suffer? Nearly all of the scientists who do research on animals do it because they hope that making a few experience pain now will help prevent many from feeling pain later. In other words, they hope that a little pain now will prevent a lot of pain later.
There is reason to believe that research on animals will help discover ways to help people and other animals in the future. Vaccines for polio and hepatitis B were developed through experiments on animals. Medical procedures like measuring blood pressure, pacemakers, and heart and lung machines were perfected on animals before being tried on humans. Surgery techniques, like those to correct and prevent bone diseases, were developed on animals. Heartworm medicine that developed from research on animals has helped countless dogs. Cat nutrition has been better understood through animal research, and has helped cats live longer, healthier lives.
Of course, simply because some research on animals has brought us great benefits does not mean that all animal research has. Unfortunately, it can be hard to know if an experiment is worthwhile before it is done. But, we can make good guesses about which experiments should be done and which shouldn't.
Besides, not all great discoveries came from research on animals. Edward Jenner, the man who created the first vaccination ever, developed it on humans. The father of genetics, Brother Gregor Mendel, explored inheritance very peacefully in pea plants.
Where Do the Animals Come From?
Most scientists buy the animals they use from animal dealers. Some breed and raise their own animals. The scientists who buy animals to use in research get their animals from two types of dealers: class A and class B licensed dealers. Class A dealers can only sell animals that they have bred.
Class B licensed dealers can also sell animals that they got without breeding them. Most of the time, class B dealers get their animals from respectable places, but class B dealers can collect stray animals from the streets. In 31 states, class B dealers can also take animals from animal shelters and sell them to laboratories for research. In five states (Iowa, Minnesota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Utah) shelters are required to surrender animals to any class B dealers who ask for them. Currently, 14 states have passed laws making it illegal for animals in shelters to be sold for research. These states are Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, and West Virginia. It is illegal in all 50 states for stolen animals to be sold or used in research.
Where Do They Go After the Research Is Done?
Most of these animals are only used in one experiment, but sometimes the same animal will be used in more than one experiment. It is unusual for an animal in the lab to live out its full lifemost are euthanized shortly after being used in an experiment. Animals of all ages are used in research, so an animal may be euthanized soon after (or before) he or she is born, or the animal may live for his or her entire life and die of natural causes.
Some lucky chimps will soon be able to retire from being used in research to the Chimp Haven sanctuary. This sanctuary is being built in Shreveport, Louisiana, thanks to a law signed by President Clinton in 2000.
Things Are Changing
The situation is not perfect, and more needs to be done, but things have gotten better. Now, scientists need to have their research approved by a committee called IACUC, which stands for Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees. Each research facilitylike a universityhas its own IACUC. Each IACUC must contain at least four people: a chairperson, a scientist, a veterinarian, and a member of the general community who has no relation to the research facility.
Scientists must have stronger reasons to do research on animals now than they used to if they want the IACUC to let them do the research. Animals in labs must be treated better now. If scientists do not follow the law, they can be punished.
People Are Helping to Change the Laws
People have been working for more than a hundred years to help prevent cruelty towards animals used in research and get laws passed, such as the Animal Welfare Act and the Health Research Extension Act.
The Animal Welfare Act was passed in 1966 and amended in 1970, 1976, and 1985. This law covers the use of all warm-blooded animals in research except for rats and mice who are bred for research. The Act requires that animals receive veterinary care; adequate, clean food and water; protection from the elements and extreme temperatures; and adequate, clean housing. The Animal Welfare Act also covers animals in zoos, aquaria, and circuses, as well as animals transported to and from places overseas. Any place that wishes to do research on animals must register with the USDA. The USDA can show up and inspect the places to make sure they are following the law.
The Health Research Extension Act was passed in 1985 and covers all vertebrates who are used in researchincluding mice, rats, and birds. These regulations apply to scientists whose research is funded by the Public Health Service (PHS), or by the National Institute of Health (NIH), under the PHS. The rules for how animals can be treated in labs funded by the PHS are spelled out in the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, copyrighted by the National Academy of Sciences.
Things Are Changing Because of New Technology
Scientists are now able to do experiments without animals that they couldn't do before. Sometimes, a scientist can do an experiment on a tissue culture instead of on an entire animal. For example, skin cells can be kept alive in a dish and studied without hurting the animal beyond first taking the skin cells. Since many tissue cultures can grow and reproduce, it can be a long time before more cells need to be taken from a living animal. Computers have also helped. Some experiments can be done on a computer-generated animal instead of on a real animal.
To study diseases, scientists can also monitor humans. For example, much of the beginning work showing the link between smoking and heart disease was done by seeing how many people who smoke have heart attacks and strokes versus how many people who don't smoke.
Unfortunately, there are still many experiments that cannot be done on "animal substitutes" like tissue cultures or on computers. There are still experiments that can only be done on either animals or people.
The Three R's
In 1954, the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) appointed two people to investigate humane techniques in animal research. The two people were William Russell, a zoologist/psychologist/classical scholar, and Rex Burch, a microbiologist. Four years later, Russell and Burch completed The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique. In this book, Russell and Burch describe three ways to improve the treatment of animals in research. Known as the Three R's, these are Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement.
Replacement - Whenever possible, we should replace living, feeling animals with other things like tissue cultures and computer simulations. In addition, we should actively search for new ways and try to develop new technologies that can replace live, feeling animals in the lab.
Reduction - Reducing the number of animals used in research. While we are trying to replace animals, we need to reduce the number of animals used in research to the smallest number possible. We should use as few animals in an experiment as we can. We should be very careful to be sure that experiments on animals are necessary.
Refinement - Improving the lives of animals used in research. If we have to do an experiment that uses animals, then we must improve the living conditions of the animals used in research. The Animal Welfare Act mostly addresses refinement.
"What's Next?"Make Your Government ListenMoney Talks
What's Next? It is not our right to use animals in research. It is a borrowed privilege. Without a choice, these animals are giving their lives to science. We must ensure that the gift of their life is worthwhile. And if an animal was born specifically for research, then we are doubly obliged to treat them well.
Did you know that the changes in laboratory animal welfare have primarily come from the concerned voices of caring people who are not themselves scientists? People like you. These people have learned about the issues. They have used their knowledge to make convincing arguments to their legislators and to other people. They have been persistent. They have been effective!
Make Your Government Listen!
When enough people who care don't give up, the government has to listen. Learn about the issues (by reading stuff like this!), but don't keep your knowledge to yourself! Call, write, email, and fax your legislators. You can find the address, phone number, and email address for your senator at ASPCA's Legislator Look-up. You can learn more about your legislatures at www.vote-smart.org/.
One way ordinary people have brought extraordinary change is by being careful about what they buy. For example, cosmetic companies have been forced to radically change how many animals they do research on, and what kind of research they do. Why? Because people did not want to buy products from companies that did needless experiments on animals.
Another way to reduce the number of animals used in research is right in your classroom! Fewer and fewer teachers, scientists, medical doctors, and veterinarians believe that dissection teaches anything that cannot be taught otherwise.