AR-FAQ - #78

#78 Do AR people accept that vivisection has led to valuable medical advances?

[PLANK A] AR advocates generally believe that vivisection has played a contributing, if not necessarily essential, role in some valuable medical advances. However, AR philosophy asserts that the end does not justify the means, and that therefore the answer cannot decide the legitimacy of the stance against vivisection.

[PLANK C] That said, many people, including former vivisectors and medical historians, will readily state that there is ample scientific and historical evidence showing that most vivisection is futile, and often harmful to those it pretends to serve. On statistical grounds, vivisection does not deliver: despite the use of 144,000,000 animals in Britain since 1950, life-expectancy in Britain for the middle-aged has not changed since this date. Some 85 percent of the lab animals killed between the 1890s and the 1990s died after 1950, but the fall in death rate during these 100 years was 92 percent complete by 1950. Consider, for a specific example, these figures for cancer:

                  [FOR THOSE > 100 PER MILLION]

    Cancer type     1971-1975       1976-1980       % change

    Bladder             118             123           +  4.2
    Pancreas            118             125           +  5.9
    Prostate            177             199           + 12.4
    Stomach             298             278           -  6.7
    Colorectal          311             320           +  2.9
    Lung, Trachea,      1091            1125          +  3.1
    [data for women excised for space reasons]

Gains in the war against cancer are sadly lacking, despite the vast numbers of animals sacrificed for cancer research. When such analyses are performed across the spectrum of health issues, it becomes clear that, at best, the contribution of vivisection to our health must be considered quite modest. The dramatic declines in death rates for old killer diseases, such as, tuberculosis, pneumonia, typhoid, whooping cough, and cholera, came from improvements in housing, in working conditions, in the quantity and quality of food and water supplies, and in hygiene. Chemotherapy and immunization cannot logically be given much credit here, since they only became available, chronologically, after most of the declines were achieved. Consider the particular example of penicillin: it was discovered accidentally by Fleming in 1928. He tested on rabbits, and when they failed to react (we now know that they excrete penicillin rapidly), he lost interest in his substance. Still, two scientists followed up on his work, successfully tried on mice and stated:

"...mice were tried in the initial toxicity tests because of their small size, but what a lucky chance it was, for in this respect man is like the mouse and not the guinea pig. If we had used guinea pigs exclusively we should have said that the penicillin was toxic, and we probably should not have proceeded to try to overcome the difficulties of producing the substance for trial in man."

Vivisection generally fails because:

  • Human medicine cannot be based on veterinary medicine. This is because animals are different histologically, anatomically, genetically, immunologically, and physiologically.
  • Animals and humans react differently to substances. For example, some drugs are carcinogenic in humans but not in animals, or vice-versa.
  • Naturally occurring diseases (e.g., in patients) and artificially induced diseases (e.g., in lab animals) often differ substantially.

All this manifests itself in examples such as the one below:


Chemical        Teratogen (i.e., causes birth defects)

                yes                    no

aspirin         rats, mice, monkeys,    humans
                guinea pigs, cats,      

aminopterin     humans                  monkeys

azathioprine    rabbits                 rats

caffeine        rats, mice              rabbits

cortisone       mice, rabbits           rats

thalidomide     humans                  rats, mice,
triamcilanone   mice                    humans

There are countless examples, old and recent, of the misleading effects of vivisection, and there are countless statements from reputable scientists who see vivisection for what it is: bad science. Following are just a few of them. AECW

The uselessness of most of the animal models is less well-known. For example, the discovery of chemotherapeutic agents for the treatment of human cancer is widely heralded as a triumph due to use of animal model systems. However, here again, these exaggerated claims are coming from or are endorsed by the same people who get the federal dollars for animal research. There is little, if any, factual evidence that would support these claims. Indeed while conflicting animal results have often delayed and hampered advances in the war on cancer, they have never produced a single substantial advance in the prevention or treatment of human cancer. For instance, practically all of the chemotherapeutic agents which are of value in the treatment of human cancer were found in a clinical context rather than in animal studies. Dr. Irwin Bross 1981 Congressional testimony

Indeed even while these [clinical] studies were starting, warning voices were suggesting that data from research on animals could not be used to develop a treatment for human tumors. British Medical Journal, 1982

Vivisection is barbaric, useless, and a hindrance to scientific progress. Dr. Werner Hartinger Chief Surgeon, West Germany, 1988

...many vivisectors still claim that what they do helps save human lives. They are lying. The truth is that animal experiments kill people, and animal researchers are responsible for the deaths of thousands of men, women and children every year. Dr. Vernon Coleman Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, UK