AR-FAQ - #80

#80 Aren't there instances where there are no alternatives to the use of animals?

[PLANK A] The reply to the question here is succinct: "If so, so what?". Let us recall that we are happy enough (today) to forego knowledge that would be acquired at the expense of commandeering humans into service, and that we include children, the mentally diminished and even people suffering from types of disease for which animal models are unsatisfactory (such as AIDS). That is, a prior ethical decision was made that rules them out from experimentation, and that foregoes any potential knowledge so derived. Now the Animal Rights argument is consistent: since no morally relevant difference can be produced that separates humans spared experimentation from test animals (those that are subjects-of-a-life), vivisection is exposed as immoral, and the practice must be abandoned. Just as the insights offered by the Nazis' experiments on concentration camp prisoners were morally illicit, so are any and all benefits traceable to vivisection. As Tom Regan put it:

"Since, whatever our gains, they are ill-gotten, we must bring an end to [such] research, whatever our losses."

[PLANK B] The argument above makes the search for alternatives morally imperative, and if it is objected that this "just isn't possible", one should reply that belittling the ingenuity of scientists will not do. There have been cases where alternatives to vivisection had to be sought, and--of course--they were found. For example, Sharpe writes in The Human Cost of Animal Experimentation: "Historically, a classic example is the conquest of yellow fever. In 1900, no animal was known to be susceptible, prompting studies with human volunteers which proved that mosquitoes did indeed transmit the disease. These observations led to improved sanitation and quarantine measures in Havana where yellow fever, once rife, was eradicated."

[PLANK C] We now cite a few alternatives to animal models of human diseases. Two traditional types are: a) Clinical studies: these are essential for a thorough understanding of any disease. Anesthetics, artificial respiration, the stethoscope, electrocardiographs, blood pressure measurements, etc., resulted from careful clinical studies. b) Epidemiology studies: i.e., the study of diseases of whole populations. They, and not animal tests, have identified most of the substances known to cause cancer in humans. Typical example: Why is cancer of the colon so frequent in Europe and North America, infrequent in Japan, but common in Japanese immigrants to North America? More recent technological advances now allow a host of other investigative methods to be applied, including:

  • Tissue cultures: Human cells and tissues can be kept alive in cultures and used for biomedical research. Since human material is used, extrapolation problems are short-circuited. Such cultures have been used in cancer research by FDA scientists, for example, and according to them: "[they] offer the possibility of studying not only the biology of cancer cell growth and invasion into normal human tissue, but also provide a method for evaluating the effects of a variety of potentially important antitumor agents."
  • Physico-chemical methods: For example, liquid chromatographs and mass spectrophotometers allow researchers to identify substances in biological substances. For example, a bioassay for vitamin D used to involve inducing rickets in rats and feeding them vitamin-D-rich substances. Now, liquid chromatography allows such bioassays to be conducted quicker and at reduced cost.
  • Computer simulations: According to Dr. Walker at the University of Texas: "... computer simulations offer a wide range of advantages over live animal experiments in the physiology and pharmacology laboratory. These include: savings in animal procurement and housing costs; nearly unlimited availability to meet student schedules; the opportunity to correct errors and repeat parts of the experiment performed incorrectly or misinterpreted; speed of operation and efficient use of students' time and consistency with knowledge learned elsewhere."
  • Computer-aided drug design: Such methods have been used in cancer and sickle-cell anemia drug research, for example. Here, 3D computer graphics and the theoretical field of quantum pharmacology are combined to help in designing drugs according to required specifications.
  • Mechanical models: For example, an artificial neck has been developed by General Motors for use in car-crash simulations. Indeed, the well-known "crash dummies" are much more accurate and effective than the primates previously employed.

This list is by no means exhaustive.

[PLANK B] There are instances where the benefits of experimentation accrue directly to the individual concerned; for example, the trial of a new plastic heart may be proposed to someone suffering from heart disease, or a new surgical technique may be attempted to save a nonhuman animal. This may qualify, in the mind of the questioner, as an instance of use of animals. The position here is simple: The Animal Rights position does not condemn experimentation where it is conducted for the benefit of the individual patient. Clinical trials of new drugs, for example, often fall in this category, and so does some veterinary research, such as the clinical study of already sick animals. Another example of acceptable animal research is ethology, i.e. the study of animals in their natural habitat. AECW

[PLANK B] Following is a list of alternatives to much, if not all, vivisection:

  • Cell, tissue, and organ cultures
  • Clinical observation
  • Human volunteers (sick and well)
  • Autopsies
  • Material from natural deaths
  • Noninvasive imaging in clinical settings
  • Post-market surveillance
  • Statistical inference
  • Computer models
  • Substitution with plants

These alternatives, and others not yet conceived, will ensure that scientific research will not come to a halt upon abolition of vivisection. DG