AR-FAQ - #82

#82 Should people refuse medical treatments obtained through vivisection?

[PLANK A] This is a favorite question for the defenders of vivisection. The implication is that the AR position is inconsistent or irrational because AR people partake of some fruits of vivisection. As a first answer, we can point out that for existing treatments derived from vivisection, the damage has already been done. Nothing is gained by refusing the treatment. Vivisectors counter that the situation is analogous to our refusal to eat meat sold at the grocery; the damage has been done, so why not eat the meat? But there is a crucial difference. Knowledge is a permanent commodity; unlike meat, it is abstract, it doesn't rot. Consider a piece of knowledge obtained through vivisection. If vivisection were abolished, the knowledge could be used repeatedly without endorsing or further supporting vivisection. With meat consumption, the practice of slaughter must continue if the fruits are to continue to be enjoyed. Another point is that, had the vivisection not occurred, the knowledge might well have been obtained through alternative, moral methods. Are we to permanently foreclose the use of an abstract piece of knowledge due to the past folly of a vivisector? The same cannot be said of meat; it cannot be obtained without slaughter. If the reader finds this unpersuasive, she should consider that the AR movement sincerely wants to abolish vivisection, eliminating ill-gotten fruits. If this is achieved, the original question becomes moot, because there will be no such fruits. DG

[PLANK A] This is another "where should I draw the line" question, with the added twist that one's personal health may be on the line. As such, the right answer is likely to depend a good deal on personal circumstances and judgment. It is certainly beyond the call of duty to make an absolute pledge, since the principle of self-defense may ultimately apply (particularly in life-or death cases). Still, many people will be prepared to make statements against animal oppression, even at considerable cost to their well-being. For these, the following issues might be worth considering.

[PLANK C] WHAT IS THE TRUE CONTRIBUTION OF ANIMAL EXPERIMENTATION TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE TREATMENT? Most treatments owe nothing to animal experimentation at all, or were developed in spite of animal experimentation rather than thanks to it. Insulin is one good example. The really important discoveries did not proceed from the celebrated experiments of Banting and Best on dogs but from clinical discoveries: According to Dr. Sharpe: "The link between diabetes and the pancreas was first demonstrated by Thomas Cawley in 1788 when he examined a patient who had died from the disease. Further autopsies confirmed that diabetes is indeed linked with degeneration of the pancreas but, partly because physiologists, including the notorious Claude Bernard, had failed to produce a diabetic state in animals...the idea was not accepted for many years." One had to wait until 1889 for the link to be accepted, the date at which two researchers, Mering and Minkowski, managed to induce a form of diabetes in dogs by removing their entire pancreas. Autopsies further revealed that some parts of the pancreas of diabetics were damaged, giving birth to the idea that administering pancreatic extracts to patients might help. Other examples of treatments owing nothing to vivisection include the heart drug digitalis, quinine (used against malaria), morphine (a pain killer), ether (an anesthetic), sulfanilimide (a diuretic), cortisone (used to relieve arthritic pains, for example), aspirin, fluoride (in toothpastes), etc. Incidentally, some of these indisputably useful drugs would find it hard to pass these so-called animal safety tests. Insulin causes birth defects in chickens, rabbits, and mice but not in man; morphine sedates man but stimulates cats; doses of aspirin used in human therapeutics poison cats (and do nothing for fever in horses); the widespread use of digitalis was slowed down by confounding results from animal studies (and legitimized by clinical studies, as ever), and so on. IS THE TREATMENT REALLY SAFE? The nefarious effects of many newly-developed, "safe" compounds often take some time to be acknowledged. For example, even serious side-effects can sometimes go under-reported. In the UK, only a dozen of the 3500 deaths eventually linked to the use of isoprenaline aerosol inhalers were reported by doctors. Similarly, it took 4 years for the side-effects of the heart drug Eraldine (which included eye damage) to be acknowledged. The use of these drugs were, evidently, approved following extensive animal testing. WILL THE TREATMENT REALLY HELP? This question is not as incongruous as it may appear. A 1967 official enquiry suggested that one third of the most prescribed drugs in the UK were "undesirable preparations". Many new drugs provide no advantage over existing compounds: in 1977, the US FDA released a study of 1,935 drugs introduced up to April 1977 which suggested that 79.4 percent of them provided "little or no [therapeutic] gain". About 80 percent of new introductions in the UK are reformulations, or duplications of existing drugs. A 1980 survey by the Medicines Division of UK Department for Health and Social Security states : "[new drugs] have largely been introduced into therapeutic areas already heavily oversubscribed and...for conditions which are common, largely chronic and occur principally in the affluent Western society. Innovation is therefore largely directed toward commercial returns rather than therapeutic needs."

[PLANK B] ARE THERE ALTERNATIVES TO THE TREATMENT? A better appreciation of the benefits of "alternative" practices has developed in recent years. Often, dietary or lifestyle changes can be effective treatments on their own. Adult-onset diabetes has been linked to obesity, for instance, and can often be cured simply by weight-loss and sensible dieting. Other types of alternative medicine, such as acupuncture, have proven useful in stress relief, and against insomnia and back pains. AECW

[PLANK A] In modern society, I think it would be almost impossible NOT to use medical information gained through animal research at some stage--drug testing being the most obvious consideration--without opting out of health care altogether. It is important, therefore, that we emphasize the need to stop now. The past is irretrievable. JK