A Case For Change

originally edited for ALDF blog found here

Like the factory farm industry and its massive abundance of animal growth for human consumption, science has become very gluttonous with its use of animals for research. The use of animals for testing can be found everywhere, and in almost every product we may unknowingly support.

Can we continue to ignore what we know is wrong by letting proponents of animal testing argue that it is the only viable option; an option that causes an arrant amount of pain and suffering? Some have questioned if we really understand what kind of pain an animal feels, or how can we know what the level of intensity is to the animal being tested on? As Peter Singer, moral philosopher and professor of Bioethics at Princeton University explains:

We have reasons to believe that non human animals feel pain. Animals also respond to noxious stimuli much the same way we do. They avoid these stimuli and shriek, cry, or jerk when they can’t escape them.

Associating ethics with animal rights usually centers the ethics around the representation of the animals only. What happens if we consider that testing on animals for human comparison can bring inadequate data? The ethical question – for some begins to favor the human and not the animal. In his book Inhumane Society, Dr. Michael W. Fox quotes an excerpt taken from a scholarly article on birth defects.

Although billions of dollars have been spent worldwide on experiments that have sacrificed millions of mice, rats, and rabbits, in only two instances has a cause of birth defects in humans been found first in an animal,” and concerning cancer: “Chemotherapy – much of it based on animal research – is not proving effective in treating most forms of cancer, even though an estimated 200,000 patients are subjected to it and its harmful and sometimes fatal side effects.

Is it ethical to deem drugs safe for human consumption, that have been approved by testing on animals, when science can prove there are important differences between human and non-human animals? Are we stuck using animals as test models in the foreseeable future? Can the exceptional human mind – in combination with modern technology – put an end to current medical laboratory practices involving animal exploitation and animal testing?

Welcome to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing. The CAAT explains – via their “about us” page – they are a small non-profit center dedicated to improving the health of both people and animals.

We seek to effect change by working with scientists in industry, government, and academia to find new ways to replace animals with non-animal methods, reduce the numbers of animals necessary, or refine methods to make them less painful or stressful to the animals involved

How are these incredible advancements – which also happen to embrace ethicality – discovered? Besides the diligent work and strong support led by animal rights groups, this according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine:

Innovations in medical simulation technology, availability of alternatives, increased awareness of ethical concerns, and a growing acknowledgement that medical training must be human-focused.

Most research is performed at the university level and this important work should be no different. Doctors, engineers, scientists, professors, and students who are studying in these fields, need to collaborate in an understanding that will better our human(e) footprint. This means there needs to be a greater push in scholarship offerings for students who want to pursue fields that remove animals from testing, and grant offerings to the researchers who are working hard to do so.

From in-vitro testing methods, to in-silico methods that involve computer integration and simulation, the concern on a global level should be to move forward and create substantial and beneficial replacements to animal based research. This is for the wellbeing of all living creatures including the human and animal lives saved through research.

Advancements and scientific breakthroughs are made at extraordinary rates. Science is confirming our animal friends may not be our best resources for human simulation, and technology can do a better job at filling this void.

Some hastily consider technology to be the “evil” of the twenty-first century, but anything that enables us to saves lives and finally put an end to suffering cannot possibly be more evil than an archaic world full of pain.

We cannot let the fear of change or a fear of technology push us to settle for old world ideals of approving medicine and other products. Engineering methods that are accurate, faster to conclusion, and empathetic to the pain once felt, is a future we can all benefit from.