Today Animal Justice Project campaigners came together during the University of Bath’s 2018 Open Day for their ‘Lifeline’ campaign against the University’s use of animals in depression and drug addiction research experiments. “These animals are not disposable tools for researchers at Bath University to throw away once they are done with them. They are intelligent and social animals who have the same desire to live as us,” says Spokesperson and Founder of Animal Justice Project, Claire Palmer.
Activists stood together clad in black and wearing surgical masks while holding emotive videos of animal vivisections, holding question cards and handing out information to educate new students and the public about what Palmer states as being “pointless and cruel experiments on mice.”
It has long been ingrained in thought that animals are a critical part of the advancement of science and medicine and we have continued to exploit them with massive benefits. Treatments like blood transfusions, the development of tamoxifen for cancer treatment, the polio and hepatitis B vaccine, the discovery of insulin for diabetes, and so many more have been the result of animal experimentation.
Since the Greek philosophers of old – the likes of Aristotle and Erasistratus – we have done so, but times are changing and our ethics with it. Have you not heard the phrase, “just because it is, doesn’t mean it should be”? Palmer makes a bold and strong statement: “Britain’s youth are turning towards a more ethical, vegan lifestyle, and this university’s antiquated animal research won’t sit well with new students here. Its days are numbered.”
But this is not to say that researchers carry out animal experiments from the depths of their cold and cruel hearts. Responsible scientists and researchers follow strict principles and frameworks of bioethics that have been established to guide the humane treatment of animals in research, with the ultimate goal of making a difference and saving lives.
The UK has gone as far as to create legislation for ethical treatment of animals in the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act of 1986. In regard to their own use of animals in research, a spokesperson from the University of Bath stated: “Research at the University is investigating how the use of animals can be reduced, or even replaced, by using tissue culture and computer modelling, but some properties are shown only by whole animals.”
But does all this mean that animals don’t come to any harm? Not necessarily. Findings from Animal Justice Project show that 4.14 million animal experiments were carried out in the UK in 2015; of this number, 600,000 animals were categorised as having been subjected to moderate or severe suffering. So where do we draw the line? This is the key question that Animal Justice Project is asking you. Where do you, as an ethical human being, draw the line?
The paradox of ethics is that as a society or individual we purport something to be ethical or non-ethical, right or wrong, black and white. But ethics are a shade of grey that aren’t tangible nor are they measurable.
The University’s research has led them to make “significant advances in motor neuron disease, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, cancer and the therapeutic potential of stem cells because of animal studies,” says a University of Bath spokesperson.
But opponents to their use of animals in this way, like Animal Justice Project Science Advisor, Eva Pereira Blanco, contend that it is a “wast[e] [of] time and money on pointless and crude work.” She emphasises the difficulties in transferring results of animal models, considering things like the huge differences in drug doses, to the complexity of mood and behavioural disorders of humans. Both groups have made an ethical stance, but which is right?
Now if you’re new to the debate on the use of animals in research experiments, there are several arguments both for and against their use. I’ll summarise just a few arguments below:
- The contribution to human medicine and research and its major advances has only been possible due to animal testing.
- Short of experimenting on humans, animals are the only alternative that have a similar complex biological system. There are still too many inherent limitations in the use of alternatives methods.
- Animals can benefit from the research and we have been able develop vaccines and other forms of life-saving treatments for animals.
- The law on bioethics and the use of animals in research is tightly regulated to protect them from inhumane practice.
- Animal testing is cruel and inhumane. Animals have the same rights to life as us and we have no right to take that away from them.
- There are other methods of study and experimentation i.e. in vitro testing, micro-dosing in human studies and computational models and simulations.
- Animals and humans are different and therefore results are not valid or transferable.
- Just because drugs have been tested on animals that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are safe for humans i.e. the case of thalidomide which was tested on animals and deemed ‘safe’ for human use and resulted in thousands of babies being born with severe deformities.
The debate on the use of animals in biomedical research is one that is heavily divided, and a topic of conversation littered with minefields of passionate and explosive opinions ‘for’ and ‘against’. So, whether you fight for the cause of Animal Justice Project or support the University of Bath’s research progress, put your hands together for those who are willing to take a stance and stand up for what they believe in. And ask yourself where you draw the line on the use of animals in scientific and biomedical research experiments.
Words by Jemima Ung
Featured Image © Toby Brown Photography/INIGO
Note: If you want to find out a bit more about the issue, follow some of the links below. There is a plethora of information out there for you to learn from. We’d love to hear what your opinion is, so feel free to comment.