I Support Vivisection but Must We Really Kill 4million Animals?
Byline: by Dr Danny Penman
VIVISECTION polarises British society like almost no other issue. On the one hand, medical researchers claim that animal experiments are vital for human progress and the elimination of diseases. On the other, animal rights extremists say that scientists delight in 'torturing' animals for profit.
We want it both ways: we demand our life-saving pharmaceuticals but don't like to think too deeply about the animals they were tested upon.
Like most people, I would sacrifice the lives of countless lab animals to save my fiancee or other members of my family. Nevertheless, I felt deeply uneasy yesterday when I learned that the number of animals used in experiments had increased by half a million in the past year alone.
A disturbing 3.7 million animals are now used every year in British labs, mostly for medical research. These figures come just three months after a ban on all cosmetics testing came into force across Europe.
As a former research biochemist, I find it perplexing that the cosmetics industry has managed to eliminate all animal testing whereas medical researchers rely on it more than ever. Why are there so many animal experiments when there are alternatives? One reason, ironically, is that violence and intimidation by a handful of animal rights fanatics has clouded the debate. For if you question the work of scientists today, you risk being lumped together with the extremists.
Thus the scientists have been able to expand their research on animals without anyone in authority examining whether their tests are truly necessary. This seems to me both unjust and against the spirit of academic inquiry.
I do not dispute for one moment that some animal experiments are vital to medical progress. But for solid scientific reasons, I do question whether the sheer extent of such tests in modern medical science is necessary.
Many medical researchers will agree with me. Put simply, as often as not, testing drugs on animals very often gives misleading results that can endanger human health.
This is not an extreme viewpoint. New Scientist magazine recently described the results of animal medical experiments as 'no more informative than tossing a coin'. I would not go that far myself, but I do believe that vivisection is, at best, unreliable and, at worst, lethal.
It is just not the case that the results of animal experiments can provide 'proof' that a new pharmaceutical will be safe for use on humans. Sometimes they do, but often they do not. This is because of the numerous biochemical, physiological and genetic differences between humans and animals.
A shocking example is the infamous Northwick Park incident of 2006. In that instance, you will recall, a group of six perfectly healthy young men became critically ill after being given the experimental drug TGN 1412.
THIS drug was designed to treat rheumatoid arthritis and leukaemia. It passed all of the animal tests without a hint of trouble. The drug was also tested on monkeys at doses 500 times greater than that given to the young men and, again, was shown to be 'safe'.
So the trial proceeded to the final stage, with tests on human volunteers. …