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Huge advancements have been made in biomedical research since the 19th Century. Many of these are owed to the millions of animals which are used in what can often be very painful and stressful scientific procedures. The ethics of animal experimentation is undoubtedly one of the most important scientific issues seen in the world today.There are a number of reasons why we choose to use animals when conducting research. First of all, testing on humans is incredibly dangerous and unethical. Furthermore, we know a lot about the physiology, genotype and behaviour of animals (e.g. rodents). Animals such as rodents are also easily bred, handled, and can be kept together in large groups. Model animals (e.g. mice, rats, etc.) are therefore preferred over humans for the testing of drug effects.There are three main principles considered before conducting a test on animals for research. These are known as the “Three Rs”:
Interestingly however, the number of animals used in testing has risen even more heavily in recent years, even with our attention being brought to these new principles with the idea of reducing the number of animals used in experimentation. This has brought forward important ethical and scientific issues. Furthermore, even though the “Three Rs” provide us with powerful concepts, they fail to consider the significant advancements we have made in our knowledge about the emotional and cognitive capacity of the animals used in testing. We now have a reformed appreciation for the harms we cause through animal research. We also have a changing cultural perspective about the position of animals in the modern day world. This better understanding that we have accrued is encouraging people to take a deeper look at the use of animals in testing in the modern day society.
There are a concerning amount of potential causes of harm to animals through testing. These include invasive procedures, diseases, and withdrawal of physiological needs. Other causes include social isolation and prevention of carrying out their usual behaviours. Plenty of research has revealed even with careful handling, animals have exhibited clear changes in stress markers (physiological/hormonal).
Recently, there have been growing concerns as to the actual relevance of these animal experiments with genuine human health outcomes. Animal data has been compared with human data in numerous papers, and these papers have shown that in areas of study, such as neuronal and vascular disease, the findings in animals were not replicated in human clinical trials.
People against animal testing question the scientific community on whether it is necessary to sacrifice millions of animals to achieve their results. They say that a lot of the research isn’t even beneficial, with experiments being performed with the sole of purpose of writing an academic paper in order to acquire a PhD, with no practical end in mind whatsoever. It is also argued that the suffering of the animals is excessive in comparison to the results obtained, and that some animal testing facilities aren’t even properly regulated. Furthermore, several drugs have had detrimental side effects that weren’t predicted by their animal models. These drugs, such as Vioxx or Thalidomide, were taken off the market. Thalidomide was prescribed to prevent nausea in pregnant women, but was then discovered to cause birth defects. PETA claimed that the drug was tested on animals but could not predict the side effect exhibited in humans.
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