What would happen if . . . we banned medical research on animals?

Jacqui Barnes and Pat Guyda
The Next City
December 21, 1997

 

Jacqui Barnes, a director of Animal Alliance of Canada, and Pat Guyda, president of Canadians for Health Research, comments

 

We could consider abandoning the animal model of human disease. Although the public gives researchers the onerous task of curing us, we rarely allow them to use our bodies for research. Scientists created the animal model, which made it morally acceptable to use “soulless” animals in ethically questionable research. Humans have used animals to model most, if not all, of our diseases and abnormal behaviors. In fact, researchers rely so heavily on animal models to fight diseases that they have placed less emphasis on gathering data from those who have the disease and from broader epidemiological information. Using the animal model to find cures for human diseases is like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. If you pound hard and long enough, you may get it — however imperfectly.

Scientists and researchers would be subject to public scrutiny. Currently, the public is more concerned with the results of biomedical research than the process. Once researchers focus on humans rather than on the animal model, we will be more involved in the research process and have a more vested interest in researchers’ methods.

We would respect the lives of animals. Any progressive and conscientious civilization would be opposed to any research on unconsenting beings, particularly if that research is not for their direct benefit.

There would still be medical advances. To think otherwise is shortsighted and irresponsible and perpetuates a defeatist attitude toward our battle with disease. Abolishing medical research on animals would give us a whole new outlook on human health: Resources would be used to educate, establish support groups, encourage lifestyle changes, and explore alternative and non-invasive ways of healing. We would have a more humane and creative agenda based on human health rather than human disease.

Pat Guyda

Our lives, safety, and well-being would be compromised. Medical researchers use laboratory animals to provide fundamental biological knowledge that will help in developing disease prevention and treatment; to provide information about specific diseases or disorders; to test potential therapies, diagnostic and surgical procedures, and medical devices; and to study the safety and efficacy of new drugs or to determine the potential toxicity of chemicals to which we will be exposed. Both humans and animals have derived enormous benefit from this research. The means to cure, treat, and prevent the diseases and disorders that still inflict pain, disability, and death on millions of people and animals each year require the continued responsible use of some laboratory animals.

Why can’t we use human subjects? Humans do participate in experimental trials. However, for a number of reasons, including important ethical and legal considerations, human subjects can’t provide the needed information. For example, Alzheimer’s takes a long time to develop. Animal models enable scientists to study the full range of disease progression in a relatively short time. Few of us would offer ourselves, or a family member, as the first subject of research on a disease such as AIDS. Nor would we wish to be the first to experience an untried procedure or a medication, however promising, that has never been tested in a living system.

Are there “alternatives” to using animals in medical research? Yes. Over the past 25 years, scientists have developed methodologies that have reduced our reliance on animals by 50 to 60 per cent, and researchers are making further progress all the time. However, Canadians must acknowledge that, at least into the foreseeable future, the use of animals in medical research cannot be completely eliminated.

Jacqui Barnes

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