Animal testing is a practice of using animals to help understand biology and other scientific issues of interests. The practice is mostly associated with the need to understand human body and development of medications. Animal testing in scientific research has been associated with a wide range of breakthroughs in biomedical developments and other sciences, but the practice is also a major source of ethical concern in animal welfare (Ferdowsian & Beck, 2011). Animals undergoing the practice are faced with numerous risks of being subjected to cruelty and thus suffering. However, there is also the need for medical researchers to develop and test new medications before their use on humans in treating diseases. There are concerns about whether animal testing is necessary and ethically justifiable given the sufferings of animals used in research. The benefits associated with animal testing are worth the cost of some animals provided the guidelines for animal welfare are properly observed.
Medical breakthroughs have shown that animal testing is important for the welfare of human beings, and have been important in addressing some claims against animal research. There is a general consensus among scientists that animal testing is critical to understanding basic biology, diseases, new treatments and testing the safety of new medications (Gilbert, Kaebnick & Murray, 2012). But there are many claims that discredit the contribution of animal testing in developments in biomedical sciences. A major claim is that animal testing does not help in improving human health because the physiological of humans and animals are too different to allow the replication of animal test results in humans (Ringach, 2011). Although all medical advances are not as a result of animal testing, there are notable breakthroughs that could not have been achieved without the use of animals. These breakthroughs include the discovery of insulin, understanding of the processes used in heart and lung functions, and the development of drugs to manage breast cancer (Ringach, 2011). These breakthroughs in medical science are important to human health and researchers will continue to rely on animals to understand the human body and illnesses.
Another claim is that there are many alternatives to animal testing that provide cost-effective ways to advance research without causing animal suffering. This claim has been used to question the morals of using animal testing in research studies. The Humane Society of the United States holds that the 21st-century scientific developments provide sophisticated technologies that can be used as alternatives to animal experiments (Ringach, 2011). This claim has resulted in an ethical issue about animal testing, because of the suffering of animals and the justification of the practice given that there are alternatives. However, this claim is weak because the practice of animal testing has helped in the development of the available technologies and it is not possible to replace all elements of animal testing because the technology is in the process of advancement (Ringach, 2011).
The ethical issues on animal testing have emerged in recent years even though the use of animals for research has been ongoing from the ancient history. History shows that biomedical researchers in ancient Greece dissected animals for anatomical studies because of the similarities between human anatomy and that of vertebrates (Franco, 2013). However, the use of animals in these days was not viewed as an ethical issue because of the common belief about the superiority of humans to other living creatures. According to Franco, the supposed likeliness of humans to their deities granted them a higher ranking and authority to manipulate other living things for their benefit (2013). The view about animal testing started changing in later years as some scientists started questioning the reliability and usefulness of information obtained from animal testing to the study of the human body and diseases. Because of scientific limitations at the time, the interpretation of results from animal testing was often inaccurate, and little was gained on the advancement of human health from the animal studies, therefore resulting in a large number of animals exposed to suffering with clear benefits. The relevance of animal testing to clinical advancements was questioned even in the 18th century. The ethical issue on animal testing started with advancements by physiologists and philosophers. Physiologists contributed to the ethical issue by demonstrating that animals were capable of feeling pain, and some experiments on animals were very cruel to their wellbeing. Philosophers participated by bringing forth the debate about the responsibility of humans towards animals and nature in general. Philosophers challenged the traditional view that humans had no responsibility towards nature and that humans were supposed to exploit the nature for their livelihood without any responsibility for the welfare of animals (Franco, 2013). Currently, there are social organizations dedicated towards the welfare of animals and high level of public awareness about ethical issues in biomedical research. Therefore, animal testing is a major ethical issue in the modern world because of the cruelty against animals and the contribution of the practice to biomedical research.
Because of the need to protect the welfare of animals and to advance biomedical research through animal testing, various legal and ethical guidelines have been developed to guide researchers when using animal subjects. In the United States, researchers are required to follow federal, state and institutional laws and guidelines on the welfare of animals. Agencies at the federal level regulate the use of warm-blooded animals in any scientific testing through the Animal Welfare Act, but with exemptions on certain animals that have been specifically bred for research (Silk, Hampton & Brown, 2014). Also, there are many institutions that are dedicated to advising researchers on the best ways to take care of animals undergoing scientific testing. The main objective of the laws and guidelines is to ensure that every animal test is justified by a specific need to gain more scientific knowledge about the human body or diseases. Also, the guidelines are meant to reduce the suffering by animals as possible. For instance, the regulations on animal welfare prohibit researchers from duplicating studies that use live animal testing in order to reduce the number of animals subjected to biomedical research (Silk, Hampton & Brown, 2014). This requirement means that researchers have the responsibility of ensuring that the only means to obtain the required clinical information are through animal testing. Therefore, a new study can be disallowed if there is a previous study that provides the information that is required in the current one. Researchers in the US must meet various conditions before they are granted permission for animal testing. These conditions include a description of the animals and their number, justification of the use of specific animals, a description of procedures to ensure humane treatment of animals, and the method of euthanasia and its justification (Silk, Hampton & Brown, 2014).
In conclusion, animal testing is an ethical issue in the society despite its association with breakthroughs in biomedical research. Although animal testing has existed for a long time in human history, there is increasing awareness of the impacts of the practice on the welfare of animals and also an increasing demand for ethical conduct by the public. Because of ethical concerns, animal testing is now regulated by laws and scientists are expected to uphold ethical requirements when dealing with live animals. Humans will continue to depend on animal testing in understanding biology and developing new medications, and therefore the practice has a lot of benefits to the society. Animal testing is important and necessary as long as those involved uphold the ethical requirements for animal welfare.
- Ferdowsian, H. & Beck, N. (2011). Ethical and Scientific Considerations Regarding Animal Testing and Research. PLoS ONE, 6(9): e24059. Retrieved 15 March 2016 from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0024059
- Franco, N. (2013). Animal Experiments in Biomedical Research: A Historical Perspective. Animals, 3, 238-273.
- Gilbert, S., Kaebnick, G. & Murray, T. (2012). Animal Research Ethics. Hastings Center Report. Special Report, 42, (6). Retrieved 15 March 2016 from http://www.thehastingscenter.org/uploadedFiles/Publications/Special_Reports/AnimalResearchEthics.pdf
- Ringach, D. (2011). The Use of Nonhuman Animals in Biomedical Research. The American Journal of the Medical Sciences, 342(4), 305-313.
- Silk, S., Hampton, L. & Brown, P. (2014). What Investigators Need to Know About the Use of Animals. ILAR Journal, 54(3), 324-328.