Permit me to broach a controversial topic. Today’s story is not about sex, politics or religion, the usual favourite subjects of strident, opinionated and divisive harangues or polemics. At least not directly. This is a rant about animal abuse and experimentation clothed under the term of experimentation and medical research ‘for the good and/or progress of mankind’.
Most of us have a passing knowledge or awareness of what goes on in medical research facilities around the world. Present-day medical advances have to a great degree been at the expense of hapless animals on which new products and procedures have been tested. But that is not the only places where animals were subjected to sometimes gruesome experiments.
A few of us grew up in the so called dawn of space exploration and witnessed the first human landing on the moon. Prior to that we marvelled at the first attempts of space exploration and orbital probes in the 1940s and 50s, headlined by the launching of Russia’s Sputniks and America’s V2 and Jupiter rockets. Sunk beneath all the awe and admiration of those feats was the fact that these attempts were made at the cost of animal lives. Who remembers Laika, the first space faring dog? And the many monkeys – all named Alfred – none of which survived their blasts into space? Not to mention other countless monkeys, dogs, cats, rodents and insects whose lives were sacrificed ‘for the good of mankind’. They did not volunteer and they were terrified and tortured by the experiments and most of them died, painfully. Animal astronauts did not usually survive their trips until the late 1950s. Even as late as 1957 Laika suffered an atrocious death due to panic and overheating in the cabin on its 4th orbit around the earth. Other animals shot into space faced a mixed blessing: they might survive or not. If they did, they were merely sent on the next mission. Laika, by the way, did not stand a freezing chance in hell. She would have died regardless because she was on a one-way mission as Sputnik did not have the technology to return to earth. Did their deaths advance the progress of space exploration? The unfortunate answer is yes, it did. At least to the point of proving that animal and by extension human life could survive in space. Was it worth it? And what about the ethics?
Nowadays we no longer send defenceless animals into space as a vanguard to test the waters for the humans to follow. We have computers and robotics to take on that role. Unless you count the more or less humane science experiments involving small animals onboard the International Space Station. These tests are no longer a test of survivability; they now investigate the biological processes and effects of microgravity or measure radiation exposure. At least, they have more than a fighting chance to survive. But what is still going on in our nations’ laboratories is animal based R&D that is not at all benign or humane. The questions for all these experiments now becomes: is it necessary? Do the test results warrant all this pain and suffering?
Animals have always been the go-tos when man wants to know if a certain product or procedure would be beneficial or safe to humans. Medical research and experimentation is still a booming business and pharmaceutics mean BIG money. In medical labs all over the world, defenceless animals like rodents, monkeys, dogs, cats and birds and a lot of other species are subjected to undocumented cruelty in vile experiments that leave them either dead, severely injured or traumatised. The justification of all this Frankenstein ado is that animal experiments ultimately benefit mankind. But who is pulling the wool over our eyes? Yes we share a lot of our DNA with animals but not enough to make these tests totally meaningful. The level of suffering involved is so high that the benefits to humanity don’t provide moral justification. Experimentation results can be misleading. They may be valid for the animals in the test but may be totally different, even dangerous for human beings, or vice versa. Just ask yourself how come effective drugs or cures have still not been found for many diseases after umpteen experiments.
Animals, so we are told, are inferior to humans and since, in true Judeo-Christian tradition, man has been given dominion over the earth including the animals, it appears to give him carte blanche to use these hapless creatures as he sees fit. Not a word or thought about treating animals humanely. That seems to go out the window together with a good dose of compassion. Animal rights or ethics don’t even come into this line of reasoning.
It doesn’t help that in some countries like the USA there are laws that say that all drugs must be tested on animals for safety before they can be used in humans. The so-called Animal Welfare Act (AWA) allows animals to be burned, shocked, poisoned, maimed, isolated, starved, forcibly restrained, addicted to drugs, and brain-damaged. No experiment, no matter how painful or trivial, is prohibited—and painkillers are not even required.
To make it worse, some tests that have proven to be totally useless continue to be performed. A good example of that is the experiment at Texas A&M University where hundreds of dogs are deliberately maimed and injured in a study of Muscular Dystrophy that so far has not contributed one iota of progress to benefit human sufferers of MD.
The answer is staring us in the face. Animals feel pain, fear and stress just like humans. We must substitute other modes of research. Replacing experiments on animals with alternative techniques such as trials on human tissue and cell cultures, using computer or mathematical models, studying human volunteers and using more focused clinical and epidemiological studies would greatly reduce if not entirely eliminate the stated need to experiment on animals.
With all the advances in computer technology that provides us with the ability to splice genes, reconstitute DNA, analyse the human body to the nth degree of minutiae, sophisticated high-fidelity human-patient simulators and so much more, we should be able to switch to a form of computer based experimentation and bypass animal testing altogether. At least the computer model could reciprocate human DNA much closer that any animal alive. Why are the best brains in the world not putting their talents towards developing a system like that? More funding should be earmarked for developing these alternative ways of testing drugs and procedures.
After all it is a question of ethics. In treating animals like an inferior species and subjecting them to misery and pain we are only debasing ourselves. Considering we are also good at destroying the only planet that sustains our lives, we are proving ourselves unworthy of our innate intelligence and the unique features that make us human.
What can we do? – In addition to supporting animal rights and animal protection groups that are active in trying to prevent or curtail the process of medical research based on animal experimentation, there are other things an individual can do. You can petition R&D labs, and the politicians and academics who support them. You can write letters to your political representatives to urge the need for more funding of alternative research, sign the numerous petitions circulated by animal rights activist associations like PETA, The Animal Defense League, etc. If all of us contribute a drop in the ocean of animal empathy and support these organisations, we will make a big difference. But it is a long and tough road. In today’s politicised climate, Big Pharma still rules and is the kingpin to all this. You can certainly point the finger at them and say as Emile Zola once famously wrote: J’accuse!!
By Ines Wynn
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