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The human body is an impossibly complex, abstract machine composed of trillions of individual cells, made up of billions of molecules, all comprised of tens of thousands of atoms performing their individual functions with astonishing precision in the confines of an autonomous system. In order to unravel the mysteries of human biology, biomedical researchers require specific tools capable of emulating such intricate processes to adequately test medical treatments for effectiveness, safety, and efficiency. For centuries researchers and scientists have relied on animal test subjects to fulfill the requirements for such a model in order to further advancements in their respective fields. However, humans differ anatomically, genetically, and metabolically from other animal's biological makeup rendering results that are highly unpredictable, largely inaccurate, and therefore, cannot be effectively extrapolated to humans. In wake of modern technological advancements, it is time to replace these antiquated, barbaric methods of vivisection with methods that surpass these practices in both accuracy and effectiveness.
Vivisection is the action of surgery or other invasive treatment of an animal or other living organism for the purposes of physiological or pathological scientific investigation. The word originates from the Latin words virus, which means "living", and sectio, which means "a cutting". Pioneering physicians and scientists resorted to vivisection to satisfy their need to further knowledge of anatomy and biology. The earliest references to animal dissection are found in the writings of the Aristotle and Erasistratus in the third and fourth centuries BCE respectively. Aristotle and Erasistratus utilized results gained from animal dissection to document various observations, interpretations, and conjectures about the construct and working nature of the animal anatomy and their natural history. A century later came Aelius Galenus, a Greek physician, surgeon, and philosopher who resided in Rome. His area of interest was human anatomy, but Roman law prohibited the use of human corpses for dissection in the second century BCE, so he resorted to the use of both living and dead animals for experimentation. This practice earned him the title of father of vivisection. During the twelfth century, Ibn Zuhr, an Arabic physician, used vivisection to establish alternative methods for testing surgical procedures prior to using them directly on humans. Unfortunately, regardless of major technological advancements, these practices are still unnecessarily preformed today.
In the 20th century, the practice of vivisection has become a staple in the field of applied science. Animal experimentation is used by pharmaceutical companies, universities, and various governments in pre-clinical studies for the purposes of toxicology testing, cosmetics testing, xenotransplantation, and drug testing. There is no way to calculate the exact number of animals used for biomedical research, as many government's statistics do not include mice, rats, birds, and fish as they are not considered animals. Research Defense Society in the United Kingdom estimated figures at upwards of 26 million animals used for experimentation and killed in the United States and the European Union in 2007. However, the number of animals subject to vivisection has curtailed in the last 30 years, likely due to stricter controls, improvements in animal welfare, and scientific advances.
Of the many types and species of animals used for biomedical research, scientists prefer specific animals for certain types of research. They choose animals based on their genetic and anatomical similarities to the specific human traits that are desired for their particular study. The use of genetic engineering has become commonplace in many fields of research, particularly biomedical. Since they are not considered animals in many parts of the world and perhaps because short gestation the mouse has become the flagship of animal testing. They are especially useful with genetic modifications such as gene knockouts, and gene knockins. However, even the genetically altered mouse has its problems. There have been countless cases where drugs have worked well in pre-clinical trials in mice but turn out to be ineffective when used in clinical trials on humans. According to Jim Schnabel of Nature, International Weekly Journal of Science:
The results of drug tests in mice have never translated perfectly to tests in humans. But in recent years, and especially for neurodegenerative diseases, mouse model results have seemed nearly useless. In the past year, for example, three major Alzheimer's drug candidates, Alzhemed (3-amino-1-propanesulphonic acid), Flurizan (tarenflurbil) and bapineuzumab, all of which had seemed powerfully effective in mouse models, have performed weakly or not at all in clinical trials involving thousands of human Alzheimer's patients. (Schnabel, 2008)
Regardless of the type of animal being used for experimentation, the question of the ethical justification remains at the forefront of the vivisection debate. Should animals be granted a moral status? Do humans have the right to subject animals to pain and suffering? Philosopher Rene Descartes played an important role in the early debate over vivisection. In his work Discours de la Methode Descartes concluded that humans and beasts were anatomical machines subject to the laws of mechanics. The Cartesian method of thought determined that humans were the only animals with a soul, and therefore the only ones capable of consciousness or the ability to feel pain. This provided a convenient ideology for early vivisectionists who interpreted the cries of pain emanating from animals as the mere mechanical reaction from robots.
The philosophical viewpoints of vivisection have drastically shifted as our knowledge of physiology has exponentially grown. Vivisectionists in the 20th and 21st centuries have adopted a utilitarian philosophy when it comes to animal experimentation. The principle of consequentialism in utilitarian philosophy states that an action must be judged for its consequences on the happiness of the largest number. Therefore, vivisectionists justify their practices as being for the greater good of humanity. This reasoning is flawed. The claims of success resulting from pre-clinical trials are contradicted by the general condition of the population's health. People are suffering in the greater numbers from illnesses despite the billions of animal sacrificed for their alleged benefit. According to the World Health Organization, "Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide and the total number of cases globally is increasing. The number of global cancer deaths is projected to increase 45% from 2007 to 2030â€¦" (World Health Organization, 2008). Cardio Vascular disease is also on the rise according to the WHO: "An estimated 17.3 million people died from CVDs in 2008, representing 30% of all global deaths. Of these deaths, an estimated 7.3 million were due to coronary heart disease and 6.2 million were due to stroke" (World Health Organization, 2012). These results suggest that the tests performed on countless involuntary animals have not yielded results that are successful enough to justify vivisection. As the needs of the greater good haven't been met, animal experiments cannot be directly linked to the furtherance of the greater good of humanity, but rather should be considered scientifically irrelevant, isolated acts of cruelty.
It is still claimed by supporters of vivisection that most of the modern medical procedures and medicines discovered in the 20th century are a direct result of animal experimentation. This is also a fallacy. Scientists can accumulate nothing more from these experiments other than the fact that under current conditions, a foreign substance has generated a certain reaction from the animal. To transfer this result directly to humans is pure speculation. In every instance the experiment must be repeated in a clinical trial on humans with unknown risks and unpredictable results. Only afterwards, when the results of the clinical trial can be compared with the animal experiment a judgment can be made as to whether the data derived from the animal experiment can be extrapolated to humans to any extent. According to the FDA,
Most drugs that undergo preclinical (animal) testing never even make it to human testing and review by the FDA. The drugs that do must undergo the agency's rigorous evaluation process, which scrutinizes everything about the drug--from the design of clinical trials to the severity of side effects to the conditions under which the drug is manufactured. (FDA, 2012)
Scientists combat this realization with ethical reassurance from 1959 book by William Russell and Rex Burch detailing humane methods of treating the animals used in experiments as well as a future plan to minimize and eventually replace vivisection altogether. This plan is better known as the three R's of scientific research: reduce, refine, and replace. The first R stands for reduce. As in reduce the number of animals used in experiments. The second R, refine, stands for refining the methods that alleviate potential pain and distress, enhancing the animals well-being. The third R is replace. Replace represents the desire of the scientific community to replace these experimental animal procedures with alternatives that yield better results.
There are vast differences in governmental regulations of vivisection and the implementation of the 3 R's around the globe. In some nations such as the United Kingdom, regulation and enforcement of regulations are directly overseen by government agencies such as the Home Office. The UK Animals Act produces publically available annual reports on the animal experiments conducted as well as offers strict protection for all living vertebrates including the octopus. In contrast, Australian regulations are operated by a form of self-regulation using institutional Animal Ethics Committees that follow a code set in each state or territory. The United States model differs from the British and Australian systems in that certain vertebrates are excluded from protection under the Animal Welfare Act. Rodents, fish, and birds are not protected under the act.
There are organizations such as Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT) in the US and Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments (FRAME) in Europe that actively seek alternative methods to vivisection and prescribe to the 3 R's methodology. While it is commendable that vivisectionists have a crisis of conscious, and seek to improve to their methodology and philosophy of practice, the fact is that these pre-clinical trials yield results that are unreliable, and irrelevant when held in regard to the actual useable data produced from clinical trials. This fact renders the concept of reduce and refine completely moot.
The only salvageable principle from the three R's is replace. There have been many scientific and technological advancements in the field of applied science that can adequately replace, and in some places improve upon, the antiquated method of vivisection. In vitro testing had been accepted as a replacement for vivisection for toxicity, cosmetic, and drug testing. This type of testing is conducted in an external, controlled environment, such as a test tube or a petri dish. These toxicity tests use human cell cultures, meaning that they can be directly extrapolated to humans. They are also two to three times more accurate than tests on animals. In vitro test have discovered important drugs such as penicillin and streptomycin and have been linked to thousands of discoveries since. Modern in vitro testing makes pre-clinical trials obsolete. There is now no longer any reason to pre-test drugs and cosmetics on animals for their toxicity. In vitro predicts results with enhanced accuracy and is also cost effective when compared with the arduous care and treatment of a lab animals.
Technological breakthroughs have also created advanced imaging techniques such as CAT, MRI and PET scans. These modern techniques allow the human brain studied down to the level of a single neuron. They eliminate the use of animals and eliminate problems in animal to human extrapolation, while also providing an exorbitant amount of data about the human brain that could not be otherwise ascertained through the use of animals. According to Dr. Qasim Aziz,
In my research, animal models don't represent human patients sufficiently well, and that's a problem that extends across pain research as a whole. New and highly sophisticated brain-imaging technology is providing vital insights that animal research has failed to produce. I would like to see far greater uptake of these and other human-relevant approaches to pain research. (as quoted by BBC News, 2008)
For centuries it has been accepted that it is necessary for doctors and surgeons to learn, practice and hone their skills on living animals due to lack of alternatives. Due to scientific advancements cutting edge simulators and computer models are now widely available to provide students the opportunity to gain familiarity and comfort with medical procedures through unlimited repetition. The mannequins used in these simulations provide improved anatomical and physiological realism when compared with the anatomical differences that exist between humans and live animals. Recently, computer and mathematical modeling have led to new treatments for AIDS, breast cancer, high blood pressure, and aided in the development of new prosthetics. Computer model programs can simulate sophisticated anatomical functions such as heart rate and can be used to determine disease or predisposition to certain illnesses.
Animal experimentation could soon be a thing of the past, as vivisection could soon be replaced by microfluidic chips, microdosing and organ-on-a-chip technologies. These technologies contain real human living cells. Not only do these techniques analyze the effects of drugs on an entire living system, they analyze a human living system, eliminating error caused by species differences and resulting in data that is relevant to humans. Microfluidic chips, microdosing, and organ-on-a-chip methods are used for new drug testing, cancer research, AIDS research and everything in between.
Perhaps more importantly, these chips could help us better understand and treat diseases. Many human diseases don't have an animal analog. It's very hard to find a drug that combats Crohn's disease when you can't effectively test out your drug on animals beforehand - a problem that could be easily solved with the gut-on-a-chip. Likewise, it is very common for drugs to pass animal testing, but then fail on humans. Removing animal testing from the equation would save money and time, and also alleviate any ethical concerns. (Anthony, 2012)
Although every drug invariably has different effects on humans and each animal species, billions of dollars continue to be poured into irrelevant animal experiments. If funding for vivisection was redirected to these technological and scientific advancements, it is plausible that drug and medical advancements would rapidly flourish. According to Dr. Don Ingber, director of Harvard University's Wyss Institute of Biologically Inspired Engineering,
A major problem in the pharmaceutical industry right now is that the drug development model is actually broken. It just does not work. It takes many, many years to get a drug to market, it's incredibly expensive, innumerable animal lives are lost - and then the results from animals usually don't predict what happens in humans. So this is a huge cost to the economy and to the pharmaceutical industry. (as quoted by Safer Medicines, 2012)
Dr. John McArdle at the Animals Agenda Conference in 1988 said: "Historically, vivisection has been much like a slot machine. If researchers pull the experimentation lever often enough, eventually some benefits will result by pure chance" (as quoted by). The practice of vivisection does not constitute good science. Good, relevant, and efficient science can instead be achieved by investing scientific funds and efforts into replacements for vivisection.