Thursday, 5 December 2013

Animal Testing

Animal testing is, for reasons that should be obvious, a controversial issue. I've been asked for my opinion on it by various people recently, so I thought I'd make a blog post stating what my stance on it is.

In short: I think at the present time, it's a necessary evil. I can completely understand why people are against it, and I sympathise with people who want to stop using animal testing in medicine and biomedical research, and I'd love for us to be at the point where we can realistically say "Yes, we have the technology to provide a robust alternative to animal models in medicine and biotechnology", but we're simply not there yet, unfortunately. The day we are, I'll gladly join the ranks of those who want to end the practice of animal testing.

Fighting against animal testing per-se will never win in the current state of the art, because people place a high value on medicines and other treatments which can cure and prevent human illnesses, disabilities and diseases. It could be argued that this is the result of myopic human attitudes that place themselves at the centre of everything, but if it were your loved one with cancer your priorities would likely change to being willing to sacrifice a few animals in a dark lab somewhere out of sight and out of mind to keep them alive, and if it were you living with a potentially debilitating disability that can be controlled with medication to give you a normal quality of life, you probably wouldn't decline that medication on the basis that it's been tested on animals to ensure it's both effective and safe to use on humans.

In fact, I'm one of those people who has to use medication every day to maintain a normal quality of life. Without it, I'd be a danger to my own health, because I'd be prone to losing consciousness at any moment in time, while still giving a superficial appearance of being conscious (I can still walk, look around, and do other routine, automatic movements without being aware of it). This medication was tested on animals before being put in human clinical trials. This isn't a source of pride for me; I'd much rather it hadn't been tested on animals if that were possible, and I hope we soon develop technologies that will make animal testing obsolete. But I also like being a functional person. If there's anything that being taught to hunt at a young age taught me, it's to never treat the taking of an animal's life to sustain your own lightly.

But, unfortunately, I can't say I'd trade my functionality as a human, and of people like me and with a myriad different medical conditions for not having done those tests. And that's coming from me; I love animals. I study them at university. But I think that simply fighting against animal testing is futile; you're essentially running a negative campaign against what most people perceive as a necessary evil to keep people alive and improve their quality of life.

We currently have some good leads into producing new techniques in the future that may allow us to replace animal models entirely - through stem cells. The more research that gets funded in this field, the faster we will probably be able to make animal testing obsolete. Instead of campaigning to stop animal testing right this minute, consider the good that could be done by instead spending those resources and that money on raising funds for that research area. Animal testing simply won't be banned until there's a viable alternative - why not help to create that alternative instead?