Animals used in research have rights, too

There is a line that no scientist should cross when testing on animals in the laboratory.

Anant Naik

For centuries, medical progress has relied on animal testing. Because testing primitive drugs on humans was completely out of the question, scientists took the liberty of using animals — often mice, rats or primates — as test subjects.

In April 2013, the British Union for Abolition of Vivisections accused Imperial College London of treating its lab rats harshly and brutally. The allegations accused the college of “guillotining” its rats and forcing them into small, cramped areas only to lead them to their certain deaths.

Recently, the BUAV withdrew its allegations that any such practices occurred at the college. Despite the withdrawal, much of the scientific community has been trying to put animal rights into perspective.

Every year, more than 115 million animals are used in laboratory experiments around the world. Theoretically, animals’ responses to drugs or treatments will parallel humans’ responses. However, studies show that nine out of 10 drugs that work successfully on mice fail when they are actually sent to the clinical trial phase.

Critics of animal experimentation argue that this suggests a failure of the scientific method and say we must end animal testing. I would argue a middle ground — animal testing has its merits.

Often, the benefit is that one drug out of 10 actually succeeds in clinical trials and benefits humanity. But by thinking of lab animals simply as a means to an end of human progress, we dehumanize ourselves.

The research community shouldn’t use animal testing as a beginning step for research projects. In the initial stages of research, there’s a lot of trial and error. We don’t know what procedures or solutions will work. We don’t know whether our study or research will have any impact on the problem we are trying to solve. Thus, beginning uncertain research on animals imposes a risk that if the test goes wrong, the animal will suffer unnecessarily.

Starting research projects with cell studies and in vitro analyses thus becomes almost a moral imperative. Just like we
perform human clinical trials as a final test, we must treat animal testing in the same manner.

Some people may ask why it’s a bad thing for a rat or a mouse to suffer for the sake of science. After all, we use the research and data collected to aid societal progress. This utilitarian idea deserves a utilitarian response.

Jeremy Bentham, the founder of modern utilitarianism, states, “The question is not ‘Can they reason?’ nor ‘Can they talk?’ but ‘Can they suffer?’”

Bentham argued that if a being or creature can suffer, it deserves equal consideration with humans. In other words, it deserves rights. Animals have the capacity to suffer. They have the same neurological pathways that result in pain as you and I.

I don’t claim to have a specific policy suggestion for universities. There isn’t a law that could make people compassionate. But the sooner we realize that compassion shouldn’t only encompass those with who we can regularly communicate, but rather with every living being in our community, the sooner we can take solace in our humanity.