Biomedical research makes use of considerable numbers of animals in experiments, the majority of which may be for commercial rather than scientific purposes. Most of these experiments are not carried out in the interest of the animal and result in direct or indirect interference with its normal health or comfort or give rise to unforeseen consequences. Wild animals are trapped or stunned with drugs. Animals may be poorly cared for prior to, during, or following experiments, without adequate use of anaesthetics or appropriate use of euthanasia. Such experiments may be conducted without the appropriate laboratory facilities and by persons without the appropriate qualifications (such as children in school laboratories). Such research is therefore often unnecessarily cruel to the animal, unnecessary in terms of the advance of knowledge, and undesirable in the insensitive attitudes which it cultivates in those who practise such research or witness audio-visual records of it.
It has been estimated that 100-200 million animals die in laboratories around the world each year. In the USA researchers are estimated to use each year approximately: 45 million rodents, 700,000 rabbits, 200,000 cats, 500,000 dogs, 46,000 pigs, 23,000 sheep, 1,725,000 birds, 15-20 million frogs, 190,000 turtles, 61,000 snakes, 51,000 lizards, and over 85,000 primates. In Belgium, in 1998, more than 800,000 animals were used in experiments at the 395 public and private laboratories licensed for animal testing. The majority were rats and mice, but smaller numbers of dogs, cats, reptiles and horses were also involved. The number of primates rose to 841.
Recent figures produced by the Agricultural Department in the USA indicate that, apart from painful experiments, one sample of research institutions revealed that: 24% had major, repeated violation; 22% some major violation; and 29% minor violation of minimum standards of care. Only 24% fully complied with regulations. Advocates of vivisection reform have estimated that perhaps 15% of animal experimentation is necessary (meaning there is no alternative) and proper (meaning following every effort to minimize the suffering, wasteful loss of life, and appropriate choice of animal) for the prevention and cure of disease.
The remaining 70% of animal experimentation can be grouped as follows: (a) regular environmental testing to determine acceptable levels of toxins and other pollutants; (b) military testing of the effects of products designed for chemical and biological warfare, of exposure to radiation, and of other related war hazards (notably those associated with stress); (c) tests concerning human habits, especially drug addiction, and nicotine and alcohol dependency; (d) psychological tests, involving prolonged isolation and exposure to physical and psychological pain, supposedly because of insights of benefit to humans; (e) testing of pharmaceutical products to determine their harmful effects on humans; (f) research undertaken to satisfy scientific curiosity; (g) repetition of earlier experiments to avoid the need to check their published results in the literature; (h) teaching experiments conducted regularly in schools and universities, involving surgery, amputations and use of electrodes.
Animal experiments in the UK have diminished from a peak of 5,607,000 per year in 1971 to 3,112,051 in 1986, most of which were for the testing of pharmaceutical products.
Vivisection, the performance of operations on live animals for physiological or pathological investigation, is cruel and heartless. Animals are subjected to all types of experimentation, often without the use of anaesthesia, and the experiments may be repeated for demonstration purposes. Evidence indicates widespread and callous (if not sadistic) treatment of animals. Anti-vivisectionist leagues are active in the UK and the USA but meet with strong opposition from the pharmaceutical industry as well as the medical science community. There are basically two positions within anti-vivisectionist thought: the absolutists and the reformers.
The absolutist position is that the ends do not justify the means. To inflict pain and death on an innocent being is always wrong. Human beings used in experiments which result in their suffering and death is considered morally wrong; similarly, the inflection of suffering on animals cannot be justified by reference to future benefits for human or other animals.
The reformer position is that while some experimentation may be necessary but most are not. Most experiments bring suffering and death to animals with no likelihood of significant benefits. Alternative methods, not involving animals, could replace experiments on animals, such as, the use of tissue cultures. Other methods could be developed.
Medical research would be impossible without experiments on animals and most researchers treat their animals well. Scientists currently observe voluntary codes. In-house committees monitor research, and institutions are subject to government inspection. Badly kept animals are rare (if distressing) exceptions.