Is Animal Testing Ever Okay?
When getting ready for a “special night,” it can be difficult to be awake to the suffering of animals behind your shimmery powder that promises to make your cheeks as juicy as peaches, or the eyeliner that your favorite actress said would make your eyes really “pop.”
It’s difficult to disillusion ourselves and practice restraint in the drugstore or at the makeup counter. But even if many people can walk into a store, pick out a bottle of body lotion without a second thought to who, or what, it was tested on, at least, when confronted with the idea of testing cosmetics on animals, many people will say they’re against it.
You may agree with me when I say testing cosmetics on animals, in this day and age, is…I don’t want to use the word “dumb,” but maybe “an act of cruelty for a vain cause.” And no, when things like mascara or moisturizer are tested on animals, the animals don’t merely get their lashes swiped with goop or their skin rubbed with lotion. Let’s take the Draize Test, for example: it’s an eye irritancy test that is still widely used in labs, despite its incredibly cruel nature. The test is done on rabbits, who have their heads locked in stocks so they can’t move. Their eyelids are clipped, preventing them from being able to blink, and then chemicals are poured into their eyes. These rabbit “subjects” are left to suffer through the burning and irritation for weeks on end. Yes, WEEKS. They bleed, get ulcers, and their eyes are destroyed. Some even break their own necks trying to escape the stocks.
I don’t believe testing shampoo, nail polish remover, or any cosmetic or household item on an animal is necessary. For me, laundry detergent and shampoo will never hold enough value to trump the respect I have for animal life. Luckily there is an ever-growing list of companies who pledge not to test their products on animals.
But what about medical testing?
Medical researchers experiment on animals to find cures for diseases like HIV and Parkinson’s, and to make pharmaceutical drugs. Most people would agree these are important causes, and many people who adamantly feel testing cosmetics on animals is wrong, find themselves hesitating to denounce experimenting on animals when it comes to medicine.
When I first learned about animal testing for medical research, I was surprised. Not surprised at the unfortunate manner in which tests are conducted — with electrodes put in animals’ brains, or the animals being kept in tiny cages unsuitable for wild creatures — as that I expected. I don’t like it, but I expected it.
But I was surprised at how utterly useless these tests sometimes appear. It makes sense for unknown, and therefore potentially harmful, or potentially life-saving drugs and treatments to be tested somehow. But the more I read, the more I realize that animals appear to be terrible test subjects.
Did you know that sheep love arsenic? Or that HIV doesn’t progress to AIDS in a chimp’s body like it does in a human’s? Or that a pesticide toxic to humans is perfectly safe for monkeys, even in doses high enough to kill an entire human family? These animals are so different from us that we can’t rely on them to show us how a drug or a disease will affect our bodies.
Even chimps, whose DNA is ninety-eight percent similar to ours, aren’t always reliable. Those two percent lead to significant differences in how diseases progress through their bodies, like in the case of HIV.
And when we do use chimps in studies, the research isn’t always for noble causes, like attempting to find a cure for cancer. Labs used chimps to test the recreational drug ecstasy in 1998, when it was already considered to have no medical benefits and had already been tested on humans! The results from this oh-so-important test? Ecstasy causes long-lasting brain damage. Big surprise.
In school, many of us learned about the maternal deprivation studies involving baby chimps. In these studies, researchers take baby chimps from their mothers and study them while they are in isolation. The experiment shows the importance of maternal attachment (which…couldn’t a nice survey have answered some of those questions?), but I, at least, didn’t get filled in on the dirty details of the study. The baby chimps are literally ripped from their mothers arms; sometimes multiple lab workers are required to hold the mother chimp down as they struggle to take away her child. In their new isolated location, the baby chimps cling to a stuffed “mom,” replacing their real mother with this surrogate, enforcing the notion babies need their moms, or a mom figure. (Um. Duh.) The babies are so traumatized that they have been seen clinging to the “moms” even if the “moms” stabbed them with spikes. Baby chimps have been so psychologically damaged after the experiment that, when they had their own babies (from insemination), they tortured them. All this so we could be told maternal figures are important?! I realized that when I was a fifteen-year old babysitter and watched toddlers cry as their moms drove off to aerobics.
I learned from Karen Dawn’s witty and eye-opening book, Thanking the Monkey, that labs STILL conduct these maternal deprivation tests on chimps. Maybe the researchers didn’t get enough mommy-love as children and want to prove mothers aren’t necessary. I don’t know. But now, when these studies are conducted, they’re under the guise of AIDS research. They pass, and get funding — even in the form of donations from generous people who think their money will help find a cure for AIDS — because researchers put “simian acquired immune dificiency syndrome” in the title of their proposals.
Once the experiment ends and the animals have served their purpose in the lab, they’re often killed because their bodies are tainted and impure and can’t be used for further experimentation, or simply because their bodies are just so damaged. And sometimes animals used in lab experiments aren’t intentionally killed. (Thirty monkeys recently died in a Nevada lab because an employee left the heater on. The monkeys were essentially cooked to death.)
Because the penalty for such negligence is so light, tragedies like the Nevada monkey case are common. The Agriculture Department counts 97 animal deaths from negligence at research facilities over the past two years. And this number doesn’t include mice and rat deaths because neither animal is even covered by the Animal Welfare Act, which sets the bare-minimum guidelines for how animals “bred for commercial sale, used in research, transported commercially, or exhibited to the public” are treated.
I’m not superhuman. I need medicine. And even though I do purposefully buy makeup and body wash and glass cleaner, etc., that hasn’t been tested on animals, nor do they have any animal-derived ingredients in them, I don’t shun medicine because it was tested on animals. I want medical researchers to find cures for cancer, Parkinson’s and even just headaches. But I don’t think animal testing is the best way to do it. In fact, I think to assume animal testing is the only way to accomplish these goals, is to underestimate the power of science and human innovation. I have faith that we’re better than this.
More and more alternatives are emerging to replace animal testing. We can, and have, been finding more ways to phase out these torture-sessions and test new drugs and medical treatments with kinder and more efficient technology, like EPISKIN testing for skin irritation, and toxin binding inhibition (ToBI) tests for vaccines. In the European Union, they’ve already outlawed animal tests when alternatives exist. And I think every country should follow suit.
To phase out some animal experimentation and possibly make medical research more efficient, as well as more humane, you can sign this petition to help pass the Great Ape Protection Act. Animal testing is so often not the “necessary evil” it’s protrayed to be, and there is so much suffering, not to mention innaccuracies and flaws, associated with animal experimentation. It’s time to find a better solution and to prove that animal testing is not the only way to advance in science and medicine. Our society can be healthier, more scientifically advanced, and more compassionate towards other species.
You can also watch this eye-opening, but, I warn you, rather disturbing video: Testing…One, Two, Three.
photo from PETA via wikicommons