Lord Robert Winston is a fertility expert and a member of the upper house of the British Parliament. He’s an outspoken advocate of vivisection and recently proposed a labeling system for medicines that would indicate to customers which medicines had been developed using animal testing.
His hope is that by informing customers that the medicines they use were created using animal testing, the public will develop a more favorable view of the practice. Customers, he thinks, should be grateful for animal testing.
Winston is rare among proponents of vivisection. Most of those who conduct and support animal research are characteristically discreet about it. Usually it is anti-animal testing groups that want to educate the public about which products are made using vivisection.
He criticized this approach, and lambasted universities for being “ashamed” of their animal testing departments, adding that by obfuscating vivisection instead of being clear with the public, it gives the impression that vivisection is something to be ashamed of.
Winston’s proposal would probably seem straightforward and credible to the average person, certainly more so than the usual cloak and dagger, clandestine nature of most vivisectors.
However, there are several important points that vivisection’s champions such as Lord Winston always wish to hide from the public. The most telling is that 92% of medicines that pass in animal trials fail later in human trials (as reported by the FDA in the August 2004 issue of The Scientist).
The eight medicine bottles you see on the shelf with labels reading “This great medicine was developed using animal testing” would seem a lot less impressive if they were surrounded by 92 other empty bottles labeled “This medicine required the torture of animals and produced no benefit to humans.”
On the economic end, the 2004 FDA warned that the 92% drug attrition rate is not only a waste of animal life, it’s a waste of money and drives up the cost of medicines.
And while Winston might be correct in saying there isn’t an alternative to animal testing that is 100% comparable, he doesn’t mention the numerous alternatives that are in the beginning stages of development. Alternatives like growing cells in the lab, or sophisticated computer modeling are only the beginning, but they remain in their infancy because the development of these alternatives do not receive the funding that vivisection does.
Some universities in the United States receive a billion dollars a year to test on animals. This funding is addictive to the medical community, and researchers are hesitant to jeopardize their cash flow for the sake of developing alternatives — even if those alternatives are safer, cheaper and do not require the torture of unwilling animals.
Lord Winston and other proponents of vivisection are on the losing end of this fight. Scientific progress may be slow at times — especially when a lot of money rides on maintaining the status quo — but the tide is turning against animal testing. As the public is becoming more concerned with animal rights, the scientific community is becoming more skeptical of vivisection’s poor success rate.
Animal testing is not only an insult to science, it is an insult to innocent animal life. Even if vivisection were a reliable scientific method, knowledge gained from the torture and murder of animals cannot be justified morally.
Photo: Andy Miah
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