The rights of animals have long been a highly controversial issue. Humans have always seen themselves as being superior to animals, and as having the right to exploit animals in any way they choose, even to use them as subjects in often very cruel experiments in the progress of Medicine and Science. Human welfare is largely dependent on animals in providing the basics of food and clothing. There is no need, however, to keep those bred for meat in such appalling conditions, as in the case of piglets and hens kept in dirty and cramped battery cages, or the need for the painful trapping of animals for their beautiful, expensive and highly fashionable fur. We should rely on animals for companionship, sport and entertainment, as well as in providing education for those studying dissection in Biology at school. We depend too much upon animals for our comforts and needs, without ever considering theirs in return. This is clearly seen in the case of vivisection, the experimental use of animals in research to further our Medical and Scientific knowledge.
There has been much debate over animal experimentation for Medical and Scientific research. Each year scientists perform tests on millions of animals including mice and rats, guinea pigs and rabbits, monkeys and apes, and domesticated animals such as dogs and cats. According to the Australian Association for Humane Research, this number is rapidly increasing every year.
Most of the experiments performed on animals are related to medical research and drugs for the benefit of people here in Australia and in Third World countries. Discoveries of vaccinations for highly infectious and particularly nasty diseases as well as the development of open-heart and microsurgery have result from animal testing.
However, many anti-vivisectional advances have also been made, including the development of many important medical instruments such as the stethoscope and electrocardiograph, the causes and treatment of malaria, as well as the discovery of many drugs and anaesthetics.
The practice of vivisection is cruel and often causes the animals involved an unspeakable amount of fear, pain and suffering. Scientists claim they use anaesthetics in animal experimentation, but there is evidence to show that eight per cent of all experiments are performed without anaesthesia. In one such experiment, as reported in the British 'Journal of Physiology' in 1982, 'Kittens were deprived of sight in one eye as part of research into resulting brain cell changes. After visual deprivation some kittens had their other eye removed surgically under anaesthetic. Brain cells were investigated using electrodes implanted into the brains of anaesthetised and paralysed kittens. They were finally killed.' We should not have the right to treat animals in such an inhumane manner. Laws do not protect animals from suffering in Australian laboratories. If stricter laws cannot be made to protect the rights of animals, then animals should not be involved in experiments at all.
There are alternatives which do not involve the use of animals, including tissue, cell and organ cultures, as well as computer and mathematical models. Those involved in vivisection argue that they cannot fully understand, prevent and then treat diseases without knowing how a body works under normal circumstances. True, but species differences mean that animal testing is often wasteful, useless and even misleading, and is impossible to apply to humans with any certainty of the result. An example of the impossibility is the marketing of a treatment for heart disease in 1970 which had been carefully tested on animals first, but caused serious side-effects in humans, including permanent blindness, which had not appeared in any species of animal tested. The drug, ICI 'beta-blocker' practlolol, was finally withdrawn from the market in 1976.
It must always be remembered that no amount of testing can make a drug absolutely safe, if only because humans react differently to animals. It is for this reason of species differences and the fact there is no evidence to show increases of animal testing lead to a corresponding improvement in human health, that vivisection should be abolished. What the suffering animals go through for us is often not human or worth it. Other methods and alternatives must be used, including concentrating on trying to prevent disease rather than to find a pill to treat each and every one. Surgeons should learn their skills by using artificial human models or even human volunteers instead of animals. Laws need to be made, requiring the use of reliable alternatives that will not involve the use of animals.
Animals always have much to offer us, and we to them, if we could only learn to give them the care and respect they deserve. They have a right to live, and to exist without the constant pain and fear caused by human experimentation.