The end to animal experimentation seems to be nearer than we could previously imagine. In 2008 three US federal government agencies, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Toxicology Program (NTP), signed a "Memorandum of Understanding" with the aim of ending animal testing of drugs and chemicals for human use.
The realization of this ambitious plan will take years, but it's a start of historic importance, especially considering that the three agencies involved have been among animal testing's biggest funding bodies.
This momentous agreement followed a 2007 report released by the world's most prestigious scientific body, the National Research Council of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, entitled "Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century: a Vision and a Strategy".
The report acknowledges the superiority of non-animal methods of testing substances for toxicity to humans, compared to animal methods.
The report admits that the animal testing method has never been accurately evaluated for reliability and usefulness but used by acquiescence and historical habit, and recommends non-animal methods of testing on in vitro human cell lines, epidemiological studies, and computational methods.
This entirely new trend in the most pro-animal-experimentation scientific establishment community in the world is due not to ethical considerations for the welfare of lab animals, but rather to the recognition of the many profound limitations of animal testing as a scientifc method.
Apologists of animal experimentation say that, while non-human animals species are similar to the human species in all characteristics that are relevant to permit extrapolations of results from experiments performed on them to us, they are still sufficiently different from humans in all ethically relevant aspects to make such experimentation morally acceptable.
How convenient. That is the best of both worlds. Nature has, in its magnanimity, created beings who tick all the boxes, fit all our needs in this department: complex and human-like enough to experiment upon, and at the same time simple and dumb enough to not be worth bothering about ethical issues concerning them.
Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately (depending on your perspective), contemporary evolutionary biology has got news for proponents of this argument.
Modern evolutionists, proponents of the so-called New Synthesis in biology, say that, when a change occurs in one species to adapt to its environment, this primary change is not alone: it is always accompanied by other modifications of characteristics different from the first, not so much to adapt to the environment as to adapt to the primary change in the bodies of the members of that species.
So, now we have the modern human species (Homo Sapiens Sapiens), evolved in such a way to have developed exceptionally large brains, unique - as far as we know - in the animal world, and erect standing, again the only species to have done so.
It would be impossible according to contemporary evolution biology, it would go against the grain of it, if these gigantic changes had not been brought with them other substantial modifications to differentiate humans from other species even further.
When we think of erect standing, for instance, we realize that the disposition of internal organs in us must differ from that in quadrupeds: vertical versus horizontal.
What we are saying is rather simple, and we are not in contradiction either with modern biology or with our own statements.
The human species is indeed unique. But its differences with other animal species are of a quantitative, not qualitative, nature.
It would be inconceivable for a species to have developed characteristics which are not also, to some extent, present in other species. Natura non facit saltus, or nature does not make jumps, is still true now as it was when the phrase was first coined. The larger human brain evolved from similar, if smaller, primate brains. It is exceptional, but not extraordinary or supernatural.
This means that other animal species will share with humans important mental characteristics, like intelligence, awareness, self-awareness, emotions, sensations, and the like. They will be less intelligent, maybe, but still intelligent. Many will have a sense of self as we have, albeit possibly less developed. Children of various ages are probably a good comparison for other animal species with different degrees of capabilities.
So we are not denying that the human and other animal species have a lot in common. But we are saying that, because we know that there must also be important differences, we cannot possibly tell in advance what they are. When someone performs an experiment on an animal species, what is unknown - by definition - is not only the result on that species and on the human species, but also, and this is the crucial point, whether humans and the species in question are the same or different in that respect. That is always necessarily the case - otherwise the experiment would be pointless - because, in order to know if there is likeness or unlikeness between two things, we first need to know the two things to compare: that is, in this case, both what the experimental results are for that species and the corresponding datum in the human species, and the latter is exactly the purpose of the investigation so cannot be known.
Animal testing is not just bad for animals but for humans too.
Animal experimentation has many serious limitations as a scientific method, which are explored in the Animal Testing section of the Human Health and Animal Ethics site.
Bio-medical researchers keep using animals because it is the current paradigm, because the theory behind it, outlined by the French physiologist Claude Bernard in the 19th century, is still the prevailing orthodoxy of the field.
There has been no validation of animal experimentation as a method with useful applications to human health, indeed there is ample evidence to the contrary. We examine this evidence in the Animal Testing section.
We look at alternative methods of biomedical research and why they are better.
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