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What do you feel is more important - the life of your child or the
life of a few rats? These comments are often brought up in animal
rights debates. On the one side the animal rights campaigners, on the
other side researchers intent on finding new medicines to improve the
quality of human life.
Animal activists claim that animal testing, or 'vivisection' is a
scientific disaster and that thousands have been injured or killed as
a result of it and time and time again researchers have been lead into
a blind alley.
Vivisection literally means, "cutting while still alive," but these
days it refers to any experiments conducted on animals. According to
the 1999 U.K. Vivisection statistics published by the government, 2.66
million animals were subjected to experiments 'likely to cause pain,
suffering, distress or lasting harm' in the U.K. alone.
Many different kinds of animals suffer this fate, including monkeys,
baboons (including wild-caught baboons), dogs, cats, pigs, rabbits,
mice, rats, gerbils, guinea pigs, sheep, horses, goats, budgerigars
and many others. These experiments include the animals being poisoned,
genetically mutated, infected with lethal pathogens, stressed,
deprived of parental care, irradiated, burnt, blinded, traumatised,
forced to inhale noxious substances and subjected to "interference
with the brain." The most common tests involve dripping materials into
rabbit's eyes or applying substances to the shaved backs of rabbits or
guinea pigs and studying the irritation or damage. Animals are also
force fed or dosed with substances to assess what affects the
substances have. These tests can cause great suffering to the animals.
But surely we need animal experiments to discover how safe new drugs
are before we give them to humans? Or do we? The combination of
Fenfluramine and Dexfenfluramine, touted as the answer to a dieter's
prayer a few years ago, was extensively tested on animals and found to
be very safe. Unfortunately it caused heart valve abnormalities in
humans. Or how about the arthritis drug Opren? Tests on monkeys found
no problems but it killed 61 people before it was withdrawn.
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for having to choose between rats and your child, Cylert, given to
children with attention deficit hyperactive disorder, was fine for
animals but caused liver failure in 13 children.
The problem is not a new one, animals are not the same as humans, and
so drugs that affect them in one way may well affect us differently.
Now this is usually presented as a solvable problem by researchers. We
can get an idea of the effects that the drug will have from animals,
they say, but does it work like that. Animals, that may seem closely
related, may function quite differently to humans, and there is no way
of predicting what the differences will be.
Rats and mice, for instance, have pretty much the same make-up as us,
but when it comes to something as basic as whether a chemical is
harmful to them or not, how do we know if it will be the same on
humans, does someone have to die before the we will know?
Now, with all the information presented before you, will you think
twice about giving your child a drug that has been animal tested?