Medical advances over the last two hundred years have, along with increased abundance of food, allowed us to both increase our life expectancy and the quality of that life. While the single most significant impact on disease was probably the widespread recognition of the value of hygiene, another extraordinarily useful tool in our arsenal has been animal testing. Today the usefulness of animal models for disease is as great as it ever was in the past but there is growing opposition to research that involves our non-human friends. Protest groups are not new, at least as far back as the 1890’s groups were being formed that rallied against animal testing.
The benefits we have reaped as a civilization from this research include: knowledge of vitamin deficiencies, treatments of heart disease, diabetes, whooping cough, arthritis, tuberculosis, pneumonia, spinal meningitis, typhoid fever, cancer, depression, leprosy, ulcers, development of antibiotics, surgical techniques, gene therapy, vaccines, anesthesia and antibodies for disease treatment, to name just a few. Although this research has provided valuable knowledge and saved countless lives those who oppose it are doing so with increasing forcefulness. Acts against researchers include threats via phone and email, vandalism of personal property and intimidation as well as the distribution of their children’s names, age’s and where they go to school.
Without doubt the treatment of animals should be ethical and designed to minimize pain and discomfort at all times, but to declare such a valuable tool off limits is to cripple medical science. It is unfortunate that we can not yet use alternatives to animals but our knowledge of cellular responses and complex biological systems is still woefully incomplete and this is the reason we need them. Perhaps eventually all possible experiments could be done inside a virtual environment, but ironically, to get to that animal free future we must do even more research on those very same creatures.