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Vivisection is right, but it is nasty

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Vivisection is right, but it is nasty - and we must be brave enough to admit this

So, is it OK to sew kittens' eyelids together to stop children going blind? All too often the arguments surrounding live-animal experimentation, aka vivisection, circle around the putative torments of genetically engineered rodents (which no one much cares about) and monstrous cruelties inflicted on our ape close-cousins (illegal here anyway). But the story that scientists at Cardiff University have been studying the way brains react to induced blindness by 'modelling' the condition in young cats has crystallised the arguments in a way that may end up being very helpful.


The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection says that raising newborn kittens in total darkness and sewing shut the eyes of others is not only cruel but unnecessary. Firstly they say it is possible to study the effects of lazy-eye, or Ambylopia, in human volunteers (not, presumably, involving eyelid stitching). Worse, they say, cat brains and cat vision are fundamentally different to ours and it is hard to see how anything useful can be gained by this research. These experiments have been done before, many years ago, and we still do not have a cure.

I have always believed animal experimentation is not only right but a moral necessity. Put simply, without the use of animals in the lab we would not have modern medicine. We would have no cancer drugs, no effective antibiotics, no proper analgesics. Many surgical procedures would be impossible. Of course medicine could advance on an ad hoc basis using only humans as guinea pigs but that would require us to live in a totally alien ethical (not to mention legal) world.


I have always decried the antics of the loonies, the people who put letter bombs and faeces through the front doors of scientists, the activists who make working at any lab involving animal experimentation an exercise akin to being a member of the RUC in 1970s Ulster. These people do their cause no good.

And one of the main arguments against animal-rights lunacy is the sheer hypocrisy. Last year, according to the Home Office, 3.8m 'procedures' were carried out on animals in Britain in the name of science and medicine. There is no doubt that although some pain and suffering was caused, most of these animal recruits lead better lives, and certainly better deaths, than the estimated billion or so chickens, bullocks, pigs and lambs slaughtered in the same period to provide us with food.

Any argument about animal welfare in the lab is specious in a nation which still allows battery poultry farming. And yet it is not quite so simple as that. Even carnivores can see, for instance, that (say) squirting makeup into the eyes of rabbits in the name of human vanity is wrong even if we are happy to throw said bunny in the pot with some onions and red wine. So what about injecting chemotherapy or AIDS drugs into the veins of the same rabbit to see what happens? Better than the cosmetic tests, for sure, but on a very emotional level something feels very different about messing around with an animal to make us (maybe, one day) feel better and simply killing it to satiate our meat-hunger (of course as far as the rabbit is concerned this is angels-on-pinhead stuff).

What would help is a bit more honesty. All too often scientists and doctors lapse into euphemism and obfuscation when describing procedures that must be unendurable in a small number of cases. They often talk about 'discomfort', when they mean 'screaming agony' for example (in fact too many doctors are prone to do this with human patients. If this is something that is taught in medical school, please can it be stopped, now).

Yesterday Cardiff University put out a press release defending the kitten business which failed to acknowledge or even mention the grisly nature of the procedure and certainly did not address the reality that as far as the animals were concerned this would have been hugely unpleasant. In a world where 1600 animals (the vast bulk being chickens) are slaughtered every second for food, most in conditions that do not bear thinking about, it does seem facile to be considering the 'rights' of 31 Welsh kittens stumbling around their pens in the dark.

Facile perhaps, but necessary too. The scientists are generally right; research like this is needed. But they need to be made to keep reminding us why it is right and to keep justifying procedures that, without the watchful eye of the BUAV (and, yes, the loonies as well) would perhaps become so routine that no one would give them a moment's thought. Animal experimentation is nasty. That does not make it wrong, but those of us who defend it must be brave enough to admit the truth, in all its grisly detail.

Dear Editor,

More honesty about this issue would indeed be a great step forward. Contrary to poorly-substantiated claims often made, the scientific evidence is quite clear. Of course animal experiments advance knowledge to some degree, as experiments usually do. Yet this does not mean that knowledge leads to useful applications, or is worth the costs incurred in gaining it. In fact, animal experiments rarely contribute significantly to the development of cures for human diseases.

Recognising the diversity of opinions about this issue, and further, that opinions alone constitute a wholly inadequate form of evidence, for such an important and controversial field, scientists have recently begun calling for -- and conducting -- large-scale systematic reviews, which critically assess the contributions of animal models toward human healthcare advancements. These are reviewed in detail in my recent book, 'The Costs and Benefits of Animal Experiments' (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). Many of these studies are also available at

One study published in the Journal of the Royal Soc of Medicine (Matthews, 2008) is a critical assessment of the oft-repeated claim that -- Virtually every medical achievement of the last century has depended directly or indirectly on research with animals', which is similar to claims made in this editorial. It is shown to be completely invalid.

Many cures have been developed for illnesses induced in laboratory animals, at enormous costs in financial, scientific and animal resources. The problem is that few have successfully translated to human beings. Our limited public health resources would be more responsibly spent elsewhere.

o European Veterinary Specialist in Welfare Science, Ethics and Law
o Fellow, Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics
o Author: The Costs and Benefits of Animal Experiments, Palgrave Macmillan 2011

Posted by: Dr Andrew Knight | 25 July 2012 at 10:10 AM

Because animals are unnecessarily used for food -and it is unnecessary to use animals for food- does not justify torturing animals in other ways, such as for experimentation.

Harming sentient beings -regardless of what race, gender or species they are- to purportedly try to help others is immoral and unjustifiable. Society needs to acknowledge that and make it illegal.

Posted by: Mary Finelli | 25 July 2012 at 07:48 AM


You make some sweeping statements yet you don't even attempt to back them up. My suspicion is because you can't.

Vivisection has nothing to do with 'bravery'. Whether you agree with the use of animals in medical research or not there is nothing valourous, heroic or philanthropic about vivisection, never mind how much the vivisectors like to propagate this appeal. Similarly, it is cruel to sew up kittens eyes and this needs no qualification.

'Put simply without the use of animals in the lab we would not have modern medicine.' Well this is laughable. It is possible medicine would be just as advanced than it is today if not more- the 92% of drugs that fail safety trials on animals could have gone on to cure to cancer, but we miss out by relying on species which are physiologically and biologically quite different. All the years and lives wasted by the polio vaccine (to mention a classic erroneous belief of animal supporters) because its side effects were deemed too serious for humans based upon results on our closest biological species until one eureka moment and it was realised ah but we humans will react differently! We still don't have a cure for cancer despite over a thousand cures to artificially induced 'cancer' in as many mice in laboratories and years of endless promises to keep the money pouring in. In just the same way, over 50 vaccines have been effective in lab monkeys against HIV but none of thee have translated to a human vaccine. Maybe this is to do with the fact monkeys don't contract the HIV virus, you would think wouldn't you?

There again if you think the alternative to animals in medical research is to use humans as guinea pigs then you really aren't qualified to write this article and I could rest my case.

To brand all the scientists, doctors and professors of this world who sincerely believe in investing in reliable productive methods to bring true and safe treatments to today's uniquely human conditions that are so debilitating and tragic for patients and their families as 'loonies' is outright irresponsible. And when was the last letter bomb and faeces posted/ you need to catch up with the times.

Torture and murder of a billion animals makes it acceptable to torture and murder another 3.8 million to you does it? what kind of pathetic excuse is that?
If you did your research before writing nonsense stuff like this you would see that sewing kittens eyes closed is not right and is not justified today because such experiments have been conducted since the 1980s and nothing has been gained from them , so they are just repeated over and over and it highlights how out of date and stuck in its ways this industry is that is unable to keep up with latest developments and technology.

Posted by: Dr Sandy Cole | 25 July 2012 at 01:28 AM

oh my dear mr Michael Hanlon, there is one reason why they are not honest to the world, It does not bring any benefit to human health by using a different species, notice eating animals does not bring any benefit either, both business's supported by some financial gain, notice alone how many times we have heard, we "think" we have found a cure for cancer or aids in a mouse which "potentially" could cure the human being, mmmm, Thats been said for years, why be open about such cruel research, when they have nothing to show, and never will, if you think i am wrong tell them to prove it,

Posted by: elain minns | 24 July 2012 at 10:43 PM

There is nothing "right" about vivisection. Science without ethics is lost. Cruelty inflicted upon humans or nonhumans without consent is wrong and nonhumans can never consent. Stop behaving like "might is right"; leave the innocents alone.

Posted by: Jerry Friedman | 24 July 2012 at 05:19 PM

Yes, because the image which I have watch as above is say that how he is brave to admit their self in the hospital.

Posted by: Marks Dorcel | 24 July 2012 at 03:52 PM

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