Recently several local and foreign animal welfare organisations have been calling for a ban on all forms of animal experiments. Animal lovers and activist are of the view that animal experiments are cruel and the animals subjected to experiments suffer from profound pain and stress during the trials. The call for a ban on animal experiments by these NGOs has somewhat rekindled the question of ethics in animal testing among scientist and members of the public.
It must be pointed out that depending on the nature of study it cannot be denied that in some experiments the test animals may suffer from some pain and stress. The degree of suffering can range from the brief pain that is felt when inserting a needle to draw blood samples, to a major surgery or to passages of disease causing organisms in these animals. Generally humans do not wish to subject animals to any form of sufferings and on this basis animal experiments are seen as wrong and unethical in the eyes of many animal lovers and activist.
However others including scientists who believe and subscribe to the use of good sciences are with the notion that certain experiments are conducted for a good reason. According to them it is done to find a cure for diseases, to test the safety of products or to elicit scientific knowledge.
Apparently all of these are considered as beneficial to humans, animals and the environment. Under these situations and circumstances animal experiments are considered right and ethically acceptable to these groups of people. In fact they are of the view that if the benefits of animal experiments far outweigh the harms to animals it is not wrong to undertake such experiments
The views and opinions expressed on the ethical question of using animals for experiments will always be a difficult one to address satisfactorily by the authorities. Nevertheless the authorities ought to give equal consideration to the ethical questions and concerns raised by those for and against animal testing. The authorities need to take a balanced approach when dealing with these issues.
As we progress towards the future equipped with the new found knowledge of science and technology ethical issues of this nature will inadvertently pop up here and there. The authorities especially those in the policy and decision making capacity or positions should be prepared to face such matters tactfully. The recent off the cuff comment by the director-general of Veterinary Services Department (DVS) with regards to animal testing came as a big surprise
According to news reports the DG was apparently against the use of animals for testing and he has recommended the use of non-animal testing systems like tissue culture. I tend to think that the DG was misquoted or the reporter has misinterpreted the long distance (China) telephone interview. I for one know for a fact that the DVS has been active on various research projects involving small and big animals.
For instance many of the veterinary drugs and vaccines are evaluated using animals in the lab as well as at the farm level. The DG’s comment may be soothing to the ears of animal lovers and activist but it has somewhat complicated the issue further. Is the DVS prepared to stop all forms of animal testing? A clarification from DVS on this will be helpful, failing to do so will give fodder for certain groups to further their agenda of obstructing and disrupting experiments conducted in the public and private animal testing laboratories and farms in the future.
In the meanwhile, it is highly recommended the government should look into the introduction a specific law pertaining to animal experiments which is similar to the Animal (Scientific Procedure) Act 1986 in the United Kingdom. This law was devised by the UK authorities to strike a balance between the benefits to humans and harms to animals. It provides a basis for making decisions about whether animal experiments can go ahead or not after taking into consideration the harm-benefit assessment and the 3Rs principal:
1. Replacement of test animals with human alternatives wherever possible.
2. Reducing the number of animals used in the test or experiments.
3. Refining all aspects of housing, husbandry and procedures to reduce animal suffering and improve animal welfare.
The advantages of animal testing include not only just cures for deadly diseases and vaccines but it is more than that, it allows us to predict and prepare for the future. Animal experimentation is too important for science, any attempt to stifle or take it away from the scientist will be devastating to society.
All good things usually involves some form of sacrifice but this does not mean that animals should be tested inhumanely. Society should have trust and faith in good science for the continues improvement of human, animal and environmental health which is a prerequisite for a happy, healthy and enjoyable life.