Dr. Ray Greek, a former researcher at the Wisconsin-Madison University School of Medicine, suggests that while animals can be successfully used for basic and comparative research, they cannot be used to predict drug and disease response in humans. He is not alone: many former researchers have come forward saying the same thing: animal testing is not predictive for humans. A 2004 article in the British Medical Journal asked “where is the evidence that animal research benefits humans?” It concluded that such research should end pending a methodological review.
U of T promotes the myth that the discovery of insulin required the use of dogs, but historical evidence proves otherwise. This is true of many breakthroughs where animals were used but need not have been. Animal trials can be dangerous to humans: thalidomide was safe on animals but caused deformities in babies. Some pharmaceutical companies are now moving to microdosing, which is more accurate and less costly. Stem cell research is another alternative.
Some will argue that less intelligence makes animals expendable, but ethicist Tom Regan, professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of North Carolina State, argues that we do not experiment on mentally challenged humans, and nor would we wish mentally superior beings to experiment on us. Relative intelligence is not a good basis for establishing rights. Furthermore, discrimination based on species (speciesism) is morally no different than racism or sexism. Resistance to this idea is the result of deeply ingrained social conditioning; the antidote is the use of reason and compassion.
The ethical arguments against animal exploitation are supportable scientifically. From Marc Bekoff, behavioural ethologist and former professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, we learn that mice, rats and other animals have rich cognitive and emotional lives, much as we do. The moral implications are clear: nonhumans are worthy of greater respect and concern.
Sadly, U of T’s Research Ethics office has chosen to ignore these important ethical arguments. They focus only on pain, but even in this they fail: in 2010 they permitted hundreds of painful experiments on tens of thousands of animals, including injection with toxins and diseases, major surgery, and inducement of chronic pain.
Defenders of animal testing often refer to the federal regulations in place to protect animal welfare. What they don’t mention is that the federal Canadian Council on Animal Care is an industry-led group, run by researchers, caught in a hopeless conflict of interest. Its guidelines are voluntary, not binding. They do not protect animals. U of T’s animal care committee is similarly useless.
The animals trapped in the labs have the right not to be harmed. To subject them to invasive procedures is morally wrong and does not advance human health.