These pictures may contain images depicting the reality and horror of violence and should only be viewed by a mature audience.
[Author’s Note: I’m dedicating this piece to the courageous animal defenders and rescuers comprising the ALF, the Justice Department, the Animal Liberation Brigade, and the other militant direct action groups who are taking the fight to vivisectors and the rest of their ilk comprising the animal exploitation complex. Given the relentless nature of the systemic torment and slaughter of millions of other sentient beings that take place day after day, violent responses from nonhuman animal lovers are inevitable and are a morally acceptable means of extensional self-defense on behalf of the voiceless, defenseless victims. As my close colleague, Dr. Jerry Vlasak, surmised—and I back him 100% on this—the assassination of a vivisector or two would probably save millions of nonhuman animal lives. And given the escalating situation at UCLA, who knows what may happen?
Employing myriad tactics and strategies, those of us pursuing empty cages will prevail, and, as another steadfast ally of mine, Dr. Steve Best, stated in a speech he gave at Oxford in 2005, “wipe vivisection off the map.” I yearn for that day.]
“The physiologist is not a man of the world, he is a scientist, a man caught and absorbed by a scientific idea that he pursues; he no longer hears the cries of the animals, no longer sees the flowing blood; he sees only his idea: organisms that hide from him problems that he wants to discover. He doesn’t feel that he is in a horrible carnage; under the influence of a scientific idea, he pursues with delight a nervous filament inside stinking and livid flesh that for any other person would be an object of disgust and horror.”
Vivisection, the anachronistic practice of condemning nonhuman animals to the sterility, isolation, and confinement of laboratory cages and subjecting them to slicing, jabbing, sticking, shocking, burning, poisoning, and addicting, bears a much closer resemblance to medieval torture than to 21st century scientific research. Fittingly, vivisection’s history is rooted in medieval religious edicts that forbade the dissection of human cadavers. And anthropocentrism is so deeply inculcated into our psyches that despite living in an “enlightened” age, we continue with our collective barbarism based on a church doctrine that held that rotting human corpses were more sacred than living, breathing sentient beings.
Speaking of church doctrine, Claude Bernard, the “Father of Physiology,” whose principal means of investigation was vivisection, received a Jesuit education as he grew up in 19th century France. Bernard was obsessed with the notion that all meaningful scientific advances, particularly those in medicine, could only come from the laboratory.
“As medical historian Brandon Reines put it: The net effect of Bernard’s publications on the pancreas was to begin to canonize the vivisectional element of his experimental medicine at the expense of clinical analysis. His later pedagogic works led to further diminution in the rhetorical impact of clinical studies, and corresponding augmentation of the drama of already alluring animal experiments.”
And Bernard’s laboratory was a house of horrors for nonhuman animals, rife with grotesqueries and pain beyond imagination, including ovens that roasted his victims alive. Unfortunately, Bernard’s influence remains potent to this day, leading many scientists to rely almost exclusively on vivisection–with virtually no emphasis on other means of research.
Like the primitive religious and scientific dogma that spawned it, vivisection is a relic of the past that has out-lived its usefulness, if it ever had any. From an animal liberationist’s standpoint there are no moral justifications for tormenting and murdering nonhuman animals to “advance science,” but even when considered from an intelligent hardened speciesist’s perspective, vivisection is a detrimental practice, for it is a tremendous waste of time, money and effort, and it is more of a threat to human health than it is a safeguard.
Because of the many significant anatomical, physiological, genetic, and behavioral differences between species (differences Bernard dismissed in his zeal to demonstrate that “all living matter obeys the same physiological laws”), tests performed on nonhuman animals are only 5% to 25% accurate in terms of predicting the impact the tested drug or treatment will have on humans and a 1994 study that appeared in the SCRIP report determined that only 6 of 114 substances that were toxic to humans were also toxic to nonhuman animals. Nonhuman animals are extremely poor correlates for people.
According to Pro Anima of France, over a million people die prematurely in the EU each year from toxic substances introduced into their food or environment that were animal tested and deemed safe.
Millions of nonhuman animals are vivisected every year to ensure our “safety” when we take prescription drugs. Just how safe are we? Consider that adverse drug reactions (ADRs) are the fourth leading cause of death, 15% of hospital admissions are related to ADRs, prescription drugs kill over 100,000 people every year (more than street drugs), and ADRs cost us over $130 billion in medical expenses every year.
In December of 2003, Dr. Allen Roses, worldwide vice-president of genetics for GlaxoSmithKline, the UK’s largest pharmaceutical manufacturer, admitted the severe limitations of the prescription drugs for which so many nonhuman animals are sacrificed when he stated, “The vast majority of drugs – more than 90 per cent – only work in 30 or 50 per cent of the people,” Dr Roses said. “I wouldn’t say that most drugs don’t work. I would say that most drugs work in 30 to 50 per cent of people. Drugs out there on the market work, but they don’t work in everybody.”
For a host of other examples (too numerous to cite in this essay) that reveal the antiquated and crude nature of the results derived from vivisection, see the 2007 report called “Do No Harm” that was prepared by the AD-AV Society of British Columbia in September of 2007.
Despite its demonstrably abysmal results and despite exciting breakthroughs in genetics and other areas of science, and the rapid development of technologies that make vivisection antiquated and obsolete, it persists, not because it brings “truth,” but rather because it is highly profitable up and down throughout the long chain of “research.” There is tremendous peer-pressure and academic inertia to continue confining and torturing other sentient beings without their consent for several reasons, but aside from the facts that vivisection is a deeply entrenched orthodoxy which is handed down from one generation of researchers to the next and that nonhuman animal research is easily published (no small incentive to practice it in the ‘publish or perish’ environments of universities), vivisection generates and protects income. Vivisection continues to be highly regarded and heavily promoted within the mainstream medical and scientific communities, as many universities have come to depend mightily upon the multi-million dollar grants they receive to fund nonhuman animal research, even that which is frivolous or redundant.
Big Pharma, one of the largest supporters and beneficiaries of nonhuman animal research, uses its significant influence—an influence derived from deep pockets and even deeper incestuous relationships with legislators, government regulators, peer-reviewed medical journals, publicly funded institutions, and doctors—to sustain the lie that it would be impossible to innovate and market new prescription drugs without vivisection. Poison Pill, a book by Tom Nesi, provides an industry insider’s deconstruction of how Merck was able to bring Vioxx, a drug that has potentially killed tens of thousands of people, to market. To these leviathan pharmaceutical corporations, vivisection’s barbarity and inefficacy are irrelevant. To ensure the uninterrupted flow of their immense profits, they need vivisection to accelerate the drug approval process, to give consumers the illusion of safety, and to shield themselves from tort liability.
And let’s not forget the host of ancillary business that reaps handsome profits from the vivisection industry. These include companies that breed (or capture) and sell nonhuman animal research subjects to vivsectors, companies that perform vivisection as a form of outsourcing, cage manufacturers, scientific equipment makers, and many others.
Evolutionary biology predicts—and modern-day molecular biology confirms—that very small differences between species, on the genetic level, invalidate the historical notion that experiments on animals can lead to cures and treatments for human disease.
–Ray Greek, MD
Once we regain our moral bearings, overcome dogma and money, and banish vivisection to the dust-bin of history, how will we advance our medical knowledge and determine that new medical therapies, drugs, and consumer products are reasonably safe?
There are myriad ways, and while the US has shown tremendous resistance to shedding the vivisection paradigm (with a Congressionally-commissioned panel only approving four out of 185 potential alternatives to nonhuman animal testing), we can look to Europe, which has approved 34 alternatives and is developing 170 more.
Were we to end the heinous practice of vivisection today, medical and biological sciences would continue to advance through clinical and epidemiological studies, which linked smoking and lung cancer—after years of vivisection failed to demonstrate the cause and effect relationship; autopsies, biopsies, and post-mortem studies, which have aided researchers tremendously in identifying and understanding many diseases; post-marketing studies of drug side effects; imaging scans, which have enabled important human anatomical and physiological discoveries; in vitro cell and tissue culture tests; computer models, which can be used to test potential new drugs; and chromatography and spectroscopy.
And from the general, we move to some specific examples:
In February of 2008, the NIH and the EPA began a five year project to reduce the use of nonhuman animals in toxicity tests. Their collaborative efforts will employ robotic technology and in vitro testing techniques in lieu of vivisection.
Two biochips, called Metachip and Datachip, were developed in 2007. Each contains human enzymes or cells and can be used to predict how a human body will respond to a drug.
Within the last few months, bioengineers at Brown University successfully created “three-dimensional freestanding cellular structures from ‘building blocks’ of living cells.” Their ultimate goal is to create “tissue models” to replicate human organs.
At MIT, biological engineer Linda Griffith is working toward a different means of simulating human organs. Placing a computer chip in human liver tissue, she has given scientists a powerful way to study liver interaction with drugs and chemicals.
In December of 2008, Professor Christine Mummery of Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands addressed the British Pharmacological Society and explained how researchers could cultivate human heart cells from embryonic stem cells, testing on them in place of nonhuman animals.
These are but a few of many options researchers can choose in place of nonhuman animal testing. Yet despite having numerous tools at its disposal, and despite the fact that confining and tormenting other sentient beings is a moral abomination, the scientific community, driven by dogma, money, and the animal industrial complex, clings to vivisection with a tenacious grasp.
How long will we allow the ghost of Claude Bernard to continue practicing his sadism and flawed science? How long will we continue to vivisect?
Jason Miller is a relentless anti-capitalist, vegan straight edge, and animal liberationist. He is also the senior editor and founder of Thomas Paine’s Corner and the blog director for The Transformative Studies Institute.