Animal Research is Bad Science
The scientific pitfalls of animal-based medical research.
Animal-based HIV research is not only ethically indefensible, it is also bad science. There is an overwhelming practical case against vivisection: the results of animal experiments cannot be generalised to human beings because we have a vastly different physiology from other animal species.
Strychine, for example, kills people but not monkeys, and Belladonna is deadly to humans yet harmless to rabbits. While morphine calms and anaesthetises people, it causes dangerously manic excitement in cats and mice.
One typical medical consequence of these biological differences between ourselves and other animal species is that the use of hugely beneficial Digitalis for cardiac patients was delayed for many years because it was first tested on dogs and resulted in dangerously high canine blood pressure.
The uniqueness of human physiology has been highlighted for many years in the pages of the journal New Scientist - including in connection with HIV research. Way back in the 1980s, it reported on HIV experiments with Macaque monkeys by the National Institutes of Health in the United States.
New Scientist concluded that the NIH's attempt to draw comparisons between immune deficiencies in monkeys and humans was "like saying that apples explain oranges merely because both of them contain a number of pips". New Scientist went on to point out that of the monkeys infected with the simian equivalent of HIV "none had Kaposi's Sarcoma. None showed the pattern of imbalance between the two types of cell in the immune system that is characteristic of human Aids".
The German cancer specialist, Dr Heinz Oeser, has drawn attention to the fact that hundreds of millions of animals have been forced to endure the agony of deliberately-induced tumours and leukaemias in the name of finding a cure for cancer. Yet 70 years of these experiments have contributed very little to our understanding of the cause of this disease and ways to cure it. What little progress has been made is mostly the result of human lifestyle studies and investigations into environmental pollutants.
A similar conclusion was reached as long ago as 1964 by Sir George Pickering, the then Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University. Writing in the British Medical Journal he said: "The idea, as I understand it, is that fundamental truths are revealed in laboratory experimentation on lower animals and are then applied to the problems of the sick patient. Having been trained myself as a physiologist, I feel in a way competent to assess such a claim. It is plain nonsense".
The German researchers, Drs H and M Stiller, go even further: "In praxis, all animal experiments are scientifically indefensible, as they lack any scientific validity and reliability in regard to humans. They only serve as an alibi for the drug manufacturers, who hope to protect themselves thereby".
Despite the substantial body of expert medical opinion which disputes the scientific value of animal research, the public panic and fear of HIV has been skillfully manipulated by vivisectionists to demand more money for animal experiments and to oppose animal welfare legislation that would restrict their activities.
Moreover, the threatened closure of some vivisection laboratories has been averted by their move into HIV research. The labs at Edinburgh and Glasgow universities, where they are experimenting on cats and sheep, may not have survived if their studies were not HIV focused.
The big public health danger is that animal-based HIV research could lead to supposed cures and vaccines that test safe on other species but have tragic side effects for humans. It has happened before.
After three years of animal tests, which allegedly proved its safety, Thalidomide was put on the market. The result: 10,000 babies were born with severe deformities.
Another disaster occurred with the anti-rheumatic drug Opren, causing 76 deaths and 3,500 cases of illness - despite seven years of animal research.
Thousands of people suffered adversely after taking the previously animal-vetted drug, Eraldin, for heart trouble. Since then, further experimentation has failed to find a single species that reacts to Eraldin in the same way as humans do.
Assuming that scientists do manage to produce a cure or vaccine for HIV in laboratory animals, there is therefore no guarantee that it would work, or be safe, for people.
The cost to animals for this uncertain and potentially dangerous science is too high. Every year, about 200 million animals suffer and die in lab tests worldwide (equivalent in numbers to the extermination of most of the population of western Europe). Relative to this vast scale of pain and death, vivisection has contributed few advances to medical science. Animal research is a moral and medical failure.
It is time the queer and HIV communities spoke out against these cruelties, and supported humane alternatives such as the pioneering animal-free medical research of the Dr Hadwen Trust - which has funded successful non-animal studies that have, among other things, produced significant breakthroughs in understanding HIV.
Over 100 years ago, the gay socialist campaigner for homosexual emancipation, Edward Carpenter, contrasted the frequent crudeness and violence of heterosexual masculinity with the often gentler, more sensitive predisposition of gay men. He suggested that these qualities gave queers the potential to lead humanity towards a new era of enlightenment and compassion.
When will the lesbian and gay community live up to that as yet unfulfilled potential?
Expressing our abhorrence of HIV research based on cruelty to other animal species might be a good way to start.Copyright Peter Tatchell 2001. All rights reserved.
Tatchell Talks 25, Rainbow Network, 5 September 2001
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