Future generations will be ashamed of how we experimented on animals [OPINION]

Future generations will look back on animal experimentation with shame
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Millions of animals are still being brutally tortured in labs in the UK. This is something that future generations will look back on with shame.

Animal testing in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s Department of Health has published statistics showing how many animals scientists experimented on in 2016. And while there was a very slight reduction in the numbers compared to the year before (22,214 in 2016 compared to 22,508 in 2015), the findings are still a cause for concern. Animal testing is barely decreasing in the country. And given that the Conservative-DUP alliance has excluded the term ‘animal sentience’ from UK law post-Brexit, it could become increasingly difficult to phase out these gruesome practices.

New revelations

The figures may have dropped, but the statistics still reveal some alarming facts. Such as the 37% increase in the number of cats being experimented on. Also, scientists in Northern Ireland subjected primates to painful experiments, whereas in 2015, no primates were used in scientific procedures.

The data also highlights that, of the animals genetically modified, 1.5% died. Also, out of all the animals tested, researchers caused severe pain to 4% and moderate pain to 43%.

This is torture

Animals evolved to feel pain for the same reasons as us – to avoid threats to survival. If we were to undergo these experiments (such as inescapable electric shocks), we would rightly call it grotesque torture. And so we should think of it as torture for animals as well.

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins argued in a video for Big Think that we will look back on animal experimentation with the kind of horror and shame that we feel when we think about how we enslaved people because of their skin colour. Dawkins says [2:58]:

There’s every reason to think that mammals, at least… can suffer perhaps as much as we can pain… There’s absolutely no reason, as far as I can see, why a non-human animal – a dog or a chimpanzee or a cow – should be any less capable of feeling pain than we can… It [pain] doesn’t feel like the kind of thing for which you need intellect.

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The experience of pain

But it may turn out that non-human animals can actually experience pain more intensely than we can. As Dawkins adds [4:18]:

Since pain is there to warn the animal not to do that again, an animal which is a slow learner, an animal which is not particularly intelligent, might actually need more intense pain in order to deter it from doing that again…

Philosopher Sahar Akhtar suggests animals may experience pain more intensely because – unlike humans – they cannot believe there are good reasons for their pain. For example, it’s less painful to have a doctor give you an injection than a stranger attacking you with a needle, since we say there is a good reason for the former. Also, we can distract ourselves from pain by focusing on something else and we can imagine the pain coming to an end. Whereas, for an animal, philosopher B.E. Rollin says:

If they are in pain, their whole universe is pain; there is no horizon; they are their pain.

Can animal testing ever be justified?

Some argue that animal testing is justified if it prevents human suffering. For example, professor John Stein – who experimented on primates to research Parkinson’s – has said [0:48]:

Like the majority of people in this country, I believe that animal testing is justified for the improvement of medicines and treatments, and what I’ve done with primates I’m proud of because it has led to many, many, many thousands of people improved in their lives.

For Stein, the ends justify the means. But using this kind of reasoning doesn’t make the pain the animals experience any less severe. With this logic, we could justify all kinds of sinister acts, so long as we argued that the act could reduce more suffering than it causes.

We need to invest in alternative methods

Neurologist and health specialist Aysha Akhtar writes that a growing body of evidence shows animal testing to be unreliable. She also says it causes harm by directing “resources away from more effective testing methods”.

For the sake of reducing both animal and human suffering, we need to invest in more effective and ethical means of research. Unfortunately, the current government’s decision to exclude animal sentience from the law could make this aim quite difficult to achieve.

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Featured image via Pixabay

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