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Research Animals - History, Federal Legislation And Oversight, Laboratory Animals And Their Uses, Sources Of Research Animals

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Research animals are animals that humans use solely for scientific and product testing. They are used in medical and veterinary investigations and training; in the testing of drugs, cosmetics, and other consumer products; and in educational programs. It is estimated that as many as 100 million animals per year (mostly mice and rats) may be used in research, testing, and medical and veterinary training programs in the United States. Millions more research animals are kept as classroom pets or teaching aids to educate children in schools.

Living animals used as specimens to test drugs and products, practice medical and surgical procedures, and investigate diseases and bodily systems are called laboratory animals. Laboratory animals often die from these procedures or are euthanized by researchers after they are no longer needed. The plight of laboratory animals has been a major issue for animal rights advocates since the 1970s.

Increasingly, the use of dead animals to teach dissection skills to children is coming under fire. Dissection is a procedure in which an organism is cut apart for scientific examination. If the organism is alive at the time, the procedure is called vivisection. The term vivisection has come to be used to refer to all invasive research and testing performed on live animals for scientific purposes.

Live animals are used in modern medical research because some of their bodily systems mimic those of humans. This makes them useful test subjects for drugs, vaccines, and other products that could be dangerous to humans. They are also useful training tools for doctors, surgeons, and veterinarians who need to practice medical procedures, such as inserting a catheter, administering anesthesia, or performing operations.

People who support the use of animals in research are passionate in their belief that the benefits to people far outweigh the consequences to animals. They point out the important medical and veterinary advances that have resulted. Animal rights activists—on the other hand—uniformly condemn this use. The most extreme activists have broken into laboratories, released animals, and physically harassed the researchers involved. Animal welfarists work to minimize the pain these animals experience during testing and to improve their living conditions.

The Gallup Organization includes a question about laboratory animals in the morality poll it conducts each year. The poll conducted in May 2004 showed that 62% of Americans surveyed find "medical testing on animals" to be morally acceptable, while 32% find it morally wrong. Another 4% said the morality depends on the situation, and 2% had no opinion. These numbers were virtually unchanged from those obtained in annual polls conducted since 2001.

Science and Engineering Indicators is a report published by the National Science Board every two years. The latest available report included the results of public opinion polls conducted in 2001 on various topics related to science and engineering. Figure 5.1 and Figure 5.2 compare public opinion on the use of mice versus the use of dogs and chimpanzees in medical research that causes pain and injury to the animals but produces new information on human health problems. The results show that 67% of respondents approve of the use of mice in such a manner, while only 44% approve of the use of dogs and chimpanzees. This finding is not surprising, as people typically have more charitable feelings toward dogs and chimpanzees than they do toward mice. Figure 5.3 shows that approval for painful tests on dogs and chimpanzees has generally decreased since 1988.

This decrease may be the result in part of the fact that many people react emotionally to the thought of animals in distress. Scientists and researchers, those who work with the animals directly, use clinical terms to describe their work. They refer to laboratory animals as animal FIGURE 5.1
Public opinion on the use of mice in scientific research, 2001
SOURCE: Adapted from "Appendix Table 7-26. Public Assessment of Use of Mice in Scientific Research: 2001," in Science & Engineering Indicators—2002, (NSB-02-1), National Science Foundation, National Science Board, 2002
Public opinion on the use of dogs and chimpanzees in scientific research, 2001
SOURCE: "Appendix Table 7-27. Public Assessment of Use of Dogs and Chimpanzees in Scientific Research: 1988–2001," in Science & Engineering Indicators—2002, (NSB-02-1), National Science Foundation, National Science Board, 2002
Public opinion on the use of dogs and chimpanzees in scientific research, 1988–2001
SOURCE: Adapted from "Appendix Table 7-27. Public Assessment of Use of Dogs and Chimpanzees in Scientific Research: 1988–2001," in Science & Engineering Indicators–2002, (NSB-02-1), National Science Foundation, National Science Board, 2002
models and speak of them as specimens. Antivivisection groups gain support for their views by publicizing the gruesome details of experiments. Photographs of restrained animals with bolts through their brains or sores on their bodies can disturb the public, no matter how scientifically justified the experiments may be.

The modern antivivisection movement began in the nineteenth century. In 1892 humanitarian Henry Salt wrote, "The practice of vivisection is revolting to the human conscience, even among the ordinary members of a not over-sensitive society." This was only seventy-five years after the publication of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, a story about a scientist who creates a mutant human from spare parts. Anthropologist Susan Sperling believes that the antivivisectionists of the nineteenth century and the twenty-first century share a common fear—scientific manipulation of living beings.

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