Animals in Medical Research

Each year, many millions of animals—including mice, rats, frogs, dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, monkeys, fish, and birds—are killed in U.S. laboratories. Before their deaths, some are forced to inhale toxic fumes. Others are immobilized in restraining devices for hours. Some have holes drilled into their skulls, and others have their skin burned off or their spinal cords crushed.

In addition to the torment of the actual experiments, animals in laboratories are deprived of everything that is natural and important to them—they are confined to barren cages, socially isolated, and psychologically traumatized. The thinking, feeling animals who are used in experiments are treated like nothing more than disposable laboratory equipment.

Wasteful and Unreliable
Diseases that are artificially induced in animals in a laboratory are never identical to those that occur naturally in human beings. And because animal species differ from one another biologically in many significant ways, it becomes even more unlikely that animal experiments will yield results that can be correctly interpreted and applied to the human condition in a meaningful way.

Ninety-two percent of drugs—those that have been tested on animals and in vitro—do not make it through Phase 1 of human clinical trials (the initial studies that determine reaction, effectiveness, and side effects of doses of a potential drug).(1)

Funding and Accountability
Through their taxes, charitable donations, and purchases of lottery tickets and consumer products, members of the public are ultimately the ones who—knowingly or unknowingly—fund animal experimentation. One of the largest sources of funding comes from publicly funded government granting agencies such as the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). Approximately 40 percent of NIH-funded research involves experimentation on nonhuman animals, and in 2009, the NIH budgeted nearly $29 billion for research and development.(2,3) In addition, many charities––including the March of Dimes, the American Cancer Society, and countless others—use donations to fund experiments on animals. Visit to find out which charities do and do not fund research on animals.

Oversight and Regulation
Despite the countless animals killed each year in laboratories worldwide, most countries have grossly inadequate regulatory measures in place to protect animals from suffering and distress and also to prevent them from being used when a non-animal approach is available. In the U.S., the most commonly used species in laboratory experiments (mice, rats, birds, reptiles, and amphibians) are specifically exempted from even the most minimal protections of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA).(4) Labs that use only these species are not required by law to provide animals with pain relief or veterinary care, to search for and consider alternatives to animal use, to have an institutional committee review proposed experiments, or to be inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or any other entity. Experimenters don’t even have to count the mice and rats they kill.

Even animals who are covered by the law can be burned, shocked, poisoned, isolated, starved, forcibly restrained, addicted to drugs, and brain-damaged—no procedures or experiments, regardless of how trivial or painful they may be, are prohibited by law. When valid non-animal research methods are available, no law requires experimenters to use such methods instead of animals.

The Way Forward
Human clinical, population, and in vitro studies are critical for the advancement of medicine. Even animal experimenters need them—if only to confirm or reject the validity of their experiments. However, research with human participants and other non-animal methods does require a different outlook, one that is creative and compassionate and embraces the underlying philosophy of ethical science. Animal experimenters artificially induce diseases, whereas clinical investigators study people who are already ill or who have died. Animal experimenters want a disposable “research subject” who can be manipulated as desired and killed when convenient. By contrast, clinicians must do no harm to their patients or study participants. Animal experimenters cannot be sure that their results will accurately reflect human situations, while clinical investigators know that the results of their work are directly relevant to people.

More lives could be saved and suffering stopped by educating people about the importance of avoiding fat and cholesterol and the dangers of smoking, reducing alcohol and other drug consumption, exercising regularly, and cleaning up the environment than by all the animal tests in the world.

What You Can Do
Tell research-funding agencies to kick their animal-experimentation habit.

Virtually all federally funded research is paid for with your tax dollars. The NIH needs to hear that you don’t want your tax dollars used to underwrite animal experiments, regardless of their purpose. When writing letters, be sure to make the following two points:

  • Animal experimentation is an inherently violent and unethical practice, and I do not want my tax dollars used to support it.
  • Funding for research into health and ecological effects should be redirected into the use of epidemiological, clinical, in vitro, and computer-modeling studies instead of laboratory experiments on animals.

Please ensure that all correspondence is polite:

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., Director
National Institutes of Health
Shannon Bldg., Rm. 126
1 Center Dr.
Bethesda, MD 20892

1) Anne Harding, “More Compounds Failing Phase 1,” The Scientist, 6 Aug. 2004.
2) Diana Pankevich et al., “International Animal Research Regulations: Impact on Neuroscience Research,” The National Academies (2012).
3) American Association for the Advancement of Science, “NIH Budget Flat in 2009 Proposal,” 19 Feb. 2008.
4) U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, “Animal Welfare, Definition of Animal,” Federal Register, 69 (2004): 31513–4.

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