This post continues an excellent overview of toxicological testing on animals by community member Sharon Sigethy Coughlin, who has past professional experience in the field (though please know that the views below don't necessarily represent those of the EPA or the ATSDR). Part one focused on the background of toxicology testing, and she asks in this post whether there might be a better way forward?
alternatives to animals testing
Scientists recognize that animals have significant biological differences from humans. Due to this, and due in part to public outcry, much less animal testing is done today than had been done previously. Today, nursing students practice on oranges (the fruit!) or on other students when learning to give injections with needles. Veterinary schools may still use animals to practice surgical techniques, but hopefully medical schools are using human cadavers.
A question to ask is: Could “fake bodies” be developed for practicing medical techniques and surgical procedures? Is it absolutely necessary to practice on living animals and subject them to surgical procedures?
In my own experience as a student of toxicology, I think people are much more sensitive to the needs of laboratory animals than they used to be. From my experience, the majority of scientists that I have met and worked with are mainly concerned with the collection of data. If they do not have to test on animals, they would rather not. They are receptive to substitute test procedures if they are available.
I know for a fact that more and more scientists are relying on mathematical models to predict how a chemical may interact with a biological system. Mathematical modelers have made great advances and come up with sophisticated computer models that simulate how biological systems work. Wouldn’t it be nice to just plug data into a sophisticated computer model and allow the computer model to predict how a chemical will interact with cells and organs?
Why not spend more time and effort developing accurate mathematical models, and understanding how biological systems work, rather than taking a "simpler" route of "trial and error" by testing on animals?
There are toxicological databases that store much of the data we have and allow researchers to access it for predicting possible health effects and risks (IRIS, or Integrated Risk Information System, a database containing information on possible health effects caused by select chemicals and compounds) and agencies that maintain toxicological profiles of chemicals (ATSDR, or Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which maintains toxicological profiles for chemicals and compounds). There is no need to run duplicates of toxicological tests that have already been conducted.
Certain classes of compounds are known to cause certain health effects. Why not just work with classes of compounds that do not cause negative health effects?
thoughts on the issue, a Christian perspective
I think the underlying issue to be most concerned about is that some humans are still insensitive to animal needs and feelings, and believe that animals can be treated as expendable. These certain people still hold the selfish belief that animals are here to satisfy our whims, and do not give any thought to pain or frustration that animals in our service may be experiencing.
They may believe that animals have no purpose except to please humans, and have no value unless we can use them to make our own lives easier, or better. They may view animals as objects that have no choice in their lives. That there is nothing wrong with ignoring the needs or wants of a being other than the one in charge of making a decision. (Hmm, isn’t this a belief that had been prevalent about women just a few centuries ago?)
This belief certainly seems out of line with the Christian perspective on the world. It is much too self-centered. Didn’t Jesus preach that we should be caring, sensitive, and thoughtful of others? Didn’t he show compassion and kindness to every animal he encountered on this earth?
In order to be true to the core values of Christianity, we must look outside ourselves and consider how we treat all of God’s creation.
goals for the future
If there is a way to prevent unnecessary animal suffering, we must move in that direction.
If there is a need to educate people about alternatives to animal experimentation, we should be ready to explain those alternatives.
If we want to end animal experimentation completely, we must be willing to speak to scientists and medical students and work with them to find new ways of collecting health information. (e.g. Can we develop better mathematical models? Can we improve our toxicological databases?)
And, this should be done in the spirit of cooperation and understanding, not confrontation and anger.
around the world
The United States has passed laws against animal abuse, and there are many nonprofit animal organizations in this country that speak out against wrongs committed against animals. This is a step in the right direction. We must also pay attention to the plight of animals in other countries, as well (e.g., "Malaysia Official Says: God Created Monkeys and Rats for Experiments").
We must be aware of decisions people around the world make regarding animals in their care. We must be ready to reeducate, and guide, when needed. As Christians, we have a responsibility to set a good example. Some people may not know any other way.
education and rethinking
It may take a bit of rethinking. It may take some explaining. It is easy to take for granted that humans are able to read, write, and speak our minds. Animals are different from humans in this way.
Animals may not have as complex a language as ours. They may not be physically capable of “speaking” with vocal cords. They may not be able to write the letters of an alphabet on a piece of paper. However, this does not mean they do not have feelings, needs, or opinions. In the “loud” world of humans, they may seem silent.
Maybe we need to pay attention to how they communicate. Maybe we need to pay attention to what they communicate. And, if it is obvious that certain basic needs of the animals are being ignored, we, as caring humans, should not think twice about speaking up for them.
Perhaps this new understanding of animals, compassion towards living beings different than us, and growing acceptance of the feelings and needs of animals, will make for a better world for everyone – humans and animals, inclusive.
The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. (Mahatma Gandhi)
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtfully committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has. (Margaret Mead)