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How Animal Testing Works


Getting Testy
An activist of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), dressed as wounded rabbit, protests animal testing for cosmetics at the historical India Gate in New Delhi.
An activist of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), dressed as wounded rabbit, protests animal testing for cosmetics at the historical India Gate in New Delhi.
Anil Kumar Shakya/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Every year of the 20th century saw human life expectancy go up by roughly three months. Advocates of animal testing argue that this near-miraculous life extension is thanks, in part, to animal experimentation. Modern medicine as we know it, they point out, would be impossible without it. From antibiotics and vaccines to surgeries and cancer treatments, every major advance has involved experimenting on animals. For that reason, those in favor of animal testing argue that the practice must continue in order to further the goals of medical advancement. After all, they say, more than 50 percent of human illnesses extant in the world today still have no known treatment [source: Oxford University].

Many disagree. In the anti-animal testing camp, organizations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) say that experimenting on living beings that cannot consent to the process is unethical, harmful and wasteful. They point to the suffering endured by many of the animals used in scientific research and contend that this suffering is, in fact, needless.

The argument goes something like this: While researchers have been able to cure cancer in mice for years, the treatments used have never translated to humans. The same goes for the 85 HIV/AIDS vaccines successfully tested on primates. In fact, one such vaccine might have actually made people more, rather than less, prone to contracting the disease. Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has admitted that nine-tenths of all drugs in development fail in humans during early testing phases because animal experimentation can't accurately predict how well they work on us [source: PETA].

Meanwhile, the general consensus in the scientific community is that animal testing remains both useful and necessary. Ultimately there is no substitute, they argue, for the complex variables to be found in a living creature. Because we still do not fully understand all of the elements that make up a complex organism, it's impossible to predict how a drug, for instance, will interact with the various systems that animate bodies.


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