People who want to abolish all animal research are being invited by a patients' pressure group to pledge that they will live without treatments developed using the technique.
The group, Seriously Ill for Medical Research, whose patrons include the theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, wants university researchers to be free to use animals in medical research when there is no alternative technique.
It has sent cards to ten animal rights groups, inviting members to promise they will refuse all medical treatments developed using research on animals, including blood transfusions and antibiotics. Treatment for children who suffer from a genetic illness is also out.
group secretary Kevin O'Donnell said: "We are very concerned that medical research is not hampered. We lost our first child to a genetic disease. Progress since then is entirely due to animal research and the first clinical trial of a treatment for this disease is now under way. By seeking to abolish animal research, animal activists are condemning children with such diseases.
"Why should children like mine be made to suffer for the extremists' beliefs if they aren't prepared to do so themselves?" "This campaign is aimed at seeing whether people will practise what they preach," said Andrew Blake, director of the group. He suffers from the incurable progressive disease Friedreich's ataxia and is confined to a wheelchair.
"It is not a game to me. The abolitionists always fail to mention that abolishing animal research means halting medical progress. If you want to wear the abolitionists' ribbon you have to throw away your ribbons backing research on Aids and breast cancer", he said.
Of the ten animal rights groups who received the cards two have replied to Mr Blake requesting more cards to distribute to members. But the numbers requested were so large that Mr Blake suspects them of attempting to drain his resources.
Activists at a rally in central London last weekend said that they would pledge to live without the benefits of animal research.
But Jan Creamer, director of the National Anti-vivisection Society, has binned the cards. "We should be talking about ways of not using animals," she said.
And she called on the government to review the way in which licences for animal research are granted, to make the process more open to public scrutiny. "We know who is the head of MI5 but we don't know the identity of the Home Office minister who makes these decisions," she said.
There were 2.64 million experiments on living animals carried out in the United Kingdom in 1997, according to the Home Office.
Card-holders' pledges include:
* in the event of accident or emergency, I will refuse all treatments developed or tested on animals, including, but not limited to: blood transfusions, anaesthetics, anticoagulants, antibiotics, sutures, open heart and other types of surgery.
* if my child suffers from a genetic illness or other serious condition, I will not allow them to have life-saving treatment developed through animal research.