Animals in research

May 21, 1999

Your article reporting the complaints of pro-vivisection societies and industries proclaims that "Science faces troubled future" (THES, April 30). But the prospect of a more open ethical debate on the justice of using animals in research and a greater sensitivity on the part of the Home Office to the concerns of organisations and individuals regarding animal research, far from being a potentially negative development, gives science the opportunity to work within the ethical limits set by the society in which it operates.

Unfortunately, the comments of Michael Dexter, director of the Wellcome Trust, demonstrate the unwillingness and/or inability of sections of the scientific community to examine the ethics of their actions with the same reason and rigour they apply to scientific hypotheses.

For example, Dexter appears to fear that the political agenda over the use of animals in "vital medical research" may be "stolen" by animal rights activists. What kind of prejudiced outlook brings forth a description of the increase in public concern over animal experiments, as reported by the chair of the government's Animal Procedures Committee, Michael Banner, as the "theft" of an agenda?

Animal rights activists are not stealing anything. We are simply stating our case that the violent exploitation of other sentient animals is unjust and that research on nonhuman species is an unreliable source of information about human disease. A considerable proportion (between a third and a half) of the public share this view.

What appears to be happening within the government's regulation of animal experimentation is that as soon as it and its advisory committee make a small start in applying the principle that is supposed to underpin the licensing of animal experiments - that a cost-benefit analysis should be undertaken before a project is permitted - then interests close to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry start complaining about curtailment to their "freedom" to maim and kill animals without compunction.

Dan Lyons

Uncaged Campaigns

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