The lives of humans and animals have been intertwined since the beginning of civilization. Early humans learned to raise animals for food as well as to live alongside them as companions. Humans and animals develop strong interactions and lasting bonds to their mutual benefit. It is because of our close ties with animals that many people have mixed feelings about the use of animals in biomedical research—even scientists. In an ideal world, scientists would never need to use animals as research subjects. Because we do not live in an ideal world, some difficult ethical and moral questions arise.
First and foremost, is it ethical to allow humans and animals to suffer from injury and disease when treatments and cures can be discovered through animal research? Public opinion polls have consistently shown that a majority of people approve of the use of animals in biomedical research that does not cause pain to the animal and leads to new treatments and cures. However, another difficult question is whether it is morally acceptable to perform research on animals that is painful, if it leads to new and better treatments such as new anesthetics and painkillers. Or, is it acceptable to perform any research on animals if new treatments or cures resulting from the research might not be apparent for decades, if ever?
A minority ot people polled thought that experiments should be done on humans rather than animals. To some extent this does occur during clinical trials, but only after extensive animal testing to ensure that harmful drugs are not given to humans. In our society, most people consider it morally wrong to use humans as subjects for basic research, under the premise that humans deserve higher moral consideration than animals.
Some people also claim that it is unnecessary for animals to be used as research subjects and that computer or other nonanimal models could be used instead. In some cases this is true, and scientists strive to use computer models and other nonanimal methods whenever possible; however, many of the interactions that occur between molecules, cells, tissues, organs, organisms, and the environment are too complex for even the most sophisticated of computers to model. At present, it is impossible to advance biomedical science without the use of animal subjects for some aspects of research.
Questions about animal research can be difficult to answer. This report is meant to help you decide how YOU will answer these questions. It details how animal models fit into the larger scheme of biomedical research, some of the advances in biomedical research that have been gained because of animals, and the regulations that protect animals and manage their use. This report will help you to understand the important role animals play in biomedical research and to decide whether the benefits of animal research justify the use of animals as research subjects.
National Academies Press (US), Washington (DC)
National Research Council (US) Committee to Update Science, Medicine, and Animals. Science, Medicine, and Animals. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2004. Preface.