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Soc Sci Med. 1981;15F:13-7.

Historical issues concerning animal experimentation in the United States.


The use of animals for research and teaching has now become an issue of great concern in the United States. In contrast to the legislative systems in Britain, Scandinavia and many European countries, American scientists can pursue research projects with relative freedom. Recent activities in the United States may effect this practice and future animal experimentation may be subjected to restriction and control by legislation. Events leading to this possibility are similar in many ways to those in 19th century Britain prior to the passage of the Cruelty to Animals Act in 1876 (which licenses scientists, regulates experimentation and carries out inspections). Historically, it seemed that the immediate effect of the 1876 act was to decrease the number of scientists who could conduct experiments on live vertebrate animals in Great Britain and hence the number of experiments and animals. Yet, antivivisection activity in Britain did not decrease but continued toward its goal of abolishing all research with animals. By 1882, the medical scientific community established the Association for the Advancement of Medicine by Research which began to advise the Home Secretary on licensing scientists.... Although the first Humane Society in the United States was established in 1866, it was not until the end of the 19th century when scientific disciplines were necessary for the education of physicians that protests against the use of animals for experimentation became organized. Activities by American animal protection groups have increased since that time and have now culminated in proposed legislation which if passed would not only restrict the use of animals for research but would also interfere with the kinds of research that could be conducted. Legislation in Britain, Scandinavia and in many European countries appears to be efficient and effective because of the relatively small number of research institutions and scientists in those countries. Is legislation in the United States feasible considering the extremely large number of scientists and research institutions? American scientists are facing three possibilities: mandatory regulation (legislation), self-regulation, or some combination of both. Self-regulation of animal experimentation appears to be the optimal choice. It would reflect the success of animal protection groups in raising the consciousness and concerns of scientists about the humane treatment of experimental animals: (1) reducing the numbers of animals used for experimentation, (2) unnecessary duplication of experiments, and (3) minimizing pain and distress. Although scientists are proceeding toward a program(s) of self-regulation, this approach will be based on the scientific method and will not satisfy completely the differences between scientific and animal protection groups. Scientists have become concerned with "the moral and ethical responsibility for the humane treatment of animals in experimentation" whereas animal protection groups are concerned with "the moral rights of animals...."

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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