Bioethics in India: Proceedings of the International Bioethics Workshop in Madras: Biomanagement of Biogeoresources, 16-19 Jan. 1997, University of Madras; Editors: Jayapaul Azariah, Hilda Azariah, & Darryl R.J. Macer, Copyright Eubios Ethics Institute 1997.

47. Ethical Considerations on the Use of Animals in Drug Research

Selvaraj Laxshmi, Mona Merchant. & Supraja Narsimhan
Department of Zoology, Ahmednagar College, Ahemdnagar-414001, Maharashtra


It is estimated that about 280 million animals are sacrificed for research every year. A majority of these are cruelly abused in biomedical research, especially in drug research. Animal models are used in order to extrapolate the result of findings on human beings. However, the use of animals in drug research raises many ethical questions, such as, whether the cosmetic industry is desired given the expense of sacrificing animals or should animals be recommended or used to test new drugs i.e. product patents which are useful for medical science. The present paper raises a debate on the ethical consideration of this aspect.


Ethics or moral philosophy, is the study of human actions in respect of their being right or wrong. The actions of an individuals and social groups supply the subject matter of ethics. It distinguishes between actions that are voluntary, those done intentionally and actions that are involuntary. Ethics deals with voluntary actions.

One of the special gifts of humanities is to ask thoughtful questions about what we should or should not do. We do not have to take permission for breathing and digestion, but we do have to think ourselves should treat out animal cousins. Must animal experimentation be encouraged or not? Attention to this subject was first called by Miss Frances Power Cobbe, and others. The anti-vivisectionists were inspired by humane feelings that deserved respect, but the methodology of scientific research lay beyond their comprehension and they rested their case on an extraordinary claim to the effect that animal experimentation is useless, though Miss Cobbe herself wisely protested against their doing so. Moreover, they refused to discriminate between callous and humane research workers (Worden, 1992).

Animal Experimentation

Animal experimentation is the use of animals in scientific research. Every year scientists perform experiments on millions of live animals. Animals commonly used in drug research are cats, dogs, guinea pigs, mice, monkeys and rats.

One of the first known uses of animals for medical research was by the Greek physician Galen in the first century AD (Anonymous, 1992). It was in the 15th Century that Galileo recounted that systematic experimentation could help reveal the laws of nature. In the late 1500's Galileo began performing carefully designed experiments to study the basic properties of matter in motion. In the early 1600's William Harvey, used the experimental method to learn about circulation and heart-beat and dissected human and animals corpses for experimentation. Harvey could, thus conclude that the heart pumps blood through the arteries to all parts of the body and that the blood returns to the heart through veins (Anonymous, 1992). Thus, today, we are able to save millions of people around the world suffering from cardiac malfunctions.

The debate or whether to use animals for experimentation or not has gained importance over the last few years. Antivivisectionists argue that animal experimentation must be completely stopped, but this is not practically possible. Every year millions of animals die of various causes. They die in accidents, out of hunger, infections, diseases, injuries etc. Many of them are killed for their products, food, luxury and also as a pastime while hunting. When animals can be used for all these things, they surely can be used for experimentation. But it raises another question. In the former case, animals are killed instantly and hence, do not undergo pain and suffering, but in the latter, the case is not the same. Many experiments involve painful procedures and long term sufferings, where the animal is not allowed to die so as to study the various reactions. Though, considering how musk (a perfume) is obtained (It involves painful procedures), there is not much of a difference.

Recently, the University of California at Berkeley was criticized for inadequate care of laboratory animals by three animals rights groups (Funds for Animals, Californians for Responsible Research and a group calling itself Buddhists concerned for Animals). It was said that the lab facilities are not good, the building too old and proper care of animals not taken (Budiasky, 1993). But then this is not the case just in Berkeley, but everywhere. To see that proper care and attention is given to animals, the labs must be funded and it is not possible to fund each and every lab adequately. It may further be argued that animal experimentation can be carried out only in few labs which are adequately funded. But then this suggestion is faced with a problem of limiting further development of knowledge and chances of a new discovery. And it is not that animals are cruelly treated without any restrictions. People who have crossed their limits have been punished. In 1981, Edward Taub was prosecuted for cruelty to 16 crab eating Macaques and one Rhesus Monkey at the Institute for Behaviour Research in Silver Springs (Singer, 1994).

Sensibility to pain is commonly confused with intelligence in the popular mind, although a moments reflection will show that the mistake is a stupid one. There does not even appear to be any tangible evidence of positive correlation between sensibility and intelligence, beyond the fact that both are modes of consciousness. The only direct evidence on the subject, such as it is, consists in an adults comparing his own sensibility with that which he remembers himself to have been endowed with in childhood. This test suggests that he was more sensitive to pain when his intelligence was in a more primitive stage of development, a conclusion supported by the fact that the pain threshold has been found experimentally to rise with increasing age. Two other considerations point in the same direction, albeit a little vaguely. Teleologically pain is associated with learning; it teaches the organism to avoid destructive stimuli. It may well be the case that the less the intelligence, the more severe is the lesson required. Again, pain sensations may be expected to be larger in a simple field of consciousness than

they do in one more highly developed, where they have to compete with other mental states and may also be more or less repressed; and this common sense supposition is supported by some neurological evidence, for the cortex appears to play a part in inhibiting pain, but not necessarily in registering it (Worden, 1992). Thus, feelings of an animal should not become a reason as to why we should deny access to animal experimentation.

Recently, in a report by Liard Harrison/Oakland, 1996, People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals assailed an AIDS treatment that involved taking immune cells from a baboon and then killing it for autopsy. Since baboons didn't seem to get AIDS, doctors at San Francisco General Hospital had hoped that grafting the animals cells into Jeff Getty, 38, of Oakland, California, would help him fight the disease. Getty claims that animal rights activists made harassing phone calls to his hospital bedside while he was recovering. With a group of nine other AIDS patients, Getty sat down in the middle of a driveway and blocked traffic outside an animal rights rally in Washington carrying slogans like " Rights for Lab Rats over my Dead Body". Do we disappoint these people by saying that we cannot treat you because use of animals has been banned and hence we have been unable to come out with a cure for AIDS? Do you value his life more or lives of a few lab rats? Would the latest promising treatments have been developed without animal research? Among other things, such studies help doctors determine what constitutes a safe dose of a drug before trying it out on people.

The studies help physicians find cures and treatment. The risk cannot be taken of directly introducing a new drug into the market without animal testing. Even cosmetics are tested on animals before introducing them into the market. However, using animals for cosmetic research is an utter waste of innocent lives. Cosmetics are not a necessity. Compromise can occur in such a way that use of animals is minimized, but it is not agreed that one should not use animal at all. At present no better alternatives are available . Only time can find a solution for this situation. Until then animals are the only alternative.

Various laws have been passed to safeguard the interests of animals to minimize the pain and sufferings restored upon them. Certain experiments that involve inducing intolerable pain on the animals have been prohibited. Even though it has been years since these laws have been introduced, there is not much change. The main reasons being that these laws are not being strictly administered. The Animal Welfare Board of India has recently diverted its attention to cosmetic companies, which until now , continued to test their cosmetics on rabbits and mice. While a strong movement by citizens in the Western countries succeeded in getting this practice stopped in their companies, the situation was not so promising in India. The Board has managed to succeed in convincing some of the cosmetic companies in agreeing to the stop experimenting with these animals.

Admitting that the "The Act For Prevention of Cruelty To Animals", 1960 suffered from major loopholes , the proposed Bill emphasised on stringent punishment for offenders. Until now, these were let off with minor fines such to the root of the issue by suggesting imposition of huge fines to the tune of Rs. 10,000 for an offense from such offender (Nanda Dabhole , Kasabe , Feb 19, 1997).

Also, a sharp distinction must be drawn between killing and hurting. Experiments involving killing the animal instantly (without allowing suffering) can be allowed to be conducted. And in the other experiments where pain and sufferings are inflicted on the animals, maximum effort should be taken to minimize them. There is a common opinion that the infliction of pain on an unpopular species is a lesser evil than its infliction on a popular species, and still a lesser evil than its infliction on human being , but this view appears to be a rationalization of personal bias and caprice. From on objective point of view , a given quantum of undeserved pain appears as equally an evil whether the victim be man, dog, or rat, and humaneness as the reduction of this evil to a minimum.

Human species can survive comfortably only if "Me first " policy is adopted. First let our species survive without pain and sufferings and then we can let the others survive without causing them pain. It can just be hoped that while conducting on experiment, the experimenter will recognize the claim of the lower animal to be treated with humane consideration, and will establish the right of community to be assured that this claim shall not be forgotten amid the triumphs of advancing science.

1. Anonymous, (1992), Ethics, 6, World Book of Encyclopedia, London.
2. Anonymous, (1992), Animals, 1, World Book of Encyclopedia.
3. Alastair N. Worden, (1992), Handbook of Laboratory Animals.
4. Singer P. "License to kill", Nature 367 (1994), 523.
5. William H. DanHzler, et al., "Humane Use of Animals", Nature 386 (1994).
6. Steven Budiasky, Nature 368 (1993), 3.
7. Nanda Dabhole Kasabe, (Feb 19, 1997 ), Special report , The Indian Express.
8. Christine Gorman (Reported by Liard Harrison /Oakland), "What's Worth to Find a Cure", Time (July 8,1996).

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