Animal experimentation is often presented by its proponents as a necessity for securing human health that has no drawbacks: it can only help, it is said. But it is becoming increasingly known that this picture is inaccurate, as animal experimentation hurts humans in many different ways: by providing misleading results in safety studies (given the differences between human diseases and nonhuman diseases and each species’ physiology), by causing potential abandonment of useful medical treatments and by directing resources away from more effective testing methods. In other words, there is a critical, and often neglected, human cost when we choose to use animals as models in health sciences.
According to neurologist Aysha Akhtar, these costs even outweigh the potential benefits, as it is discussed in her article “The Flaws and Human Harms of Animal Experimentation” published last fall in the Cambridge Quaterly of Healthcare Ethics:
Abstract: Nonhuman animal (“animal”) experimentation is typically defended by arguments that it is reliable, that animals provide sufficiently good models of human biology and diseases to yield relevant information, and that, consequently, its use provides major human health benefits. I demonstrate that a growing body of scientific literature critically assessing the validity of animal experimentation generally (and animal modeling specifically) raises important concerns about its reliability and predictive value for human outcomes and for understanding human physiology. The unreliability of animal experimentation across a wide range of areas undermines scientific arguments in favor of the practice. Additionally, I show how animal experimentation often significantly harms humans through misleading safety studies, potential abandonment of effective therapeutics, and direction of resources away from more effective testing methods. The resulting evidence suggests that the collective harms and costs to humans from animal experimentation outweigh potential benefits and that resources would be better invested in developing human-based testing methods.
In sum, writes the author, “misleading information can be worse than no information from animal tests” (413).
Dr Akhtar has also published the book Animals and Public Health: Why Treating Animals Better is Critical to Human Welfare, in 2012, that explores in depth similar issues: