Every Breath

Written by Judith Johnson / Produced by Theatre of Debate


Overview: The use of animals in medical research

Animals are used in medical research for several purposes. About a third of such researchis “basic” or “fundamental,” aimed at understanding how the body, or its componentcells and organs, work. A further third is “applied,” to increase understanding ofand develop new treatments for disease. It includes safety testing of new medicines (requiredby law; accounts for about 10% of all animal use) and non-drug safety testing(e.g. for agricultural or domestic products). The remaining third includes breeding animals for the increasing number of studies on the genetic basis of health or disease and other relatively small areas such as developing new diagnostic methods. In 2004, about 85% of animal research involved rats, mice and other rodents.

Other animals used very occasionally include dogs and cats (0.3%) and monkeys, such as marmosets and macaques (0.15%). The use of chimpanzees, orangutang and gorillas is banned in the UK, all animals are bred for research (strays/unwanted pets cannot be used) and cosmetic testing was banned here in 1998.

The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 regulates scientific procedures which ‘may cause pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm’ to ‘protected animals’. These are: all living non-human vertebrates (animals with backbones or spines) and one invertebrate, the common octopus. A new level of regulation introduced in April 1999, local ethical review, makes the UK the only country where animal research is regulated through both such ethics committees and central government.

UK guiding principles for animal research are called “the three Rs,” as they aim to reduce the number of animals used to a minimum, refine the way experiments are carried out to minimise suffering and replace animal experiments with non-animal techniques wherever possible.

Opinion polls suggest that while most people would like more alternatives used, they accept using animals in research as long as it is ethical, well regulated, for medical benefit and minimises suffering, and they abhor the tactics of violent animal rights extremists. There is also evidence that people are more concerned about the use of some animals than others (“speciesism”) which leads to questions about whether there are scientific or morally relevant differences between species, such as mice, cats and monkeys?

The following table summarises some of the main arguments outlined above

Gives useful information about how the body works in health and disease; we share 90% of our DNA with miceScientifically misleading: animals and man differ too much, and stressed lab animals give invalid information
Ethically justified, or indeed an ethical imperative, because humans matter more than animalsMorally wrong because it causes suffering to living creatures who can’t choose whether or not to participate
Does not always cause suffering: often involves little more than taking tests or making observationsFrequently causes pain and suffering, and deprives animals of a normal life
Stringent regulations safeguard animals and ensure best practice and high welfare standardsRules are ignored, monitoring is inadequate and undercover investigations reveal animal abuse
Animal research and testing are carried out for scientific reasonsAnimal research and testing are commercially-driven multi-million pound concerns
New medicines have caused death or injury because they were not adequately tested on animalsMany drugs have dangerous side effects that were not predicted by animal models, and drugs can have different effects in animals and man
Animal health and care have improved as a result of research involving animalsThe benefits to animals come at too high a price: we should use existing knowledge, but not do new research

The 3 Rs


There are many ways in which one can reduce the numbers of animals used in an experiment. It is very important to carry out a proper statistical analysis of the proposed experiment to determine how many animals need to be used. If too few animals are used then the results of the experiment are not reliable and it needs to be repeated, using more animals. If too many animals are used the results are still reliable, but animal life has been wasted. To reduce the number of animals used to the minimum, the correct number of animals must be used the first time.

It is also important that all other aspects of the experiment are properly designed and carried out correctly. If the experiment fails and needs to be repeated, animals will have been used unnecessarily.

Another way of reducing the number of animals used in an experiment is to use genetically identical animals. This prevents variation in the results from genetic variations between individual animals and thus makes it possible to get reliable answers using fewer animals.

A reduction in the numbers of animals used can also be achieved if the animals are born and bred in ultra-clean conditions and are free of any infections or illnesses which might otherwise interfere with the experimental results.


Research involving animals has to be designed so that any distress or suffering involved is kept to a minimum. For example, if the experiment would hurt the animal, an anaesthetic or painkiller would normally be given.

If an experiment involves taking repeated blood samples from an animal to measure, for example, the level of a particular hormone, it may be possible to implant a small device to continuously monitor the hormone. This can be done with a simple operation under anaesthetic, so that the animal does not have to be repeatedly caught, restrained and blood taken by syringe.

If an experiment involves infecting animals with a painful or fatal disease, it can be designed so that the animals are painlessly killed at an early stage of the disease, when they only show mild symptoms, instead of waiting until they are clearly dying.

In some cases it is possible to develop a whole new way of conducting a test involving fewer animals. The LD50 test has been used for many years to find out how poisonous chemicals are. The way the test is designed means that some of the animals have to be given a fatal dose of a poisonous chemical. However, scientists have now developed a new test, called the Fixed Dose Procedure, to do the same job. This technique uses fewer animals and is designed so that none of them receive a fatal dose of the poison. The LD50 is now outlawed in the UK.

Laboratory animals spend most of their lives simply living in the animal house and not being used in an experiment, so it is important to consider their living conditions. In the past, laboratory animals would often be kept alone in barren cages. These days we prefer to keep animals in social groups, preferably in large cages or floor pens, with things for them to play with. Rabbits would be given bedding material, boxes and tubes. Rodents like to have nesting material. Dogs like running in groups and having human company. Monkeys like branches to climb, swings, ropes and platforms. Their diet can also be made much more interesting with fruit and other tasty morsels. Some of these can be mixed in with wood shavings so that they have to forage for their food – a favourite activity.


A lot of scientific effort has been devoted to developing new, non-animal techniques which can be used in experiments instead of animals. There have been some notable successes:

Insulin is a lifeline for millions of diabetics, but it is essential they give themselves the correct dose – either too high or too low a dose can be harmful. Each batch of insulin has to be tested to measure how active it is so that the correct dosage can be calculated. Previously, this was done by injecting the insulin into mice. Now that insulin is produced by bacterial culture rather than being extracted from pig and cow pancreases, it contains fewer impurities. So a new technique has been developed which uses a machine called a chromatograph which can provide information about purity, replacing the need to use animals to test for the purity and activity of batches of insulin.

Although vital, the use of living animals is just one of three main research methods in medicine and biology. These methods are not alternatives to each other – they are complementary methods that are all equally valid and all contribute vital pieces to the overall picture.

The non-animal techniques are:

in vitro techniques, involving the study of isolated molecules, cells and tissues (which may come from humans, animals, micro-organisms or even plants). This gives useful information about interactions between molecules, within or between cells, or about organ function.

Modern techniques mean that it is possible to use whole organ preparations or organ slices in basic studies where once the only option would have been to use a whole living animal.

Cell cultures provide useful information, but specialised cells and tissues (and organs) are often short lived. The recent development that enables scientists to grow human embryo cells in culture, with the possibility of transforming them into many different cell types, may lead to ways to further reduce use of living animals.

Study of human beings and populations. Research on human subjects can give very useful information about the body in health and disease, and about the distribution of diseases in society, but is limited by what is considered ethical. New noninvasive scanning techniques make it possible to study blood flow or nerve activity in the living human brain, for instance.

Genetic studies are a growing area of research, and may be carried out at molecular and cellular levels. But they often lead directly to the use of more animals, to study the effect of particular genetic changes in living beings.

Better production methods for biological substances like insulin mean that high tech equipment can be used for quality control in many cases instead of using animals.

Computers and chemical techniques can screen out harmful or useless compounds before they ever get to the animal testing stage.

Most of these advances in science and technology have led to a welcome reduction in the numbers of animals used, to about half the number used twenty years ago. However, in general all the methods in use today – animal and non-animal – are complementary. Very few can be regarded as direct replacements for any other method. The animal rights pressure groups often claim that all the non-animal complementary techniques are replacements for – or ‘alternatives’ to – animals. If that were the case, no-one would use animals.

Religious Views: Judaism

The way Jews should treat animals is encapsulated in Proverbs 12:10: “The righteous person regards the life of his beast.”

Judaism teaches that animals are part of God’s creation and should be treated with
compassion. Human beings must avoid “tzar baalei chayim” – causing pain to any living creature. God himself makes a covenant with the animals, just as he does with humanity. The Talmud specifically instructs Jews not to cause pain to animals, and there are also several Bible stories which use kindness to animals as a demonstration of the virtues of leading Jewish figures.

Judaism also teaches that it is acceptable to harm or kill animals if that is the only way to fulfil an essential human need. This is because people take priority over animals, something stated very early in the Bible, where God gives human beings the right to control all non-human animals. Human beings are therefore allowed to use animals for food and clothing – and to provide parchment on which to write the Bible.

Scripture and animals

“And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.
“And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered.
“Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.” (Genesis 9: 1-3.)

Genesis, the first book of the Bible, states that God has given human beings dominion over all living things. Dominion is interpreted as stewardship – living things are to serve humanity but human beings, as part of their dominion, are required to look after all living creatures.

“His tender mercies are over all His creatures” (Psalm 145:9)

The Bible gives several instructions on animal welfare:

  • A person must feed his animals before himself (Deuteronomy 11:15)
  • Animals must be allowed to rest on the Sabbath (Ex. 20:10, & Deut 5: 14)
  • An animal’s suffering must be relieved (Deuteronomy 12:4)

Jews are instructed to avoid:

  • Severing a limb from a live animal and eating it (Genesis 9:4)
  • Killing a cow and her calf on the same day (Leviticus 22:28)
  • This demonstrates that Judaism accepts that animals have powerful family relationships
  • Muzzling an animal threshing corn (Deuteronomy 25:4)
  • Harnessing an ox and donkey together (Deuteronomy 22:10)

Experiments on animals

Jewish teaching allows animal experiments as long both of these conditions are satisfied:

  • There is a real possibility of a benefit to human beings
  • There is no unnecessary pain involved

Religious Views: Islam

“There is not an animal on earth, nor a bird that flies on its wings, but they are communities like you…”
Qur’an 6:38

Muslims believe that:

  • All living creatures were made by Allah
  • Allah loves all animals
  • Animals exist for the benefit of human beings
  • Animals must be treated with kindness and compassion

Muslims are instructed to avoid:

  • Treating animals cruelly
  • Over-working or over-loading animals
  • Neglecting animals
  • Hunting animals for sport
  • Hunting for food is permitted if the animals are killed humanely
  • Cutting the mane or tail of a horse
  • Animal fighting as a sport
  • Factory farming

Using animals is permitted

The Qur’an explicitly states that animals can be used for human benefit.

“It is God who provided for you all manner of livestock, that you may ride on some of them and from some you may derive your food. And other uses in them for you to satisfy your heart’s desires. It is on them, as on ships, that you make your journeys.”
Qur’an 40: 79,80

Muhammad (pbuh) and animals

There are many stories and sayings of the Prophet (pbuh) that demonstrate his concern for the welfare of animals. Once someone traveling with the Prophet (pbuh) took some eggs from a nest, causing the mother bird great grief. The Prophet (pbuh) saw this and told the man to return the eggs.

When the Prophet (pbuh), was asked if Allah rewarded acts of charity to animals, he replied: “Yes, there is a reward for acts of charity to every beast alive.”

The Prophet (pbuh) said “Whoever kills a sparrow or anything bigger than that without a just cause, Allah will hold him accountable on the Day of Judgment The Prophet ex- plained that a killing would be for a just cause if it was for food.

Experiments on animals

According to Al Hafiz B A Masri, using animals for research may be permitted in Islam.

The animals must not suffer pain or mutilation and there must be a good reason for the experiment:

“Actions shall be judged according to intention. Any kind of medical treatment of animals and experiments on them becomes ethical and legal or unethical and illegal according to the intention of the person who does it.”
Masri, B.A., Al-Hafiz. Animals in Islam. Great Britain:Athene Trust. 1989

Religious Views: Christianity


For most of history Christians largely ignored animal suffering. Christian thinkers believed that human beings were greatly superior to animals. They taught that human beings could treat animals as badly as they wanted to because people had few (if any) moral obligations towards animals. Modern Christians generally take a much more proanimal line. They think that any unnecessary mistreatment of animals is both sinful and morally wrong.

The traditional Christian view

When early theologians looked at “nature red in tooth and claw” they concluded that it was a natural law of the universe that animals should be preyed on and eaten by others. This was reflected in their theology.

Christian thinking downgraded animals for three main reasons:

  1. God had created animals for the use of human beings and human beings were there- fore entitled to use them in any way they want
  2. Animals were distinctively inferior to human beings and were worth little if any moral consideration, because:
    • humans have souls and animals don’t
    • humans have reason and animals don’t
  3. Christian thought was heavily humano-centric and only considered animals in relation to human beings, and not on their own terms

Animals and saints

Not all leading Christians disparaged animals. Some of the saints demonstrated that virtuous Christians treated animals respectfully and kindly:

  • St Antony of Padua preached to fishes
  • St Francis of Assisi preached to the birds and became the most popular proanimal Christian figure
  • Cows are protected by St Brigit

Modern Christian thinking about animals

Modern Christian thinking is largely sympathetic to animals and less willing to accept that there is an unbridgeable gap between animals and human beings. Although most theologians don’t accept that animals have rights, they do acknowledge that some animals display sufficient consciousness and self-awareness to deserve moral consideration.

The growth of the environmental movement has also radically changed Christian ideas about the role human beings play in relation to nature. Few Christians nowadays think that nature exists to serve humanity, and there is a general acceptance that human dominion over nature should be seen as stewardship and partnership rather than domination and exploitation.

This has significantly softened Christian attitudes to animals.

Animal-friendly Christian thoughts

Here are some of the animal-friendly ideas that modern Christians use when thinking about animals:

  • The Bible shows that God made his covenant with animals as well as human beings
  • Human and non-human animals have the same origin in God
  • St. Francis of Assisi said that animals “had the same source as himself”
  • In God’s ideal world human beings live in harmony with animals
    • The Garden of Eden, in which human beings lived in peace and harmony with animals, demonstrates God’s ideal world, and the state of affairs that human beings should work towards
    • The prophet Isaiah describes the Kingdom of Heaven as a place where animals and human beings live together in peace
  • God has the right to have everything he created treated respectfully – wronging animals is wronging God
  • God is not indifferent to anything in his creation
  • The example of a loving creator God should lead human beings to act lovingly towards animals
    • Inflicting pain on any living creature is incompatible with living in a Christ-like way
    • Animals are weak compared to us – Christ tells us to be kind to them
    • Jesus told human beings to be kind to the weak and helpless
    • In comparison to human beings, animals are often weak and helpless
    • Christians should therefore show compassion to animals
  • To love those who cannot love you in the same way is a unique way of acting with generous love.
  • “If you love them that love you, what reward have you?”
  • It is a great good to take responsibility for the welfare of others, including animals

What the churches say about animals

The Anglican view

This resolution from the 1998 Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church is typical of contemporary Christian thinking about animals:

This conference reaffirms the biblical vision of creation according to which Creation is a web of inter-dependent relationships bound together in the covenant which God the Holy Trinity has established with the whole earth and every living being. The divine Spirit is sacramentally present in creation, which is therefore to be treated with reverence, respect and gratitude. Human beings are both co-partners with the rest of creation and living bridges between heaven and earth, with responsibility to make personal & corporate sacrifices for the common good of all creation. The redemptive purpose of God in Jesus Christ extends to the whole of creation.

The Roman Catholic view

The Papal Encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” recognises that animals have both an intrinsic value and a place in God’s kingdom.

The Roman Catholic Ethic of Life, if fully accepted, would lead Christians to avoid any- thing that brings unnecessary suffering or death to animals.

The official position of the Church is contained in a number of sections of the Church’s official Catechism (the paragraphing within each section is ours):

373 In God’s plan man and woman have the vocation of “subduing” the earth as stewards of God.
This sovereignty is not to be an arbitrary and destructive domination. God calls man and woman, made in the image of the Creator “who loves everything that exists”, to share in his providence toward other creatures; hence their responsibility for the world God has entrusted to them.

2415 The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation.
Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity.

Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives.

Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbour, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.

2416 Animals are God’s creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory.
Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals.

2417 God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image. Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure.
Medical and scientific experimentation on animals is a morally acceptable practice if it remains within reasonable limits and contributes to caring for or saving human lives.

2418 It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly.
It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery

One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons. Some writers have criticised the statements above for being so firmly centred on human beings. Causing animals to suffer needlessly, for example, is described in 2418 as being contrary to human dignity, rather than as being a wrong towards animals.

Religious Views: Buddhism

Although Buddhism is one of the most animal-friendly religions, some aspects of the tradition are surprisingly negative about animals.

The positive

  • Buddhists try to do no harm (or as little harm as possible) to animals
  • Buddhists try to show loving-kindness to all beings, including animals
  • The doctrine of right livelihood teaches Buddhists to avoid any work connected with the killing of animals
  • The doctrine of karma teaches that any wrong behaviour will have to be paid for in a future life – so cruel acts to animals should be avoided

Buddhists treat the lives of human and non-human animals with equal respect. Buddhists see human and non-human animals as closely related:

  • both have Buddha-nature
  • both have the possibility of becoming perfectly enlightened
  • a soul may be reborn either in a human body or in the body of a non-human animal

Buddhists believe that is wrong to hurt or kill animals, because all beings are afraid of injury and death:

All living things fear being beaten with clubs.
All living things fear being put to death.
Putting oneself in the place of the other,
Let no one kill nor cause another to kill. (Dhammapada 129)

The negative

Buddhist behaviour towards and thinking about animals is not always positive. The doc- trine of karma implies that souls are reborn as animals because of past misdeeds. Being reborn as an animal is a serious spiritual setback. Because non-human animals can’t engage in conscious acts of self-improvement they can’t improve their karmic status, and their souls must continue to be reborn as animals until their bad karma is exhausted. Only when they are reborn as human beings can they resume the quest for nirvana.

This bad karma, and the animal’s inability to do much to improve it, led Buddhists in the past to think that non-human animals were inferior to human beings and so were entitled to fewer rights than human beings. Early Buddhists (but not the Buddha himself) used the idea that animals were spiritually inferior as a justification for the exploitation and mistreatment of animals.

Experimenting on animals

Buddhists say that this is morally wrong if the animal concerned might come to any harm. However, Buddhists also acknowledge the value that animal experiments may have for human health. So perhaps a Buddhist approach to experiments on animals might require the experimenter to:

  • accept the karma of carrying out the experiment
  • the experimenter will acquire bad karma through experimenting on an animal
  • experiment only for a good purpose
  • experiment only on animals where there is no alternative
  • design the experiment to do as little harm as possible
  • avoid killing the animal unless it is absolutely necessary
  • treat the animals concerned kindly and respectfully
  • The bad karmic consequences for the experimenter seem to demand a high level of altruistic behaviour in research laboratories

Buddhism and vegetarianism

Not all Buddhists are vegetarian and the Buddha does not seem to have issued an overall prohibition on meat-eating. The Mahayana tradition was (and is) more strictly vegetarian than other Buddhist traditions.

The early Buddhist monastic code banned monks from eating meat if the animal had been killed specifically to feed them, but otherwise instructed them to eat anything they were given.

Religious Views: Hinduism

Because Hinduism is a term that includes many different although related religious ideas, there is no clear single Hindu view on the right way to treat animals, so what follows are generalisations to which there are exceptions.

  • The doctrine of ahimsa leads Hindus to treat animals well
  • Most Hindus are vegetarian
  • No Hindu will eat beef
  • Butchery and related jobs are restricted to people of low caste
  • Most Hindus believe that non-human animals are inferior to human beings
  • Cows are sacred to Hindus
  • Some Hindu temples keep sacred animals
  • Some Hindu gods have animal characteristics
    • Ganesh has the head of an elephant
    • Hanuman takes the form of a monkey

Animal sacrifice
Hinduism permits animal sacrifice.

The cow is greatly revered by Hindus and is regarded as sacred. Killing cows is banned in India and no Hindu would eat any cow product.



A chronic respiratory disease, often arising from allergies, characterised by sudden recurring attacks of breathing difficulties, chest tightness, and coughing.

Animal Rights

The right to humane treatment claimed on behalf of animals, especially the right not to be exploited for human purposes. The animal-rights movement includes a diverse range of individuals and groups concerned with protecting animals from perceived abuse or misuse. Supporters are specifically concerned with the use of animals for medical research, cosmetic testing (now banned in the UK), the killing of animals for furs, hunting for pleasure, and the raising of livestock in restrictive or inhumane conditions, none by some as factory farming. Some also wish to outlaw the keeping of all pets. Concern for inhumane treatment of animals has led many supporters of the movement to advocate vegetarianism. Although the movement can trace its roots to the antivivisection campaigns (see vivisection) of the 19th century, the modern movement is closely tied to environmental issues.


The religion represented by the many groups, particularly numerous in Asia, that follow the teachings of Buddha. In brief, these are that life is permeated with suffering caused by desire, that suffering ceases when desire ceases, and that enlightenment obtained through right conduct, wisdom, and meditation releases one from desire and therefore suffering, and rebirth.


Leukaemia is a type of cancer, which affects the blood and can be fatal. Cancer is a group of more than 100 diseases that have two important things in common. One is that certain cells in the body become abnormal, and the second that they divide uncontrollably, the body thus producing large numbers of these abnormal cells.

Medical Research

Medical research is conducted to further knowledge about health and disease It involves a range of methods, of which experiments using animals are a small but controversial part. It is carried out in universities, hospitals and other research establishments, funded by the government, charities and the pharmaceutical industry. This industry also takes forward the fruits of some medical research to enable the development of new drugs. By law, these drugs must be safety tested on at least two species of animal before they enter clinical trials in people.

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials evaluate drugs, non-drug treatments or other medical interventions, such as diagnostic methods, in people. The purpose of such trials is to determine whether the treatment or intervention is safe, effective, and, where relevant, better than current standard care. The trials must pass ethical approval, involve the full and informed consent of participating human subjects and are very closely monitored.

Viable Alternative

Capable of success or continuing effectiveness; practicable: a viable plan; a viable national economy. In terms of the use of animals in medical research, if there is no viable alternative, then there is no other method that would have as good a chance of achieving the same goal.


Websites and Books

Relating to issues concerning animal research and animal rights organisations. There are many complex arguments for and against animal testing. The sites below provide facts and figures, answers to frequently asked questions, and in-depth details about events over the years. For your own personal research.

Disclaimer: Theatre of Debate is not responsible for the contents of external websites.

Stats from the Home Office

The Home Secretary publishes statistics on the use of animals in scientific procedures in Britain annually. The site provides the most recent figures (for 2004); released at the beginning of December 2005.


A-Z Animal Rights Organisations

Animal Aid

Animal Liberation Front Supporters Group

Arkangel for animal liberation

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection

Europeans for Medical Progress


National Anti Vivisection Society

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)

Respect for Animals

Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA)

Save the Newchurch Guinea Pigs

Speak (Oxford and Cambridge lab campaigns)

Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty

Medical And Research

Animals in Medicines Research Information Centre

Biomedical Research Education Trust

Coalition for Medical Progress

Foundation for Biomedical Research

Huntingdon Life Science

Medical Research Council

Research Defence Society

Royal Society

Seriously Ill for Medical Research

Wellcome Trust


In Defense of Animals, Peter Singer (2005).
Empty Cages, Tom Regan, Jeffery Moussaieff Masson (2004).
Animal Rights: a very short introduction, David DeGrazia (2002).
Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection, Deborah Blum (2003).