Every Breath

Written by Judith Johnson / Produced by Theatre of Debate


Sonny, 18, is a vegetarian who has always been concerned about the environment and animal rights. His sister Anita, 21, is a carnivorous scientist completely convinced that using animals in medical research is justified. As a gripping family drama unfolds, Sonny’s future plans, and his principles, are put to the test, when his health takes a turn for the worse…

Set against an instantly recognisable background of family life and pressures, Judith Johnson’s play takes a difficult subject and looks at both sides of the argument. The result is a thought-provoking, even-handed debate on one of the most divisive of contemporary issues.


Focus: Ethical issues arising from the use of animals in medical research.

Audience: Young people (14 plus) and adults

Length: 39 minutes

Full Film: Available through Theatre of Debate, with subtitles by Stagetext

Resources: Available for teachers and students, science communicators and health workers


18 year-old Sonny believes strongly that medical research involving animals is wrong. He is an active, gentle young man, much loved by everyone who knows him. Anita, 21, his sister, is a scientist. She is confident, vivacious and smart. She is also completely convinced that research involving animals is justified. Their mother Lina doesn’t know what to think; to her children’s continued annoyance she can see both sides of the argument. Frankly, she’s much more interested in how her relationship with Raz is going to play out, especially when he meets her kids.

Raz is a quirky kind hearted ageing ex-punk. He is a breath of fresh air for Lina, who has struggled on her own for years to bring up her two kids, and who has a tendency to take life too seriously. Raz has recently discovered Buddhism. Although not fully converted, he is interested in the teachings of Buddha and is able to take a spiritual view on animal testing. Which is that all life is connected, human and animal, and we should try not to kill or harm other living beings.

An early scene in the play takes place at a family meal where Raz is introduced. Although things go quite well at first, the meal breaks down when Sonny and Anita have a blazing row about animal research. Sonny cannot see why scientists persist in using animal experimentation when, as far as he’s concerned, the experiments don’t help, and can in fact hinder medical progress. Lina despairs. The meal is totally disrupted however, when Sonny has an enormous asthma attack. He has not been taking his asthma medication because it is tested on animals. He’s rushed to hospital.

In hospital, Sonny undergoes tests to find out what triggered his attack. The doctors think it is the cats he has recently been handling as a volunteer at the local Cat Rescue centre. The attack leaves Sonny feeling depressed. He still doesn’t want to take his medication and his Mum and Anita are very angry with him. Lina is in a martyred panic. She finishes her relationship with Raz. She feels that starting a relationship when Sonny is ill is wrong. Anita is horrified. Sonny is stupid and he gets on her nerves, but she doesn’t want him to get ill and die! She tries to explain to him exactly what happens when asthma products are researched and tested on animals, but Sonny won’t listen.

Lina pleads with Sonny but no use. Sonny sees in the suffering of animals, a parallel with his own suffering. He won’t budge. Raz, never one to give up easily, will not let Lina end their relationship. He has built up quite a good connection with Sonny and insists on seeing him. Maybe, despite Raz’ own beliefs, he can persuade Sonny to take his medication? They talk about spirituality, about what death means, what suffering means, to both animals and humans. Sonny is calmed and reassured.

When Sonny comes out of hospital, he challenges Anita about some of her views. She has said there is no alternative to animal testing, but Sonny finds out that alternatives are being researched and developed. The doctors have found out he isn’t allergic to cats. Sonny decides to go back to taking his asthma medication, but only so he can continue to protest about animal research and testing. Anita says that she may never agree with Sonny, but she’d rather see him leafleting outside her Lab than lying in a hospital bed. At the end of the play an uneasy truce is established between brother and sister. Lina, free from worry (for the time being!), is able to re-establish her relationship with Raz.


21 years old, a chemistry graduate about to do a PhD. Anita has always been very bright (she was often referred to as ‘the little madam’ as a child). She is confident, vivacious and smart. She has a very sharp tongue though, and often falls back on sarcasm when she’s feeling nervous. She does not suffer fools gladly.

Anita’s brother, age 18. He’s just finished his A levels. Sonny is a (non-violent) activist. From a young age he has been concerned about the environment and animal rights. He is an active, gentle young man, much loved by everyone who knows him. He is very close to his mother, with whom he has a good, humorous rapport.

Sonny and Anita’s Mum. 43. Works at a garden centre. Lina has been a single mother since her partner died 10 years ago. She is very dedicated to her children, some might even say over protective. She certainly neglects herself in favour of the kids. She has a tendency to take life too seriously, but she does have a wry sense of humour which comes out especially with Sonny.

Raz is 37 and is a painter and decorator. Trying to have a relationship with Lina. Raz is a quirky, kind hearted ex-punk. Originally from quite a rough background, he shook off his past and ended up travelling the world for many years, doing odd jobs, taking in life. He is a breath of fresh air for Lina, and is currently thinking about becoming a Buddhist.

Discussion Trigger 1: Is it different to test on monkeys and dogs than it is on rats?

SONNY We’re very concerned about the use of primates in brain research.

The objection to the use of animals in research for some people appears to vary depending on which animals specifically are involved. There appear to be two main justifications for this speciesism:

  1. The more like us the animal is (e.g. primates) the higher the level of objection
  2. The more attractive in appearance and/or behaviour (e.g. dogs, cats and other animals kept as pets) the higher the level of objection

It is important to understand the numbers of animals from different species that are used:


  • What do we mean when we say an animal is more like us?
  • Should the appearance of an animal make a difference in whether it is used in medical research? Why?
  • Should the intelligence of an animal make a difference to whether it is used in medical research? Why?
  • What factors should determine whether an animal is used in medical research?
  • Does it make a difference that only a relatively small number of “higher mammals” are used in medical research?
  • Some anti-vivisectionists say it is wrong to use animals because they are so like humans? Some anti- vivisectionists say it is wrong to use animals because they are so different the results of animal research are not transferable to humans. Is it possible to hold both these views?

Discussion Trigger 2: What responsibilities do we have to animals?

SONNY It’s a farm. They breed dogs there. Experiment dogs. The conditions they keep really bad.

LINA You sure? I thought they had rules and regulations for that sort of thing.

SONNY They have, but that doesn’t mean people stick to them.


  • Why do we have responsibilities towards animals?
  • Do animals have rights? What are they? What is a right? Are these the same rights as humans?
  • Is it ever right to use animals to serve humans? In what ways do humans use animals? Which of these, if any, do you think are justifiable?
  • What are our responsibilities towards: Domestic animals, Wild animals?
  • Animals used for other human purposes?
  • What laws or regulations do we need to ensure these responsibilities are carried out?
  • How can we ensure they are carried out?

Discussion Trigger 3: What rights to protest should people have? What about the right to carry out legal research?

SONNY Oh. Listen. Kelsey’s invited me to a Protest on Wednesday night. Outside this new Animal Research Laboratory they’re trying to build in town.


SONNY It’s a peaceful protest. Don’t worry.

LINA Some of these animal rights people are really violent.


  • Where do you think Lina gets her view from?
  • How does the media tend to present Animal Rights protesters? Is this fair? Why do the media choose to do this?
  • The media’s focus on the extreme behaviour of a small minority of Animal Rights protesters distracts the public from the real issue. Do you agree?
  • Why do people protest? In what ways do people protest? Which of these do you think are acceptable and which are unacceptable?
  • “Animal rights protesters using violence are undermining a free and civilised society.” Do you agree?
  • New laws make it a criminal offence to cause “economic damage” (i.e. financial loss) to medical research companies or to protest outside the homes of scientists. An animal rights activist said : “The government is bringing in laws to protect people who murder animals.” Do you agree?
  • What do you think of Sonny’s protest in the play? Did he go too far? Or not far enough?

Discussion Trigger 4: How can the public find out what takes place inside laboratories that conduct experiments on animals?

SONNY (TO RAZ) We’ve been leafleting in Town, about the Animal Research Laboratory actually. I could give you some information about it if you like.

ANITA If you like reading unproven propaganda he means.

Part of the issue with being open and transparent about what takes place inside laboratories has come about from the fact that extra security has been put in place to counter destructive protest. BUT there is easier access now and greater openness if carefully planned.


  • Do the public have a right to know what goes on in animal research laboratories?
  • How can you get hold of truthful information? What sources of information are available?
  • How can you ensure you get a balanced perspective?

Discussion Trigger 5: Some research is aimed at gaining knowledge about how the body works, and may result in helping us better understand illness. Is it still OK to use animals here?

ANITA Basic research is about acquiring knowledge. It doesn’t have to lead to a cure for something.

SONNY So then why do it if… (it doesn’t)?

ANITA (OVERLAPS) Because we need to know. We need to understand.

SONNY You don’t need to know, you just want to know.

Basic research accounts for about one third of animal research in the UK. It increases scientific knowledge about the way humans and animals behave or develop and function biologically. It is not necessarily intended to lead to applications to humans.


  • What is the value of basic research? What useful outcomes might there be?
  • Is it justifiable to use animals in this way when we don’t know what the value of the research might be?
  • What is the purpose of science?
  • Is it ever wrong to limit the quest for knowledge?

Discussion Trigger 6: Research into life-threatening illness involves some suffering, or the death of, thousands of animals. Is that OK?

SONNY So you think it’s alright to perform unnecessary operations on defenceless animals who can’t say no?

ANITA Look. If you ever have the misfortune to suffer from a brain disease you’ll thank the scientists who’ve used monkeys for helping you.

SONNY I’d rather thank the monkeys. How many of them suffered? And died?

Should drugs be given to ease the retention of bad memories for victims of crime or disaster relief workers? What impact would altered memories have on ʻnormalʼ memory in context with a particular situation? Should people who are traumatised by their memories be treated in other ways?


  • Is human suffering worse than animal suffering? Why?
  • UK legislation allows scientists to cause animals pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm during medical research. Is this justifiable?
  • Is human life more important than animal life? Why?
  • What can we learn from religious perspectives?
  • If research on animals can lead to reducing human suffering, is it ethically right not to do it?

Article 1: Animal Experiments

Animal Aid

Each year inside British laboratories, approximately 3 million animals are experimented on. Every 12 seconds, one animal dies. Cats, dogs, rats, mice, guinea pigs, rabbits, primates (monkeys) and other animals are used to test new products, to study human disease and in the development of new drugs – they are even used in warfare experiments.

Animal Aid opposes animal experiments on both moral and scientific grounds. Animals are not laboratory tools. They are sentient creatures capable of experiencing pain, fear, loneliness, frustration and sadness.

To imprison animals and deny them their freedom and ability to express natural instincts, to deliberately inflict pain, cause extreme suffering, mental distress, and ultimately a premature and often slow and protracted death all in the name of science is unacceptable. All the more so because the experiments are bad science in the first place: they do not work and have the potential to harm human health. Ending vivisection will benefit people as well as animals.

In January 2004 a landmark victory was won in the campaign against animal experiments. Cambridge University, which had for several years been planning to build a multi- million pound primate research centre, announced it was shelving the plans, following a public inquiry at which it was unable to back up its claims that the research to be carried out there would benefit human health. Hundreds of monkeys each year will now be spared the horror of confinement, torture and death inside a laboratory. Animal Aid is actively campaigning against a new animal laboratory under construction at Oxford University.

Every year, Animal Aid’s Mad Science Awards highlight the ludicrous and horrific scientific research carried out on animals. The 2004 awards went to researchers at Oxford and Cambridge conducting experiments on monkeys.

Article 2: Police arrest five over medical research farm

Daily Mirror / 27 September 2005

LONDON (Reuters) – Police arrested five people on Tuesday as part of their probe into a long and violent campaign against owners of a farm which bred guinea pigs for medical research.

The Hall family at Darley Oaks Farm in Staffordshire endured abuse, death threats and, in the worst incident of a six-year campaign, a family grave was desecrated. In August, the family said the business would return to traditional farming, a decision they hoped would lead to the return of the body of Gladys Hammond, the mother-in-law of one of the co-owners.

On Tuesday, Staffordshire detectives raided four addresses arresting a 35-year-old man in Manchester, a 36-year-old man in Birmingham, a 38-year-old man in Wolverhampton and a 37-year-old woman in Burntwood, Staffordshire.

The men were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to blackmail David Hall and Partners. Detectives said they had also arrested a woman, 23, in Wolverhampton on suspicion of obstructing police and assaulting an officer.

The grave of Hammond, who died eight years ago aged 82, was dug up and her remains taken away in October 2004.

No group has claimed responsibility for the action, the culmination of one of the most sustained harassment campaigns by animal rights activists in Britain.

Article 3: The Green Goddess A victory for good sense – and guinea pigs

The Independent / 29 August 2005

I cheered when I heard that Darley Oaks guinea pig farm is to close. As usual this rare victory for the animal rights lobby caused a storm of protest and the usual band of scientists and doctors, many financed by pharmaceutical companies, were wheeled out to give their one-sided view. Predictably, the focus was on a minority of violent protesters and avoided the real issue: that animal tests offer misleading results and cause suffering for both people and animals.

Many doctors and scientists are growing increasingly concerned about the efficacy of animal experiments. Thousands of them have joined Europeans for Medical Progress, an independent body who oppose animal experimentation solely because it harms people. Its director, Kathy Archibald, admits that those who speak out risk ostracism from the medical establishment, but they feel compelled to fight for the truth. Testing on animals slows down medical progress because it tells us about animals, not people. Animals are biologically and physiologically different to humans and react differently to many substances. It’s no surprise that prescription drugs tested on animals are the fourth leading cause of death in the Western world. The question is, why do animal experiments continue if they are so inaccurate and given that there are more efficient alternatives such as human DNA chips, human tissues, computer programmes that predict human metabolism, and micro-dose studies that reveal the fate of drugs in the human body?

The tradition of animal experiments is so deeply ingrained that the whole medical system is based on it. Researchers attract grants based on how many papers they publish. It’s much easier to publish papers using animals than by doing human-based research. Animal breeders, cage and equipment manufacturers and the pharmaceutical industry are multi-billion pound industries. Animal tests help them speed new drugs to market and give them liability protection when their drugs kill or injure.

However, the tide is turning. We recently witnessed the biggest drug disaster in history when the arthritis drug Vioxx was withdrawn after causing heart attacks. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, American doctors who campaign against animal testing, are suing Merck for promoting an unsafe drug on the strength of test results in monkeys.

This was reported on the same day as the one-sided reports about Darley Oaks closing. No one made the link between Vioxx – extensively animal-tested yet lethal to humans – and the guinea pig farm, but if they had they would have cheered. Guinea pigs are used in medical research for skin irritation testing. Their fur is shaved and medication applied, without anaesthetic, causing agony. But due to a difference in the distribution of blood vessels, their skin reacts differently to ours, rendering most experiments useless. Yet the media avoid these arguments and exaggerate the extremist angle.

In reality, most animal rights protesters are law abiding. However peaceful old ladies don’t make waves, and in frustration a minority of extremists take violent action, which acts as propaganda to the vivisectionists.

Article 4: Research Defence Society

Medical Milestones

Animal research has played an important role in most major medical advances of the last century. We have probably all benefited from vaccines and antibiotics to prevent and treat infections and anaesthetics used in all forms of surgery. Medicines can now overcome serious conditions such as diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure.

Research in the last few decades has also begun to answer some of the more difficult medical problems such as cancer, heart disease and depression, and newly emerged infections such as HIV. In addition to the medical benefits, we should not forget that every advance in veterinary medicine is, by definition, the result of animal research.

Medical science has developed a wide range of non-animal experimental techniques which can provide answers to scientific questions that animal studies simply could not address. Despite these scientific advances, a review of some current medical research shows that many key questions in medical science can still only be answered by studies on animals. These studies offer hope to millions who suffer from serious conditions such as cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, spinal cord damage and third world infections like malaria.


What is an alternative?

By any common-sense definition, the word ‘alternative’ suggests a choice between two or more options. In the case of animal experiments there is no choice. If a non-animal (in vitro) method is developed to replace animals, then it must be used.

Advances in science and technology can lead to techniques that can replace animals. However, different research methods are generally complementary rather than alternatives.

Few in vitro techniques at present can directly replace the use of animals.

Playwright Interview