Science rights: Tests on animals can be justified

The Observer

Sunday November 24, 2002


Science rights
Tests on animals can be justified

This week sees the start of a new struggle to assert the rights of science
against the beliefs of animal welfare groups. The battleground, as we report
today, is an international research centre planned for Cambridge University,
where experiments will involve the use of primates. A public inquiry to
decide whether the centre goes ahead will signal Britain's attitude to
neuroscience in the face of concerted activist attacks.

Using animals to test, say, a new magenta lip-gloss is unconscionable - but
using primates to help scientists find a cure for Alzheimer's or Parkinson's
Disease, as the proposed facility would do, is very different. Marmoset
monkeys will have electrodes placed in their brains to monitor reaction to
different drugs, but this is exactly what a patient with Parkinson's may
undergo by way of treatment. In fact, laboratory monkeys enjoy a far better
quality of life than the average British farm animal. Nevertheless, animal
welfare groups resist any justification for experimentation on other
creatures, even mice.

We have already seen brutal attacks on the staff and financial backers of
Huntingdon Life Sciences in the name of animal rights. Last week businessman
Hamish Ritchie was forced to resign from the board of the English National
Ballet because his company insures HLS. He could not stand by and watch the
protesters disrupting ballet performances.

Now is the time for the Government to take a firm ethical stance. This is
not about protecting pharmaceutical giants. If Britons want to benefit from
treatments for Alzheimer's and other cruel degenerative diseases, we must
have some faith in our neuroscientists, and resolve to resist the vendettas
of hate-mail, abuse and violence.

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This list is restricted to scientists and other professionals interested in
the evaluation of the animal model in medical research and toxicity testing
and the public understanding of science in this area.

When a theory cannot explain new observations it will be (eventually)
replaced by a new theory. This does not necessarily mean that animal
experimentation has been "wrong" or "untrue", but it means that as a
paradigm we now know it has a limited applicability and cannot explain all
current data.

We urge science policy makers to review the use of animals as models of
human disease for accountability and scientific rigour in the light of
modern medical discovery; particularly knowledge derived from the human
genome, current thinking in evolutionary biology and evidence from research
data, epidemiology, clinical trials and post-marketing drug surveillance.

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