Patients prescribed drugs tested on animals should be told details of exactly what it involved, including any suffering caused, say some of the world’s leading animal ethicists.
The editors of the Journal of Animal Ethics (JAE), published this month by the University of Illinois Press, want full disclosure on the nature of testing used in drug development. They say people should know “not only whether animals were used, but also what kind, how many were used, the precise procedures to which they were subject, and the nature and severity of the pain and suffering, if any, that they had to endure.”
The editors point to the comments of Lord Robert Winston, the famous pioneer of fertility treatment, in a debate on animal experiments in the House of Lords in the United Kingdom. Lord Winston stated: “I do not think we can argue that there is any substitute for animal research. Of course, reduction is possible but I do not think that substitution is … We need to say very clearly that it would be unthinkable to take any drug which has not been tested on an intact animal. In fact, there is a case for having legislation to make it clear that a particular drug has only been possible for human consumption because of animal testing. This could be stamped on the packet, rather like a cigarette packet.”1
However, they consider Lord Winston’s proposal too modest: “Animals are subject to a whole range of uses in laboratories from the routine testing of household products, cosmetics (though some limitations have been placed on this in Europe) including the testing of agricultural products, poisons, sprays and herbicides, even fire-extinguisher substances. And that doesn’t include the use of animals in military experiments. If full disclosure, based on the right to know, is the position of animal researchers, and they have nothing to hide, there can be no grounds for postulating that only medical products should be singled out. Let us know all the details, the benefits (if any) and also the costs to the animals themselves.”
In the editorial the authors also call for information about “the way in which some animal experiments lead to no worthwhile discovery, those experiments that have impeded medical progress, even how many animal-tested drugs have been recalled after harming humans.” The editors ask whether we should not all have the right to know “about the experiments on human animals that have also, directly or indirectly, contributed to the increase of scientific knowledge as well as drugs and vaccines?” They suggest that Lord Winston may “have overlooked the long history of experiments on human subjects, including prisoners of war, enlisted soldiers, people of color, and the mentally challenged. Have these contributed nothing to medical advances? To take just one example, what of the early clinical trials of tuberculin treatments on orphan children (“intact [human] animals”) that took place in Philadelphia in 1908?”2
They call for a full disclosure: “Yes, let there be disclosure. Let the facts and the history be known. Let us not shirk the details. Anything less may serve particular interests but is less than the full disclosure we have a right to expect.”
The JAE has been launched by a US and UK academic partnership with the goal of widening international debate about the moral status of animals, and is the result of years of collaboration between the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics and the University of Illinois Press. It is edited by the internationally known theologian the Reverend Professor Andrew Linzey, Director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, and Professor Priscilla Cohn, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Penn State University and Associate Director of the Centre.
Multidisciplinary in nature and international in scope, the JAE covers theoretical and applied aspects of animal ethics. To subscribe to the Journal, please visit the Journal’s website at http://www.press.uillinois.edu/journals/jane.html.
Notes to editors
1 Lord Robert Winston, Hansard (House of Lords), 24 October 2011, column 623, available at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201011/ldhansrd/text/111024-0002.htm#11102443000399, see also the report in the Daily Telegraph for the following day; available a http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/8858219/Drugs-should-carry-animal-testing-labels.html.
2 Susan E. Lederer, Subjected to Science: Human Experimentation in America before the Second World War (Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1995), see pp. 78-82.