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February 9, 2000

Animal Research and Human Disease

Author Affiliations

Phil B.FontanarosaMD, Deputy EditorIndividualAuthorStephen J.LurieMD, PhD, Fishbein FellowIndividualAuthor

JAMA. 2000;283(6):743-744. doi:10.1001/jama.283.6.741

To the Editor: The Medical News & Perspectives article1 on animal experimentation uncritically accepts researchers' claims that animal research is necessary for human health and is ethical. However, as Barnard and I have previously argued,2 animal studies can neither prove nor disprove any theory about humans. At best, these studies can suggest theories about human diseases. However, differences in anatomy, physiology, and disease pathology make most "discoveries" in animals nonapplicable to humans. In science, there are always many ways to address a given question. Accordingly, I favor human clinical investigation, which is a more fruitful means of deriving theories relevant to human medicine.

Animal researchers' defense of the practice has been superficial and self-serving. Usually, these investigators simply point to supposed human benefits and argue that the ends justify the means.3 The general public cares about animal welfare, but has been led to believe that animals rarely suffer in laboratories. Evidence indicates, however, that many animal researchers fail to acknowledge—or even perceive—animal pain. For example, Phillips4 reportedly observed researchers performing numerous painful procedures without administering anesthesia or analgesia to the animals. Phillips reported, "Over and over, researchers assured me that in their laboratories, animals were never hurt . . . ‘Pain' meant the acute pain of surgery on conscious animals, and almost nothing else . . . [When I asked] about psychological or emotional suffering, many researchers were at a loss to answer."4

Animal experimentation is inherently abusive, usually involves pain and suffering, and always involves deprivation and death. If animals matter, investigators should choose other means of medical research.

Lamberg  L Researchers urged to tell public how animal studies benefit human health.  JAMA. 1999;282:619-621.Google Scholar
Barnard  NDKaufman  SR Animal research is wasteful and misleading.  Sci Am. 1997;276:80-82.Google Scholar
Buyukmihci  NC Consistency in treatment and moral concern.  J Am Vet Med Assoc. 1995;206:477-480.Google Scholar
Phillips  M Savages, drunks and lab animals: the researcher's perception of pain.  Soc Anim. 1993;1:61-81.Google Scholar