Victims of Charity: Q&A

Why does Animal Aid oppose animal experiments?

Each year inside British laboratories, nearly 4 million animals are experimented on. Every 8 seconds, one animal dies. Cats, dogs, rats, mice, guinea pigs, rabbits, primates 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 to express natural instincts and to deliberately inflict physical pain in the name of science is unacceptable. All the more so because the experiments are bad science in the first place: they do not produce information that can be reliably applied to people. Ending vivisection will benefit people as well as animals.

Why is Animal Aid asking people to boycott Cancer Research UK and other medical research charities?

If you give to Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation, Parkinson’s UK and the Alzheimer’s Society, or if you support their charity shops, then some of your money is paying for animal experiments. We don’t know how much – they won’t make that information public. In fact, we knew very little about the precise nature of the experiments themselves until we commissioned a team of experts to investigate.

They produced a detailed report, Victims of Charity, which draws on accounts of experimental procedures – published in scientific periodicals – that were written by the animal researchers themselves.

The researchers describe how they deliberately damaged monkeys’ brains with toxic chemicals, or slowly and systematically destroyed the hearts of dogs. Others reported on how they tormented mice in water mazes, injected them with cancerous tissue or used animals who had been subjected to breeding programmes that left them weakened, disease-prone and mentally deranged.

Our experts – led by a medical doctor and a veterinary surgeon – concluded that years of animal-based research into cancer, dementia, heart disease and Parkinson’s has not only caused immense animal suffering, but has also been a wasteful and futile quest that has failed to advance the cause of human medicine. So Animal Aid is asking charities such as Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation, the Alzheimer’s Society and Parkinson’s UK to stop funding animal experiments. Until they do so, please don’t donate to them, include them in your will or use their charity shops.

Won’t a boycott damage the valuable non-animal research work that these charities do, and set back medical progress?

It is clear that these four charities all regard ‘animal models’ of disease as essential to their research programmes – they have all stated this fact strongly and unequivocally. But making animals sick is not resulting in cures for people, and wastes public money donated in good faith. We believe animal experiments are fundamentally flawed, and as such are hindering rather than helping medical progress.

Medical charities should not be immune from scrutiny, especially from members of the public who pay for their work. If our campaign means that they start to suffer financially, they will hopefully institute a phase-out of these unpopular and unproductive animal experiments. They will not be financially ruined, but their priorities will be shifted in favour of non-animal research. This will produce many long-term benefits for people and animals alike.

How can I support medical research, without supporting animal experiments?

Instead of donating to Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation, Parkinson’s UK and the Alzheimer’s Society, you can support the dozens of medical research charities that fund only non-animal research methods that are directly relevant to human disease.

Non-animal research methods include: the use of donated human tissue and organs; microdosing; computer modelling; MEG, MRI, PET and other imaging technologies that offer an unparalleled view of the human body, especially the brain; and, of course, important traditional methods such as clinical observation, autopsy studies and epidemiology.

Animal Aid’s criticism of the four research charities is not intended to damage their valuable patient support work. If you were thinking of donating to one of the four, but don’t want to support animal experiments, you could investigate volunteering opportunities. These include helping at the charities’ therapy sessions, as well as one-to-one befriending and support. And please donate to medical research charities that fund only non-animal research methods.

Can Animal Aid win this campaign?

We believe we can, even though we are under no illusions as to the pro-animal research lobby’s significant financial and political clout. The British public do not like the idea of animals enduring great suffering to no purpose – and Animal Aid’s Victims of Charity report argues that this is precisely what is happening. Our high-profile campaign, supported by a series of national newspaper advertisements, will put the charities under a great deal of pressure.

If vivisection is unreliable and misleading, then why do charities still use it?

Ultimately, that is a question for them, not for Animal Aid. And remember that many medical research charities don’t use it, and even those who do, also use other research techniques. However, it is a good question. Animal Aid believes that animals are used because they are relatively cheap, and because individual researchers are familiar with it and have built their careers around using it. The law still insists that it is used for the safety testing of medicines, but that is a problem for pharmaceutical companies who want to stop using animals, not for charities. The main reason that medical charities still fund animal experiments is probably habit or inertia. Many of the non-animal research techniques listed above are relatively new. As scientists and charities get used to them, and as new scientists are trained in their use, Animal Aid believes that they will become more popular, and that the use of animal research will decline. Our campaign aims to achieve that sooner, rather than later.

If all medicines are tested on animals, and you are against animal experiments, then can you still take medicines when you are ill?

Definitely. The point is that animal testing doesn’t work, and that we have useful medicines, despite animal research, not because of it. It is also the case that virtually every imaginable substance has been tested on animals, including dyes used in carpets and soft furnishings. Even water has been used in lethal tests. It is not possible to boycott all such products. Please speak out against cruel and pointless research.