Many supporters of the anti-vivisection movement are concerned that they do not know what to say when vivisectors make specific medical or scientific claims about the value of the work they do. Vernon Coleman debated many times with vivisectors (including several television debates). He never lost a debate when the audience was asked to vote. Today vivisectors refuse to debate with him and so you won't see or hear Vernon Coleman allowed to discuss vivisection on television or radio. Producers of programmes who invite Vernon Coleman to debate are quickly told (by the vivisectors) that they must find someone else if the debate is to go ahead. (When Vernon Coleman was invited to debate vivisection at the Oxford Union in the UK not one vivisector or vivisection supporter in Britain would debate against him. Oxford Union subsequently withdrew their invitation to Vernon Coleman and found someone else to oppose vivisection.)
This article is designed to help all anti-vivisectionists understand exactly what to say when faced with the false arguments put forward (often with apparent scientific logic) by the vivisectors and those who defend vivisection. The article also includes details on how to win debates when discussing moral or ethical issues.
The vivisectors say: Those who are opposed to animal experiments should not accept drugs that have been produced after animal testing was done.
Dr Vernon Coleman Says: It is difficult, probably impossible, for patients to take drugs that haven't been tested on animals because just about all drugs are, at some time, tested on animals. But just because drugs have been tested on animals doesn't mean that the tests were relevant, useful or valid. The drugs would have been produced more speedily and more safely without animal tests. Clinical developments may have followed animal experiments but that does not mean that there is any connection between the two. Medical progress continues despite - and definitely not because of - animal research.
The vivisectors say: Animal experiments are useful because they enable scientists to check out observations made by clinicians. Dr Vernon Coleman says: Animal experiments delay progress unnecessarily. After doctors had observed that people who smoked tobacco seemed prone to developing cancer, animal experimenters spent years making dogs and monkeys smoke cigarettes in an attempt to establish a link between tobacco and cancer in animals. Much to the commercial profit of the tobacco companies this proved extremely difficult and doctors and politicians were discouraged from providing warnings for many years. As a result, millions of people died.
The vivisectors say: Animal experiments must continue until we have effective and reliable alternatives.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: Animal experiments are neither effective nor reliable. Indeed, animal experiments are so unpredictable and unreliable that continuing with them does great harm to people as well as to animals. Human patients would be better off if drug companies did NO tests at all. Those who argue that animal tests are necessary because alternatives are not yet comprehensive are missing the point that animal experiments are not just useless they are dangerously misleading. A few years ago the big cosmetic companies were all saying that they couldn't manage without performing animal experiments but today more and more cosmetic companies are publicly boasting that they no longer test their products on animals.
The vivisectors say: New processes such as cell and tissue cultures are all very well but the whole living organism is essential for proper tests.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: Cell cultures have been available for over a century. In organ cultures small pieces of whole organs can be kept alive and enzyme and support systems maintained. It is true that whole organisms are necessary before conclusions about the efficacy and safety of a treatment can be reached but this requires human patients not animals.
The vivisectors say: Many drugs which have been tested on animals are useful. This proves that animal tests are essential.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: Just because scientists perform experiments with animals that does not mean that animal experiments are essential or even useful. Most experimenters wear white coats and drink coffee. But that doesn't mean that experimenters have to wear white coats and drink coffee in order to make useful discoveries.
The vivisectors say: Animal tests can be so misleading we should be doing more not less animal tests.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: More tests would simply mean more unreliable results, more confusion and more unnecessary deaths. Many useful drugs cause problems in some animals but not in others. It is impossible for anyone to know which tests to take notice of and which to ignore.
The vivisectors say: Drug companies have to do animal tests to defend themselves against possible charges of negligence.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: When a big drug company was taken to court under the UK Medicines Act, charged with producing misleading advertising for one of its products, the drug company's own defence expert witnesses testified that data from animal experiments could not be extrapolated safely to patients. After an American girl suffered eye damage when she had used a shampoo, she tried to claim damages from the company involved on the basis that the drug also proved to be an irritant when tested on animals. However, the court ruled in favour of the company on the grounds that there was no evidence to show that tests done on rabbits could be used to predict what would be likely to happen to humans. Or consider the case of a woman who took a major international drug company to court because the drug she had been given had damaged her sight and paralysed her. She produced evidence showing that the company had known for twenty years that in experiments the drug had damaged the eyesight of rabbits, had blinded and killed calves and grown cattle and had killed or paralysed dogs. The drug company denied negligence, saying that they knew of no evidence that the drug had adverse effects on human beings and apparently dismissing the animal research as irrelevant.
The vivisectors say: Alternatives to animals are expensive and would put up the price of products.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: It might be more expensive to begin with - because laboratories would have to be altered, animal cages would have to be dismantled and scientists would have to be retrained. But in the long run the alternatives would be far cheaper than using animals.
The vivisectors say: Vivisection is backed by 1000 scientists from around the world who have signed a petition declaring that animal experiments are essential and should continue.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: Many of the scientists who support vivisection earn their living doing animal experiments. They stand to lose everything - including income and reputation - if animal experiments are stopped. Even so there are 20,000 scientists with licences to perform animal experiments in Britain alone. Why do the other 19,000 not support animal experiments? In contrast, when doctors are questioned about vivisection they overwhelmingly agree that vivisection is misleading and unnecessary and should be stopped. These are medically qualified doctors with experience and understanding of patients' needs and they have no vested interest in stopping animal experiments.
The vivisectors say: Vast amounts of money are being spent on looking for effective non-animal ways to test drugs and medical treatments.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: Very little money is being spent on looking for alternatives.
The vivisectors say: Drug companies will never dare agree that animal experiments are pointless because if they do they will expose themselves to massive lawsuits from patients who have been disabled by inadequately tested drugs.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: It would be possible to introduce a moratorium on past liabilities to encourage companies to stop using animals.
The vivisectors say: Very few animal experiments are performed each year.
Dr Vernon coleman says: The people who use and authorise the use of animals in laboratory experiments do not care enough to count and so no one knows for sure how many animals are used in laboratory experiments but informed estimates put the world-wide figure at around 250 million a year. This works out at between 100,000 and 125,000 an hour. Or, approximately 2,000 animals a minute.
The vivisectors say: Vivisection is a very small business. Dr Vernon Coleman says: It is a multi-billion dollar business. Apart from the grants, fat salaries and expense accounts received by the scientists who actually do animal experiments there are many large and profitable industries supplying animals, cages and restraints. Individual mice can cost huge sums. Monkeys usually cost tens of thousands of dollars each because they have to be captured in the wild and this means that many die while being shipped over to the laboratories.
The vivisectors say: Since there are not enough non-animal tests available to enable us to assess all the existing carcinogens in our environment we should allow scientists to carry on doing experiments with animals until more tests become available.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: Animal tests used to assess possible carcinogenic substances are misleading because they are based on inaccurate ideas about how cancer develops and about the degree to which data gained from high doses of chemicals can reveal anything about the effects of low doses. The original theory was that if substances damage the DNA then they will cause cancer. But in some tests cancer can develop because the high doses of chemicals kill cells, provoking cell division which produces the risk of cancer. According to animal tests coffee, tomato puree, peanut butter and alcoholic drinks all appear to be stuffed with naturally occurring carcinogens - up to 200 times as dangerous as the carcinogens in banned chemicals. The most absurd evidence of the futility of animal tests is surely the fact that tobacco smoke has been cleared of causing cancer in standard tests on rats. Rats can also consume vast quantities of alcohol without suffering any liver damage. Only seven out of 19 known carcinogens were properly identified using the standard National Cancer Institute animal testing protocol in the USA. In-vitro testing is more sensitive, more accurate and less expensive.
The vivisectors say: One advantage of using animals is that the age and sex of the animals used does not matter.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: The age and sex of humans matter a lot when drugs are being used. For example, when the drug Opren - marketed for the treatment of arthritis - was originally tested on people it was not tested on old people. But it was subsequently found that the drug had a much more dangerous reaction when given to old patients. The age and sex of animals matter a lot too. Old rats are far more likely to get cancer than young ones and there are many other vital differences in the way members of the same species react. Female rats are usually more sensitive to toxicity than male rats. I wonder how many of the researchers who realise this deliberately choose to use young male rats when testing a new drug hoping to find out that it is safe'. Another example of variations within a species is given by chimpanzees. Experiments on chimps invariably use chimps of differing ages despite the fact that there are enormous differences between immature and mature animals in physiological, anatomical, psychological and sexual terms.
The vivisectors say: The subject of vivisection should be confined to discussion between the experts. The experts know best.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: The experts are only discussing this problem at all because of pressure from the general public. The greater the pressure from the public the quicker something will be done.
Politicians, in particular, are especially likely to act in response to public protests about animal experiments.
The vivisectors say: Several Nobel prize winners have expressed their support for animal experimentation. This means that animal experiments must be continued.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: Many Nobel prize winners are, inevitably, members of the scientific establishment. It is hardly surprising that a few Nobel prize winners support animal experiments. I am far more convinced by the fact that a majority of practising doctors believe that animal experiments can be misleading because of anatomical and physiological differences. A survey of British doctors conducted by Dr Vernon Coleman showed that 88% agree that animal experiments can be misleading.
The vivisectors say: Why would vivisectors carry on doing animal experiments if the evidence showed so clearly that animal experiments are pointless and misleading?
Dr Vernon Coleman Says: The vivisectors are committed to carrying on with what they do because when they change their minds they will have to admit that they were wrong. This means that they would expose themselves to some ridicule and contempt, they could expose themselves to widespread lawsuits and they would have to admit that all the work they had done in the past had been useless. Thousands of drugs which were launched on the basis of animal tests would have to be withdrawn and re-tested. Many would then be banned. The animal researchers would find that their modest skills were worthless and their vast departments and huge drug industry pay offs would be lost. Their apparent achievements would be devalued and it would be clear that they had wasted their lives. I am not surprised that they are fighting hard. Meanwhile, animal experiments are quick and easy to do. It is possible to prove just about anything by using animals, and animal experiments lead to a steady supply of scientific papers.
The vivisectors say: Animal experiments have led to many important discoveries.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: Vivisectors and their supporters certainly try to claim the credit for just about every scientific discovery ever made. Whenever animals are used in research, vivisectors claim that it was their work which made the breakthrough possible. Since animal experiments are so widespread vivisectors are able to claim responsibility for almost all advances in biomedical sciences. I wouldn't be surprised to hear vivisectors claim that animal experiments had led to the development of the motor car, television set and pop up toaster.
The vivisectors say: Many vivisectors are now introducing codes to ensure that animals are well looked after.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: You can't have a code for vivisection any more than you have a code for rape (It's OK to rape a woman if you buy her dinner beforehand and make sure that the room is warm and that there is plenty of straw on the floor') or murder.
The vivisectors say: Those of us who oppose vivisection would change our minds if we were ill or if we had sick relatives.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: We would not change our minds because we know that animal experiments would not help us and would, indeed, delay useful developments in the world of medicine.
The vivisectors say: They say that the drugs developed by drug companies are often of great use to animals.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: This is the favourite fall back argument of people who do experiments on animals. One of the big tobacco companies argued in court that it was exposing mice to tobacco smoke so that it could learn more about how to help mice. The argument is, in any case, irrelevant. At the moment drugs are used to treat animals as a by-product. If the drugs used to treat animals are tested as well as the drugs used to treat humans, there are undoubtedly thousands of animals being killed or made worse by expensive medicines. It seems absurd to argue that it is OK to sew up the eyelids of perfectly healthy kittens or to deliberately try to make monkeys depressed in order to treat another animal. What sort of logic is there in torturing and killing animals to find treatments for animals? Most veterinary research is designed to increase farm profits rather than cure animals. It is possible that by treating sick cats experimenters could team enough to help other cats. But a number of variables would have to be considered first to produce valid and meaningful results.
The vivisectors say: Genetic experiments on animals are likely to lead to tremendous advances in medicine. Dr Vernon Coleman says: Three of the first `developments' produced by genetic engineers were: a form of pest-resistant tobacco plant, a type of calf so big that it needed to be delivered by caesarean section and a hybrid goat-sheep. If genetic experiments really are necessary (and that is a question to be debated) then scientists should be encouraged to use human genes.
The vivisectors say: Animals have poorly developed intellects when compared to human beings and can therefore be used in experiments without any fear.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: A one-year-old year cat is more rational and sensible than a six-week-old baby.
The vivisectors say: Animals are very similar to human beings. And so they are suitable for experiments.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: If animals are very similar to human beings why are we doing experiments on them? Surely such experiments must be ethically indefensible?
The vivisectors say: Many doctors perform animal experiments.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: They don't. Very few medically qualified doctors perform animal experiments. The majority of doctors who have expressed any opinion agree that animal experiments are useless.
The vivisectors say: If practising doctors disapproved of animal experiments they would say so more publicly.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: Many doctors are afraid of annoying the big drug companies or the medical establishment (which is controlled by the big drug companies). But more and more doctors are speaking out.
The vivisectors say: Without animal experiments surgery would not have progressed as far as it has.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: That is absolute nonsense. Surgical experiments on animals can be enormously misleading. Consider psychosurgery for example. The first leucotomies were performed in the 1930s when it was thought that the frontal lobes were the source of delusions in mental patients. American workers removed the frontal lobes of chimpanzees in 1935 and thought that the animals were more contented afterwards. Since then, on the basis of those animal experiments, thousands of patients have had their frontal lobes cut out and the operation has been performed for a wide range of conditions including schizophrenia, depression, obsessional neurosis, anxiety, hysteria, eczema, asthma, chronic rheumatism, anorexia nervosa, ulcerative colitis, tuberculosis, hypertension, angina, cancer pain and drug side effects. It is also worth remembering that it was Galen's work on pigs two thousand years ago which misled surgeons for centuries. Galen based his writings and lectures on experiments he had conducted on pigs. It is now generally agreed among medical historians that Galen's work held back medical progress for centuries until religious restrictions were withdrawn and doctors were able to cut up human cadavers and discover that there are enormous differences between the anatomy of the pig and the anatomy of the human being.
The vivisectors say: Surgeons need to practice on animals to learn their skills.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: Surgeons in most countries - Britain for example - learn all their skills on human patients and not on animals. Even the law recognises the absurdity of practising surgery on animals and British surgeons must practise their skills on people. Many vivisectors are unqualified to perform human surgery. The basic techniques used in surgery are remarkably simple and can be quickly and easily learned in the operating theatre by assisting a more skilled surgeon. Differences in anatomy mean that operations performed on animals are of no value to surgeons and may encourage a false sense of confidence or carelessness.
The vivisectors say: Animal experimenters get personal pleasure from their work and should be allowed to continue with it.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: Putting aside the obvious moral and ethical arguments about whether or not scientists have the right to use animals for their own pleasure there is another issue here. There is now clear evidence that people who perform animal experiments are exposing themselves to danger. A report in JAMA described an outbreak of lymphocytic choriomeningitis among laboratory workers handling mice or mice tissues. There have been a number of sarcomas and lymphomas at the Institut Pasteur in Paris where a survey showed an increase in the number of deaths from cancers of the bone, pancreas and brain among laboratory workers. And a report in The Lancet mentioned malignant melanomas and cancers of the blood as well as an increased risk of cancers of the brain and nervous system and stomach among laboratory staff. Animal experiments should be stopped to prevent laboratory staff from deliberately exposing themselves to unacceptable hazards.
The vivisectors say: Without proper drug tests performed on animals pregnant women would be at risk.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: We need to encourage doctors and drug companies to watch for, report and take note of side effects in order to protect patients properly. If proper drug surveillance techniques had been available in the 1960s the thalidomide problem would have been picked up much earlier. We still don't have proper post marketing trials in place.
The vivisectors say: Animal experiments are necessary so that vivisectors can inject cancer cells into animals to see what happens.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: When human cancer cells are injected into animals the cancers produced are biologically different to the ones that occur in humans.
The vivisectors say: Animal experiments help them assess the effectiveness of new drugs designed for the treatment of mental illness.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: Animals do not noticeably suffer from the same mental disorders as human beings. How can researchers possibly know whether or not animals are suffering from delusions or hallucinations? Mice have been provoked into fighting by being given electric shocks and then calmed with tranquillisers - but what is the point of this? Animal experiments also fail to produce any evidence of addiction. For example, when the benzodiazepines were first being tested on animals, researchers reported that the drug-tamed monkeys, dogs, lions and tigers. These tests were used to help encourage doctors to prescribe the benzodiazepine drugs for vast numbers of patients. But these tests did not indicate that the benzodiazepines would turn out to be among the most addictive of all modern drugs.
The vivisectors say: Animal experiments are very useful in the laboratory since they enable the researcher to obtain results relatively quickly.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: It is very easy to do research and to get it published by using animals. All you have to do is to change the animals and do different things to them. It is much easier to do experiments with animals than with people. There are fewer rules to obey and when things go wrong there is less likely to be any trouble. (Also most researchers are not medically qualified and do not have access to human patients.) Most university departments are ruled by a quest for grants rather than a quest for knowledge and the validity of research is insignificant. The only thing that matters to them is the number of papers published.
The vivisectors say: Basic research will help human patients in the long term though it is never possible to say how or when research will prove valuable.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: If research is going to be useful then it has to be properly planned and relevant and it has to be reliably performed. But most modern research is so poorly planned and executed, and so many researchers `fiddle' their results, that no one will ever benefit. An editorial in the British Medical Journal claimed that modern papers are so badly written that 99% are invalid. Scientists rely on the fact that very few people will question their work. The same BMJ editorial also reported that 85% of medical procedures have never been properly tested. We should be spending our limited resources on assessing existing therapies.
The vivisectors say: Animals are kept in good conditions.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: Animals are not kept in good conditions. Time and time again evidence becomes available that animals are kept in deplorable conditions. These poor conditions make the results the researchers obtain even more unreliable than they would otherwise be. Most of the committees and organisations which are theoretically designed to ensure that researchers look after the animals they use are manned by researchers or by people who support animal experiments. This is like allowing criminals to police our streets.
The vivisectors say: Animals are inferior to us and therefore it is perfectly acceptable to do anything we like to them.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: This is the same sort of argument used by racists, sexists and others. If we experiment on animals because they are less well-endowed intellectually (a doubtful argument in many cases) why don't we allow experimentation on the mentally handicapped and on babies and small children?
The vivisectors say: Animals cannot feel pain or suffer in the same way that human beings can - therefore animal experiments are justified and justifiable.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: All the available evidence shows that animals can feel pain and can suffer from stress. The prerequisites for pain reception are a central nervous system, a system of peripheral pain receptors and a series of neural connections between the receptors and the central nervous system. All vertebrate animals possess these three essentials and can undoubtedly feel pain.
The vivisectors say: Animals are very similar to human beings and so tests done on animals are reliable.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: My book Betrayal of Trust lists numerous drugs which may cause cancer (and other serious problems in animals) but which are prescribed for human patients. If animal experiments were relevant this would not be the case. Tamoxifen, widely used as a treatment for women with breast cancer, causes liver tumours in rats. This evidence was regarded as bad news for rats but meaningless for women. So, if drug companies and drug regulatory authorities can ignore animal tests when it suits them (on the grounds that animals are different to people) what on earth can be the point in doing yet more tests on animals? Not that it is just in the area of drugs that differences exist. A recent British Medical Journal editorial reported that `animal studies have made it clear that there are considerable differences in the effects of vasectomy among species. Which, if any of these models applies to man is not known '
The vivisectors say: Animal experiments help in the fight against cancer.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: Because animal tests can be misleading there is a risk that such experiments may hold back medical progress. Some experts claim that trying to find out if chemicals cause cancer by testing them on animals is less efficient than tossing a coin. An American toxicologist has shown that a test which is used on rats gives results which can be applied accurately to human beings just 38% of the time. Put another way, that means that 62% of the time the results produced by that test are wrong. Tossing a coin would at least give a 50% chance of success. Animal experiments are inaccurate for the simple reason that animals used in laboratory experiments are different from people. According to Dr Irwin Bross, giving evidence to the United States Congress, `conflicting animal results have often delayed and hampered the war on cancer, they have never produced a single substantial advance either in the prevention or treatment of human cancer.' An extremely eminent academic concluded, after a long study of cancer experiments: `It has fallen to my lot to have to make a general survey of cancer in all its aspects and I do not believe that anyone who does this with an open mind can come to any other conclusion than that to search for the cause or cure of cancer by means of experiments on lower animals is useless. Time and money are spent in vain.' America's Food and Drug Administration produced a `test bed' made of human muscle tissue cells which can be used reliably to test anti-cancer drugs. What would you prefer to take: a drug tested on mice or one tested on cells exactly similar to the ones in your own body? The links between chemicals, X-rays, foods and asbestos on the one hand, and different types of cancer on the other, were obtained after doctors had studied human patients - not cats, dogs or rabbits. Some experts believe that instead of helping, animal experiments may have slowed down the speed with which these essential discoveries have been accepted.
The vivisectors say: Animal experiments led to the development of the polio vaccine which has saved thousands if not millions of lives.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: An early breakthrough in the development of a polio vaccine was made in 1949 using a human tissue culture. Monkey kidney tissue was used in the 1950s because it was standard laboratory practice but no one realised that one of the viruses commonly found in monkey kidney cells could cause cancer in human beings. If human cells had been used to prepare the vaccine the original polio vaccine would not have been as disastrous as it was. It is also worth remembering that the number of deaths from polio had fallen dramatically long before the first polio vaccine was introduced. The incidence of polio had dropped as better sanitation, better housing, cleaner water and better food was introduced in the second half of the nineteenth century. Some scientists claim that the polio vaccine is still tested with animals. It shouldn't be. Many years ago the World Health Organisation recommended that animal tests are unnecessary when human cells are used to produce the vaccine.
The vivisectors say: Animal experiments are helping doctors treat high blood pressure.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: The animals used in laboratory experiments do not normally suffer from high blood pressure. Researchers can only give the animals high blood pressure by tying off brood vessels, by removing kidneys or by interfering with the animal's normal physiology or anatomy so much that any resemblance to normality is lost. Advances in the treatment of high blood pressure have come from clinical experiences.
The vivisectors say: Animal experiments have helped in the treatment of arthritis.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: Laboratory animals do not normally suffer from arthritis. To test new drugs researchers inject the joints of animals with irritating chemicals to produce some inflammation at the ends of the bones. It is still not arthritis. Trying to find dietary answers for arthritis by giving animals different foodstuffs is even more absurd because people don't eat the same type of diet as animals.
The vivisectors say: Animal experiments have helped in the treatment of diabetes.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: The first link between the pancreas gland and diabetes was established in 1788 - without any animal experiments. Back in 1766 a physician showed that the urine of diabetics is loaded with sugar. Animal experiments merely delayed the time when diabetic patients could be treated.
The vivisectors say: The people who do animal experiments are humane people who love animals.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: There is evidence that scientists who work with animals become desensitised by what they do. Animal experiments encourage an inhumane approach to life among students.
The vivisectors say: Animal experiments have saved millions of lives.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: Animal experiments are responsible for millions of deaths. For example, the inability of experimenters to prove that tobacco caused cancer was responsible for a lengthy delay in the issuing of official warnings about smoking. Many dangerous and lethal drugs have been put onto the market as a result of animal tests. Nearly all the drugs which cause serious side effects were tested on animals.
The vivisectors say: Animals are merely `things' which exist to be used by humankind.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: Rene Descartes was one of the greatest thinkers in history and certainly one of the greatest men of the seventeenth century, but he had a few weaknesses and blind spots. The biggest was probably his belief that because they had no immortal souls, animals had no conscious life, no desires, no feelings and no emotions. Animals, declared Descartes with the enviable certainty of a man who is inspired by powerful religious prejudices, were no more entitled to respect or consideration than were clocks; horses were no more `alive' in the human sense than were the carriages they drew. If Descartes had spent just a little more time looking around him and a little less time trying to understand the secrets of the universe, he would have known that he was wrong. If he had had enough common sense to talk to any child with a pet dog, cat or rabbit he would have reamed the truth: that although it is impossible for us to imagine precisely how animals do think, or what they think about, there cannot possibly be any doubt that they are capable of as much thought as many humans. Simple observations would have told Descartes that animals feel pain, suffer when they are sick, get bored, endure unhappiness and depression, grieve, mourn and can be driven mad by abuse. Each member of the animal kingdom is different, but that does not mean that cats are any less alive than Frenchmen or that dogs are any less deserving of our compassion than children. Even rats - perhaps the most despised and least lovable of laboratory animals - are intelligent, alert and sociable animals. They can develop relationships with one another and with human beings and they quickly become bored and frustrated when imprisoned. But Descartes did not look around him and did not talk enough to children and his theories rapidly became accepted as fact by a society which was always better at thinking up theories than it was at sustaining them with facts. He was a powerful and influential member of the academic establishment and, most important of all, his beliefs fitted in comfortably with the beliefs of other scholars. As the years went by so Cartesian logic spread throughout the scientific community and before long a scientist who wanted to look inside a cat would do so simply by nailing it to a board and cutting it open. He would ignore its squeals of protest as of little more significance than the squeaking of a rusty door hinge or a stiff axle. To a large extent, therefore, it was Descartes' crude, simplistic and undeniably inaccurate philosophy which led to the development of modern day vivisection. In order to keep thinking of animals as `things' rather than sensitive individuals, most researchers have developed the habit of talking and writing about the creatures they use in a totally impersonal way, often using a strange vocabulary to describe what they are doing. Researchers will, for example, refer to cats as `preparations', will describe crying or meowing as `vocalisation' will use phrases like `nutritional insufficiency' instead of saying that the animal has starved to death. One group of researchers has used the term `binocularly deprived' to describe domestic tabby kittens which they had deliberately blinded. When animals are finished with at the end of experiments they are frequently `sacrificed' or `subjected to euthanasia'. Maybe researchers do not like to remind themselves that they are killers.
The vivisectors say: Animals do not have rights.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: Researchers with a simple way of looking at the world will frequently argue that animals do not have any rights. When pushed they will explain that the sole purpose of animals is to make our lives easier. The furthest they will go towards accepting that animals deserve to be treated with respect is to say that human beings share a responsibility to ensure that animals are not subjected to unnecessary suffering. The word `unnecessary' is, of course, impossible to define satisfactorily and very few active researchers will ever admit that any experiments have ever involved `unnecessary' suffering. This is, of course, the same elitist talk that graced the dinner tables of the pre-Wilberforce slave traders and it is the same sort of talk that still graces the (invariably) well-stocked dinner tables of the exceptionally fortunate and heavily prejudiced.
People, they will claim, are the centre of the universe; all else revolves around us. We, they argue, are entitled to do as we wish with the rest of the world. They will insist that if it were not for human beings animals would have no role to play on this earth. Animals, they say, exist. solely to provide us with food, clothing and pleasure. This arrogant attitude has been described as speciesism and condemned as cruel and insensitive, but these thoughts are widely held and cannot be overpowered by logic or any of the other tools of the intellectual. The primitive mind which sees humankind as the sole purpose of creation and the single reason for life is unlikely to be swayed by anything which demands such subtle expressions of intelligence as reason, insight or humility.
The vivisectors say: Animal experiments are not illegal, so how can they be wrong?
Dr Vernon Coleman says: I am constantly saddened by the fact that there are still men and women around the world who regard themselves as reasonable well-educated and of adequate intelligence but who can accept such a narrow, selfish and unforgiving argument. I confess that when I hear this argument aired I feel overcome by weariness and despair. `It is against the law to torture and maim human beings in the name of science but it is not against the law to do these things to animals, so where can be the objection?' Who can possibly live with such an absurdly mechanistic approach to life? The truth is that what is legal is not necessarily moral, any more than what is moral is necessarily legal. A few generations ago the legal status of a black person in America was roughly similar to that of a field of corn. The truth is that what is legally acceptable and what is morally acceptable are two very different things. Most of us would agree that it is immoral to threaten or frighten children unnecessarily but such acts when committed within a family unit, are rarely illegal. In some conditions rape may be legally acceptable. But does that make it morally right? Parking a car in the wrong place is illegal but does that make it immoral? If we take `legal rights equal moral rights' to its logical conclusion, consider what would happen if extra-terrestrials were to land on earth. Under our present law no one from outer space, however charming, gentle or peace loving, could be protected from brutality. We are the only species protected by the full force of the law. A research scientist would be perfectly entitled to perform experiments on an alien, secure in the knowledge that such actions were legally proper. It is not difficult to find many other flaws in this often voiced but shallow and remarkably simple-minded argument.
For example, are animals outside our law because they do not have souls? And if so how do we know that they do not have souls? And if it is true that they do not have souls (and are therefore denied another life) why does that give us rights over the one life that they do have? And what about those individuals who believe in the theory of reincarnation? According to their beliefs, a scientist who chops up a mouse may be destroying a relative of theirs. Are such beliefs wrong? Do they have no legal or moral standing? Are we entitled to make judgements about our neighbours' theological beliefs simply because a written law does not forbid a particular activity? There are no easy answers to any of these questions and I pose them simply to make it clear that there can be no inevitable agreement between activities which are legally acceptable and those which are morally acceptable. But there is one final argument which, I think, makes it crystal clear that on balance it is dangerous to assume, as so many vivisectors do, that because their work is legal it must be moral and ethical. This final argument concerns the question of consent. A researcher who wishes to experiment upon a human being must first obtain that individual's consent. Without consent any act of vivisection on a human being would be an illegal assault. But how can a researcher obtain consent from a monkey when planning an experiment? Although obtaining consent is impossible we do know that monkeys can understand one another and can communicate with some human beings. So what gives a researcher the moral right either to assume that the monkey has given consent or to assume that obtaining that monkey's consent is unnecessary? The law may say that a monkey is not a human being and therefore has no legal rights, but morally there can be no hard and fast rules about what is right and what is wrong.
Just because vivisection is legal that does not make it morally right. The vivisectors say: Animals do not matter because they cannot think, feel or suffer. Dr Vernon Coleman says: I have already explained that animals can feel pain and can suffer, so the only part of this argument that needs shooting down is that animals cannot think. I first heard this argument on a television programme some years ago. The dark-suited scientist who put it forward made the statement as though it were an accepted fact and as though it excused any sort of barbarity. `Animals can't think', he said bluntly, looking around him as though that settled that. `What about babies?' asked a young man whose hair was dyed bright green and who had a cluster of safety pins through his nose and ears. `Can they think?' He paused and thought for a moment. `And what about the mentally ill, the educationally subnormal and people suffering from senile dementia?' He was absolutely right and the scientist had no answer. The fact that animals cannot think (even if it were true) is no excuse at all for treating them without respect. But is it true that animals cannot think? Is there any good reason to believe that a baby monkey does not feel when separated from its mother and family, placed in a drum and left there, alone, for several weeks at a time? Just because animals do not automatically speak our language, do we have any right to assume that they are stupid? This is, indeed, the sort of argument once followed by the worst sort of colonial Englishman. `The natives don't speak English and so they must be stupid', he would argue with enviable simplicity. The truth is not so simple to find.
For example, as anyone who has ever lived with a cat will confirm, it is nonsense to say that cats are incapable of thought. They are remarkably intelligent and emotional creatures. They can communicate with one another and with human beings very effectively. And they even have skills that we certainly do not seem to have. There are, for example, numerous accounts of cats finding their way home on journeys of several hundred miles. Cats whose owners have died will walk for miles - crossing motorways, rivers and railways and passing through cities and across fields - in order to be with other human beings whom they like. Without maps or compasses cats can make long, arduous journeys with startling skill. We do not know how intelligent other animals are, but we do not know how stupid they are either. The only thing we know for certain is that there are no creatures in the world quite as cruel as some of the humans who work in experimental laboratories. Those of us who oppose animal experiments are guilty of anthropomorphism and that we are worrying unnecessarily about creatures whose lives and lifestyles we do not fully understand. We are, they say, projecting our feelings, fears and hopes onto the animals they use. There is, as ever, a strong streak of arrogance in this argument, for those who put it forward seem to be saying that although we are over-estimating the needs and rights of animals, they have got things just right. The truth, as always, is that the pro-vivisectionist campaigners are limited by their own lack of perception and although they have managed to begin a train of thought, they have been unable to see it through to a sensible conclusion. It is perfectly true to say that animals are not like people and it would be foolish to imagine that animals see things in the same way that we do. Each animal sees the world in a different light. Animals are not like people, but they are not like rocks either. Cats think and behave like cats. Monkeys think and behave like monkeys. Dogs think and behave like dogs. Only when we have made the effort to understand how dogs think and behave will we understand the full extent of their suffering when they are used in laboratory experiments. All animals are different. Cats like eating freshly killed mice. Cows like eating grass. Monkeys use their tails to help them swing through trees. Rats are happy eating stuff that we would feel uncomfortable about stepping in. Although it is clearly wrong to anthropomorphise and to read ambitions and hopes into behavioural patterns that may mean something quite different, it is perfectly possible for us to learn enough about animal behaviour to understand something about what they like and what they dislike. Back in 1965, the British Government decided that the thin, hexagonal wire mesh used to make up the floors of cages in which hens were kept was uncomfortable for them to walk on. A well-meaning committee of human experts decided that thicker wire would be better. But when the chickens were given the choice they showed, quite clearly, that they preferred the thin, hexagonal wire. And the chickens overruled the distinguished team who had advised the government because in the end they managed to show that they knew best what they preferred (out of two cruel options). By observing animals carefully it is possible to decide what sort of life they like best and it is also possible to discover that when given a choice animals will always choose the least distressing of all the available options. But the people who conduct animal experiments do not bother to find out what the animals they use are really like. They do not want to know that the animals they are using have the intelligence to make choices. They do not like to think that the animals they are keeping might prefer a different lifestyle. The truth is that the conditions in which laboratory animals are kept are crude, cruel and barbaric. The way in which animals are used and abused shows that those who perform animal experiments have never made the slightest effort to understand the creatures whose lives they regard so lightly. The final irony is that researchers frequently claim that they can make judgements about behavioural patterns or the toxicity of tested substances by making laboratory observations. In fact, these observations and judgements are wordless because the circumstances in which the animals are kept and tested are unnatural and quite divorced from reality.
The vivisectors say: It does not matter whether animals can think or not: we are stronger and more powerful than they are so we have the right to do as we like with them.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: Surprisingly, this argument is put forward quite frequently and there seem to be a large number of vivisectors who believe that the strong have a moral right to do what they like with the weak. What those who favour this argument do not seem to realise is that the same argument can be applied with equal logic within the human race. So, if it is perfectly right and fair for humans to torture, maim and kill baboons because we are stronger and more powerful than they are, then it must be equally acceptable for the strongest and most powerful human beings to use the weakest humans for their own purposes. If it is morally acceptable for a researcher to use this argument to support experiments on dogs, what is there to stop the same argument being used to justify experiments on children, old people or the mentally or physically disadvantaged? Scientists who promote this argument might like to think carefully about their own status in our society. If the intellectually deprived and socially worthless are to be used in experiments, then the vivisectors themselves will be among the first to find themselves selected for death in the laboratory. The truth is that if the search for knowledge is accepted as a reason for cruelty we have to be aware that it is usually difficult for scientists to draw a moral line between using animals in experiments and using human beings.
Finally, it is worth remembering that although many scientists are prepared to excuse the foulest of deeds on the basis that they are searching for knowledge, very few, if any, scientists are prepared to conduct their experiments at their own expense or in their own time. A vast majority of scientific experiments these days are performed by extremely well-paid scientists working in well-equipped laboratories. Often the money they use is yours. Those members of the public who find animal experiments unacceptable should also be aware that the vast majority of these experiments are conducted with public money at a time when doctors and teachers seem to agree that public services are suffering from a lack of funding. I wonder how many animal experimenters would carry on with their work (determined to add to the sum of human knowledge for the general good of humankind) if instead of getting fat salaries from public funds they had to pay for their experiments themselves? I suggest that some scientists would suddenly find that they had something more important to do. In other words, many vivisectors are driven not by a search for knowledge, but by simple, old-fashioned, financial greed.
The vivisectors say: Animal experiments are justified because without them human progress will be held back.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: One of the favourite debating tricks of those who support animal experimentation is to select a convenient date sometime in the past, point to all the scientific developments that have taken place since that time and then argue that without animal experiments none of those things would have happened.
This argument is to logic what marshmallows are to a balanced diet. First, it is illogical to argue that just because animal experiments took place they were relevant, necessary or productive. The truth, as I will show later on, is that animal experiments have held back progress rather than aided it. You might as well argue that because people have managed to run faster and jump higher since animal experiments were started, there is a link between the two. You could as easily and as sensibly claim that the development of television was a result of experiments performed on animals and that without torturing monkeys, cats and dogs we would still be relying on the town crier. Second, even if animal experiments had been relevant it would be absurd to argue that without them scientists would have made no progress at all. This is a gross insult to the intelligence and ingenuity of scientists and assumes that the only scientists with any capacity for original thought are the ones who chop up live animals. This is clearly nonsense. No one complains that we have been denied progress because scientists have not been allowed to experiment on human beings.
The vivisectors say: The use of animals in experiments is justified by the fact that such investigations enable us to add to our store of knowledge.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: Scientists usually try to justify the work they do by claiming that they are helping to save lives. They are ruthless in the way they exploit public fears and anxieties in their attempts to preserve their own careers. But such claims only stand up in the absence of evidence; more and more often scientists are having to abandon this line of defence. When they are cornered and are unable to defend their work on practical or medical grounds, scientists will often claim that their work is justified simply because it adds to the sum of human knowledge. The work justifies itself, they say, and does not need to have any practical purpose. It is probably as pointless to try to counter this claim with moral or ethical arguments as it would have been to try to dissuade Josef Mengele from his evil work by telling him that it was `wrong'. Throughout history there have always been scientists who have claimed that the search for knowledge justifies any activity, however repugnant. Like the Nazi and Japanese scientists who experimented on human beings and were convinced that their work was justified, today's animal experimenters seem to believe that their work, however barbaric, is justified because it adds to the storehouse of human knowledge. But those who are convinced by this argument might like to ask themselves where, if ever, the line should be drawn. Does the pursuit of knowledge justify any activity? There are some scientists who would say that it does; and there is no shortage of evidence that even today in the western world there are doctors who are willing to perform hazardous experiments on human patients under their care who have not even been asked for their permission. The Health Scandal (by Vernon Coleman) includes a variety of experiments including one in which drops were put into the eyes of women in order to study the formation of experimental cataracts and one in which children were given drugs to stop them making a natural recovery from a liver infection. Most startling of all, perhaps, were the experiments conducted by an American woman scientist who used a total of forty-two babies aged between eleven days and two and a half years in her experiments, which involved holding the babies under water to see how they responded. In the article she wrote to describe her work the scientist reported that the `movements of the extremities are of the struggling order' and went on to say that the babies clutched at the experimenter's hands and tried to wipe the water away from their faces. She seemed amazed that the `ingestion of fluid was considerable' and made the infants cough. During the last few decades thousands of human patients have been subjected to experimental brain surgery (readers wanting to know more should read the book Paper Doctors by Vernon Coleman). In Britain, for example, surgeons have deliberately and permanently damaged the brains of many patients in attempts to treat people suffering from disorders as varied as eczema, asthma hysteria, chronic rheumatism, anorexia nervosa, tuberculosis, hypertension, angina and anxiety brought about by barbiturate toxicity. Patients have been injected with cancer cells to see whether or not they develop cancer. Without anyone bothering to obtain their permission, patients around the world are frequently given new and untried drugs so that doctors can find out what happens.
Many scientists who perform and support animal experiments also support experiments on human beings and will argue that such experiments are justified either because they add to the sum of human knowledge or because they help doctors develop new types of treatment. One American scientist recently pointed out that `a human life is nothing compared with a new fact ... the aim of science is the advancement of human knowledge at any sacrifice to human life'. When another scientist was attacked for using people in a nursing home for an experiment, he replied that he could not very well use scientists for his experiments because they were too valuable.
The vivisectors say: Every year thousands of animals are put down because they are ill or have been abandoned. It makes sense to use those animals instead of wasting them.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: What the scientists who favour this argument fail to realise is that there is a considerable difference between putting an animal to sleep painlessly and subjecting it to a series of painful, humiliating and degrading scientific procedures. If this argument were sustainable then it would also make sense to use dying, lonely or `unwanted' human beings for experiments. The scientists who favour this argument also fail to realise that killing animals because they are ill or have been abandoned is done to satisfy human rather than animal needs. The killing of animals simply because they seem surplus to requirements is morally unjustifiable. It is absurd to attempt to build an ethical argument on foundations that are ethically unsound.
The vivisectors say: Firstly, that the results from animal experiments can be utilised in the prevention or treatment of diseases which affect human beings, and secondly that animals are so different from human beings that we do not have to worry about them suffering any sort of pain or distress.
Dr Vernon Coleman says: These two arguments do not fit comfortably together. If animals are similar enough to human beings for the results to be of value to clinicians then the thousands of barbaric experiments which are conducted every day are insupportable, inexcusable and unforgivable on moral and ethical grounds. On the other hand, if animals are so fundamentally different to human beings that they do not suffer during procedures which would clearly be terrifying and enormously painful for human beings then the results obtained must be valueless.
Copyright Vernon Coleman 2005