The Fellowship of Life
a Christian-based vegetarian group founded in 1973


'Methodist Recorder' debate (1985-86) Letters

'The life of a child is worth rather more than the life of a laboratory rat'

Recent correspondence in the Recorder on the subject of animal testing makes depressing reading, particularly when old wives' tales are presented as facts.

Firstly we have the myth that natural materials are inherently safe and also have the "virtue" of being untested by animals. Your readers would be well advised not to risk taking any untested preparation that is supposed to be safe for the sole reason that it is "natural". After all, nature has in the past provided some of the more infamous poisons from the hemlock with which Socrates committed suicide, to the arsenic favoured by many a Victorian murderer to the more fashionable ricin which figured in the notorious umbrella assassination in London several years ago.

Closer to home, I hope your readers will not allow their children to eat natural laburnam seeds or deadly nightshade, nor encourage pregnant women to consume large quantities of green skinned potatoes, since Solanine, the pigment responsible for the colour, is thought to cause Thalidomide-like deformities.

Secondly, two of your correspondents quote the Thalidomide case as a justification for the abandonment of animal testing. This is nonsense. It is, of course, true that no scheme of animal tests can ever prove any material is totally safe, but on the other hand animal tests do detect at an early stage a large number of compounds that are not safe.

All drugs are potentially dangerous, since they are produced with the specific purpose of affecting part of the human body. The skill of the pharmaceutical scientist is to produce a material that has the desired therapeutic effect with the minimum of adverse reactions.

Currently all new pharmaceuticals must be tested in animals before they are tried on man. Many promising drugs fail this preliminary test in animals and are never produced. The animal testing could, of course, be omitted and the initial trials could be performed on man. A number of people would die as a result, but we could then proudly claim that we were not guilty of species-ism, and in any case it would only be a few sick people who would suffer.

Thirdly, Mr Turner considers that we already have enough drugs, weedkillers etc. He is of course entitled to his opinion, but then he is not at risk from such diseases as malaria and schistomiasis which currently account for the deaths of thousands of innocent people every year. These terrible diseases are spread by pests which cannot yet be controlled because of the absence of suitable biocides. In addition basic food crops, such as soya grown in Third World countries, are prone to both disease and damage by weeds due again to the absence of suitable biocides. Consequently, low yields and complete crop failures of staple foods still contribute to appalling famines. But these effects are only serious in Third World countries far removed from our little island.

Finally, Sylvia Baker is of the opinion that regardless of the benefits 'the price (of animal testing) is too high.' I wonder if any of your correspondents have aged relatives in continuous pain and crippled with rheumatoid arthritis, or have watched a child die of leukemia or seen the tragedy of a young mother severely affected by multiple sclerosis, and if they had would they still think the price too high?

It is very easy to adopt high moral attitudes to this subject when you are a healthy well fed member of a prosperous country in the Northern Hemisphere. No one is happy that animals are used in toxicological research, even to bring an end to the suffering of mankind, and a great deal of effort is continually being expended to discover alternative techniques. Gradually alternative techniques are being introduced, but concurrently there is a continual clamour from the general public for stricter safety standards which leads to the use of more sophisticated and elaborate animal tests for which alternatives are not available.

In conclusion it is my opinion that animal tests should continue to be used until satisfactory techniques exist to replace them, because in my view the life of a child is worth rather more than the life of a laboratory rat.

David Taylor

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