After researching one chapter in Culture of Death and a whole book for A Rat Is A Pig Is A Dog Is A Boy, I am utterly convinced of the need for animal research in the quest to find treatments for disease and otherwise ameliorate human (and animal) suffering.  But that doesn’t mean it is an activity we should relish. When and if we can obtain the needed information or knowledge without using animals, we should—so long as we don’t replace animal research with unethical investigations on human subjects.  Indeed, that is the point of the bioethical concept “The Three Rs,”  an abbreviation for, “reduce, replace, refine.”

Now, biotechnology may be finding ways to replace animal research with experiments on human tissues, thereby also promoting the reduce and refine aspects of the Three Rs.  From the story:

The use of animal experiments could be replaced by research on “virtual human beings” and tests on banks of living cells within a generation, scientists say. Computer modelling and advances in cell biology will allow researchers to assess new drugs far more precisely and without the involvement of animals. One innovation is the development of “micro-lungs” — lung cells extracted from transplant tissue, grown in a laboratory culture and then tested with drops of toxicants such as cosmetics to assess the response. return false;

I doubt that we will ever be able to totally end animal research because sometimes, you need to study the impact on the entire animal, not just discreet parts of the animal. For example, animal research discovered that embryonic stem cells cause tumors when injected into the body.  Merely injecting the cells into a mini lung might not have developed the same information.

But here’s a point that needs to be kept in mind: We must make sure that these so-called “virtual human beings” aren’t really actual nascent human beings, or derived from destroying human embryos or fetuses. Alas, some in bioethics and biotechnology would be all too happy to use nascent human life in place of animals based on anti-human exceptionalism beliefs such as personhood theory, which measures moral worth based on cognitive capacities.

Once technology develops allowing gestation outside of a woman’s body, I predict that scentists and bioethicists will agitate for permission to research on living fetuses—an obscene instrumental use of human life (currently outlawed), which, as reported by Pamela Winnick in A Jealous God, was actually done in the late 1960s in the USA—one experiment on a 24 week living fetus even winning the Foundation Prize from the American Association of Obstetrics and Gynecology. (Along this same line, there have also been calls to use cognitively devastated patients in medical experiments in some of the world’s most influential medical and bioethical journals.) Now, with so many among the intelligentsia thinking that biological humanity is, in and of itself, morally irrelevant, expect the drive to allow human experimentation on “non persons” to become a huge controversy in the years to come.

Articles by Wesley J. Smith


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