Jan 9, 2019 in Analysis

The Use of Animals in Biology Laboratories Essay

The Use of Animals in Biology Laboratories

Biology, one of the most valued science subjects in education, industry and the world in general, provides students an opportunity to pursue great and reputable careers. Like other sciences, particularly chemistry and physics, many students pursue the subject aiming to pursue the wide range of reputable careers in biology. Like other science subjects, biology involves a wide range of extensive laboratory experiments in order to provide the learners with the knowledge and skills required to enhance their ability to perform in the respective fields. However, unlike other science subjects, biology has its focus on living things, which means that the students must study living things, their physical characteristics and life functions. Students must understand both the internal and external anatomy and the physiology of living things, including humans and animals. To have an in-depth understanding of these aspects, dissection of animals is necessary in biology classes. In the US, the practice of dissecting animals is applied from the elementary level to the institutions of higher education. These experiments are considered necessary in preparing the learners for the practical work encountered outside the classes, especially in medicine and health sciences, veterinary and biomedical sciences. 


Unfortunately, the practice requires handling of animals in some inappropriate manner, which has caused serious ethical concerns. In particular, mistreatment, infliction of pain and killing of animals are major forms of abuse of human rights that have raised serious ethical concerns. With a large number of students taking biology-based sciences, a large number of animals must be mistreated and/or killed every year. For instance, studies have shown that more than 6 million animals are dissected every year to cater for the academic needs of American secondary schools alone, with many others facing the same fate in the hands of students in colleges, universities and other institutions (Animals in Education 1). The question of whether subjecting animals to inhumane treatment for the purpose of teaching biology is crucial in ethics. While it is known that the use of live animals has led to the development of extensive knowledge as well as the development of drugs, vaccines and other compounds needed to improve human lives, it is also unfortunate that many animals have been mistreated or killed for this purpose. Fortunately, the modern technology is increasingly developing new alternatives to the use of animals in teaching biology. In this context, the term “alternative” refers to the replacing lab animals with better and effective methods that do not need to subject the living things to mistreatment, abuse and death. It also refers to the process of reducing the number of animals subjected to these procedures or the procedures that alleviate or minimize the potential pain or harm inflicted on the animals. In this case, it is necessary that the term “alternative” achieve at least one of the R’s described above (Alternatives to animal Tests 1).       

First, medical students can observe doctors performing complex operations to grasp the intricacies of such operations instead of using live animals. Indeed, this trend is becoming increasing common, especially in the American medical schools. According to experts in this field, the only thing that is common in animal laboratories that students do not undertake in operating rooms is killing the experimental animals after the observation process. Incidentally, medical schools are among the most notorious users of animal experiments. For instance, Ohio State Medical School uses 120 pigs annually for surgical stapling of the stomach and intestines and laparoscopy. However, no studies have shown that students who use live animals in laboratories are more competent than those who observe live surgical operations in real medical facilities. Further, there are medical institutions, which do not use live animals in training their students. These facts demonstrate that using live animals is not an indispensable component of modern medical training. Rather, students can become as competent as those who use animals by observing operations in real hospitals. For example, using blood from volunteering individuals for the test of the microorganisms causing fever has the potential to alleviate the need for “pyrogen tests, which could save a large number of lab animals such as rabbits. 

Secondly, the use of computer-based laboratories in teaching physiology, pharmacology and surgery is an important alternative. This technology involves computer simulations where students can undertake virtual experiments without using live animals. For instance, pharmacology has traditionally employed live animals to test the effects of drugs, which are under development. However, it is possible to do this today using a CD-ROM package popularly known as Behavioral Pharmacology. Interestingly, the technology allows pharmacology students to observe a wider range of drug families than using live animals. In biological sciences, computer-based physiology laboratories have become increasingly common. They assist students in manipulating ideas and processes just like scientists do. In this way, they assist students in conducting real experiments without necessarily using animals. Further, instructors have found them more advantageous than using live animals in that they avoid the tedious isolation of nerve tissues when using live animals. It is worth noting that such separation is often unsuccessful when using live animals. The ease of using such simulations helps students and instructors save time, which allows for extensive exploration of the subject. A number of other technologies have emerged in non-animal-use physiology. For example, the Virtual Physiology Series covers the nerve-muscle physiology comprehensively by simulating classic experiments undertaken by medical, veterinary, dental, chemistry and biology students. The SimBioSys Physiology Laboratories use simulations, animations, quizzes, and exercises and exhaustively cover general respiratory, cardiovascular and renal physiology. The Dyna Pulse Systems aid students to analyze their cardiovascular profiles by enhancing the tracking and analysis of a student’s long-term cardiovascular status. On its part, the Intelitool’s software series assists students in the comprehensive study of muscle contraction, respiratory physiology and cardiovascular physiology. Many other software systems are available for use in schools, colleges and medical and veterinary institutions to simulate real-life biological and medical processes without the need for live animals.  

The process of creating images of the relevant body parts to aid the clinical or medical processes is an important alternative that is fast gaining popularity in medical imaging. It is a part of biological imaging. In addition, it includes varied areas of specialization such as radiology, medical photography, nuclear medicine, endoscopy, microscopy and thermography. With the current advancements in medical imaging, the technology has become indispensable to the current study in biology and related disciplines. The technology has allowed students to observe and study internal organs of a human being or any animal without essentially dissecting live animals. Indeed, it negates the need for employing live animals in laboratories.

Nowadays, the debate on animal right is a contentious issue. Philosophically, scholars have fallen into two opposite sides- those that are strongly against using live animals in laboratories such as Tom Regan and those that strongly support the importance of animal use like Carl Cohen. In his article “The Case for Animals Rights”, Regan argued that animals are legally equal to humans. According to this argument, because hurting or killing people is wrongful, sinful, crime or villainy, then using live animals in laboratories is also an act of atrocity. From a moral perspective, murder is also a reproachful behavior. Similarly, subjecting animals to unbearable suffering is a cruel act. In his article “All Animals are Equal”, Singer argues that non-human animals have the similar life to that of humans. As such, humans should not mistreat or think of animals in a different way just because they are not humans (Singer 21). Why is killing a person be considered a murder, but an animal be killed for food? 

One of the arguments against the continued use of animals in laboratories is the issue of animal abuse. Opponents of the practice claim that animals used in biology laboratories experience stress, suffering and inhumane treatment. Firstly, most of the animals are harvested ‘en mass’ from their natural habitats. These include amphibians, fish, birds, reptiles and most invertebrates. Subsequently, dealers often transport the animals in stressful conditions such as using crowded containers with inadequate food and water supply or temperature regulation. Moreover, some unscrupulous dealers spray preservatives on live animals, thus subjecting them to unbearable suffering. Secondly, most of the fetal organs used in biology laboratories are obtained from slaughterhouses and factory farms. Unfortunately, some of these facilities subject the animals to incredible abuse. For instance, animals are often locked in cramped and dirty conditions. They also face painful procedures like castration, debeaking, and tail docking. Some of the animals are also left in excruciating pain, especially after they are deprived of some body organs. Thirdly, such animals often face abuse of supply companies and Class B dealers. Most of the animals are cruelly killed and supplied to learning institutions for use in biological laboratories. Some are also stolen from their owners as seen in Mexico, where cats often disappear from their owners’ residences.

In the recent past, the Wickham Laboratories case provides a good example of the type of mistreatments that animals undergo for the sake of research and teaching. In this case, the staff at the Wickham Laboratories in Hampshire, UK, stocked more than 100 rabbits in a small cage. Drugs were injected in the animals’ ears for testing the effects of antibiotics (Thornhill 1). The test substances caused pain and/or damaged the animal’s ears and eyes, making the animals uncomfortable. In addition, the weak animals were killed. The surviving animals would be passed onto the next test repeatedly until they die (Thornhill 1). According to Regan (7) and Singer (28), even though the animals felt as much pain as humans, it is hard to realize how the rabbits were suffering at that time. However, their feelings are observable. 

Another equally important argument against the practice is that it has serious and adverse environmental and conservation impacts. Most often, the process leads to the harvesting of millions of animal species every year. Unfortunately, there are often no efforts to ensure subsequent replacement of these animals through conservation. As a result, the practice increases the risk of extinction of endangered species. Currently, wild animals are facing incredible difficulties in enhancing their reproduction. This results from the continued encroachment of their habitats and the global climate change and chemical pollution. The decimation of the populations of these animal species causes ecological imbalance, resulting in the destruction of the environment. Further, the preservatives commonly used in these animals are environmentally harmful. For instance, formaldehyde is a known carcinogen in humans, which exposes both teachers and students to health complications. In addition, the disposal of the millions of dead bodies annually often causes water and air pollution.      

Moreover, the helpless animals are experiencing the most tragic fate. However, is their sacrifice really worth it? The answer is not really. Although Carl Cohen, in his article “The Case of the use of Animals in Biomedical Research”, using animals in science laboratories can decrease the risk that affect humans (Cohen 12). However, some test results only work in animals, but not necessarily in humans. For example, a test on clioquinol as an antidiarrheal drug proved effective in rats, cats, dogs and rabbits that. However, when used in humans, it caused blindness and paralysis (Cohen 14). In addition, the scientists performed successful eye surgery on rabbits, but the same procedure caused blindness in humans because in rabbits. Noteworthy, the rabbit cornea can reproduce and is located inside the eye, while the human cornea is on the surface and cannot reproduce. This tiny anatomical difference between human and animals brought a huge mistake to the result of the test. Consequently, using animals in laboratories does not necessarily decrease risks and can lead to some harmful effects in humans. 

Finally yet importantly, as Regan stated in his article animals have “inherent value”. Although they lack a number of human abilities, they are worth respect because they are alive (Reagan 6). Opponents argue that the practice may teach students that life is disposable or valueless. The students may learn that the lives of others are not valuable as long as the death serves the individual’s interests and needs. This extremely dangerous trend may disrupt social order in the future. Further, students may lose human emotions as they keep subjecting animals to pain and suffering. This may deny them the chance to experience empathy when dealing with other humans or animals.

On the other hand, two main organizations strongly support the practice- the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT). NABT holds that the use of live animals in classrooms and laboratories is required to enhance the students’ understanding of life and the interrelationships and the interdependency of various living things. It encourages the use of such animals for both observation and dissection, but calls for responsibility in the process. It also recommends teachers to consider the age of the students conducting the experiments. The teacher must also insist on the value of life and teach students to be responsible when handling lab animals. On its part, the NTSA supports the initiative to use live animals for observation and dissection purposes in relation to K-12 classrooms. According to NABT, the interaction between the learners and animals is essential in meeting the goals and guidelines that the National Science Education Standards has established. Therefore, it argues that provided the standards are met and the guidelines applied, there is no need for any legislation that prohibits the use of the animals. According to Texley, Kwan and Summers (126), NABT holds that the prohibition of the use of animals in classes is likely to interfere with the quality of scientific knowledge and skills provided to the children. Therefore, it opposes all laws that are likely to prohibit the use of animals in classrooms.  

The organization believes that the interaction between the students and the lab animals is required to meet the standards that the National Science Education Standards (NSES) has set. Therefore, it opposes any legislation prohibiting the use of lab animals.

Nowadays, animals are in danger of extinction. For instance, at least one million animal species have disappeared since 1980. Each year, countless animals are dissected, infected, injected drugs, poisoned, burned, blinded due to the massive use in universities and research institutions. In addition, some of them are used in testing the safety of various products such as cosmetics, household cleaning supplies or other chemical products (Animals in Product Testing 1). These animals include primates, dogs, cats, rabbits, rodents and even larger animals depending on the institutions, the purpose of the product and other circumstances. We should focus on alternatives to the use of animals in science and try our best to decrease the harm inflicted on them.  

I tend to agree with Regan in the argument against the use of animals in laboratories. Humans are equal to animals. If we do not cause harm to humans, we should not do it to any animal. Sometimes we make dogs eat on the floor or chain them, yet we do not treat humans in the same manner. For some classes I had previously taken in China or the US, I had to dissect an earthworm, a frog, or a fish in order to see and understand their anatomy and physiology. Even though I do not like earthworms, I just felt it was an inhumane act. 

The use of animals in biology and biological sciences is an important part of learning. However, questions have arisen regarding the ethical considerations of using animals in such a manner. The abuse and suffering that such animals often undergo has become a subject of discussion with opponents of the practice, including animal rights activists, calling for the development of alternative tools, in the classroom and laboratory. Fortunately, technology has allowed this to happen with the development of various computer-based products for such use. Live observation of some medical procedures has also proved to be a viable alternative. With the advance of science and technology, high schools and colleges can have computer models or other appropriate methods to alleviate animal suffering. The alternatives not decrease the harm inflicted on animals. In addition, they are more convenient than using the traditional animal tests. Biology and anatomy classes are required subjects for some major courses. Therefore, we must try to use some available alternative that can make the classes more efficient while also reducing the potential harm. 


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