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The Myth Of Animal Experiments

Dr Bernhard Rambeck

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends!

I thank you most sincerely for the opportunity to present, here in London, my ideas concerning the necessity to abolish all animal experiments. I am a biochemist and for the last fifteen years have been in charge of the clinical pharmacology department of an epilepsy centre in Germany. I am on the board of the Vereinigung Artzte gegen Tierversuche, an association of doctors opposed to animal experiments. I myself have never been engaged in animal experiments, but through my work I have come into constant contact with the problems and consequences of animal experimentation.

Experimenting with animals is nowadays increasingly rejected, mainly for moral or ethical but also for scientific reasons. My field of work - epilepsy research - is a typical example of tendencies and developments in modern medical research towards dispensing with traditional animal testing. Even a decade ago, it was claimed that epilepsy research could only be carried out using the intact brains of living animals. Today, experimental epilepsy research means largely neither human nor animal experiments but in-vitro studies - that is, research with nerve-cell or brain-tissue preparations.

Countless mice, rats, cats, monkeys and other animals have been sacrificed in the last sixty years for experimental -epilepsy research, in the last analysis without success. Medicine based on animal experimentation is not, even today, in a position to heal epilepsy but only, to a greater or lesser extent, to suppress seizures. At the same time, the considerable side-effects of the drugs must be reckoned with.

The first drugs used in the treatment of this disease, such as bromides and phenobarbital (which latter is very important even today), were not found as a result of animal experiments but of self-trials and clinical observation. The few other substances against epilepsy which are in current use were the result of chance rather than the products of systematic animal testing.
We have sought for decades to find further seizure-inhibiting substances by using a whole series of excruciatingly painful animal experiments. Artificial seizures have been produced in mice, rats and cats with specific poisons, electrical shocks or by surgical operations. Using these models, drugs were sought which should favourably influence seizures. But these artificial seizures are always monocausative imitations of epileptic seizures and are hardly comparable with human epilepsy. This is because seizures occur spontaneously in man, unpredictably and mostly independently of external influences, being the results of a multicausative pathogenic development. Genetic factors and various environmental influences can also play a part.

Hundreds of chemical substances have been found which affect these artificially produced seizures in animals. But this does not mean that one can predict which of these substances may be successfully used for man. Only the human experiment can show if a substance can be used clinically as an anti-epileptic drug.

Using animal experiments, researchers have tried to predict if an anticonvulsant substance results in side-effects or damage in man. Even here, an answer can only be obtained from the human experiment. Almost all clinical problems and side-effects of anti-epileptic drugs have been first encountered in man himself and have not been predicted by animal experiments. Many drugs have had to be withdrawn because, contrary to the results of animal experiments, they produced seizures in man or else had serious and unacceptable side-effects on human beings.

Countless neurophysiological details have been discovered by using animal testing, but in the final analysis we do not know which of these results are relevant for man. The ultimate causes of epilepsy are largely unknown, despite decades of animal experiments.
As I have already mentioned, in-vitro methods are today increasingly used in the field of epilepsy research. About a decade ago, scientists began to study the seizure-inhibiting or -precipitating effects of substances by using samples of mouse and rat brains or cultures of their neurons. Today, human tissue is increasingly used, obtained, for example, during operations to remove tumours or during other brain surgery. This procedure has the advantage that the results, unlike those from animal experiments, are really relevant and can be much better applied to man.

I could report extensively on the lack of success of animal experimentation in epilepsy research, about the problems of carrying over results from animal experiments to human epilepsies and about completely new diagnostic possibilities which were not developed by animal experimentation, but I shall next consider the problem of animal research in general terms. I shall try to make it clear that the common concept of the necessity for animal research is based on a series of myths, fairy tales and legends, which are, finally, either totally false or at least have no valid basis.

Modern society must, in its own interests, begin to question these myths. It is not a question of having to live with a necessary evil. I believe that man has a chance of survival in this world ONLY if he succeeds in making peace with nature. Man has increasingly exploited, misused and raped nature. The consequences: our woods are to a considerable extent irreversibly damaged; oceans and seas are becoming ever more polluted; our natural environment is largely destroyed; climatic catastrophes of an unimaginable magnitude threaten our world; and poisons produced by man are eating holes in the protective ozone layer of our planet. If man does not learn to live peaceably with nature, he will cease to exist. Animal experiments do not contribute to living in peace with nature - they are a brutal declaration of war on nature. We exploit the weak, in this case animals, with brute force, supposedly for our advantage. The animal world cannot be a push-button service for our so-called human sciences.

First of all, let it be made clear that we, the groups of doctors against animal experimentation, do not wish to abolish either science or medicine (as is sometimes maintained). Man needs them in this present time more urgently than ever before. But the medical sciences have landed up in a dead-end street. Medicine today has become an organiser of the symptoms of illness; it has forgotten that originally its most important aims were the prevention and healing of disease. The cause of the tragedy of medical science is a mechanistic view of the world, in which concepts of soul, spirit and mind have no further place, and man is nothing more than a sort of bio-machine or a somewhat highly evolved mammal. But as long as medical science studies man and his illnesses by always using an entirely inadequate animal model, medicine cannot recognise or study man's peculiarities and special features, especially that fine interplay between body, mind and spirit, the disturbance of which presents itself as illness.

A further clarification: we do not seek to replace animal experiments by experiments with humans, as we are often accused of doing. Groups such as DBAE reject animal experimentation only because of its damaging effects on man; one of the most important demands of these groups is the protection of man from the risks of new and old chemicals or drugs, which can certainly not be judged by animal research.


I want, together with you, to analyse these myths of the pretended necessity of animal experimentation.

First myth: "Medical knowledge is based on animal experiments"

It is often claimed that true medical science had its beginnings with the introduction of chemotherapy about a hundred years ago. But this is false. There have at all times been excellent doctors who really could heal, and there have been throughout history famous medical schools where the art of healing really was taught. The pillars of classical medical knowledge were not animal experiments, although these were practised to some extent even a thousand years ago; but the foundation of such knowledge was the observations of healthy and sick men and animals. Other pillars of classical medicine were a knowledge of anatomy and extensive experience of pain-relieving drugs, anaesthetics and remedies produced predominantly on a herbal basis.

Even our recent medical knowledge is based to a considerable extent on clinical experience and not on animal experimentation, or at least animal testing is only used subsequently to support confirmation of results. Not only have many successful therapeutic substances based on herbs been found without animal research, but so also have drugs such as acetyl salicylic acid (known as aspirin, a fever-relieving drug) and phenobarbital (known as luminal, an anti-epileptic drug). May I remind you that the first modern anaesthetics, such as nitrous oxide (or laughing gas), opium, ether and chloroform, were found at the beginning of the nineteenth century without any kind of animal research. Together with the recognised need for aseptic conditions, these led to enormous progress in surgery in the second half of the century, all without animal research. Most of the present operative techniques were not developed from animal experimentation but were based on clinical experience.

Second myth: "Only animal experiments have made possible the fight against disease and thereby increased life expectancy"

This myth is part of the standard repertoire of those who support animal experiments, but it is false! The increase in life expectancy has, above all, been caused by the reduction in infectious diseases. The well-known British doctor of social medicine, Professor McKeown, showed by extensive studies that the reduction of infectious illnesses, and hence of infant and child mortality, is due to improved sanitary conditions and hygiene, as well as to improved and sufficient nutrition and the limiting of the birth rate, and is not due to new drugs and vaccines. Correspondingly, there is a very high infant and child mortality rate in the developing world, due to social problems, poverty and malnutrition and not to lack of drugs or vaccines.

If we consider the so-called diseases of civilisation - and they account for about 80 per cent of all deaths -we get the impression that modern medicine is rather powerless in its struggle. Fifty-two per cent of the population die from avoidable chronic cardiovascular diseases, and 24 per cent die from cancer - and this is an increasing tendency. Modern chemotherapy has hardly been able to touch these diseases; decades after the introduction of the first effective anticarcinogenic drug cyclophosphamide, only a few per cent of all cases of cancer are more or less curable, and this only with considerable side-effects and damage. If, in the United States, the number of deaths due to cardiovascular disease decreases, this will be a result of the change in smoking habits but not of the introduction of new drugs. Only research in to the actual causes of diseases can influence common illnesses.

Furthermore, one has the impression that, on considering the real main causes of death for today's mankind, medicine plays only a very subordinate part, because medicine cannot influence the cases of death from smoking, alcoholism and incorrect nutrition in the industrialised world and from war, hunger and social problems in the developing world.

Third myth: "Medical research is not possible without animal experiments"

A few decades ago, the term "alternative methods" was not known, and some years ago it was still pretended that the LD50 toxicity test and similar brutalities were absolutely necessary; scientists declared almost unanimously that animal experiments were unavoidable, since only the "normal" animal could show the effects of drugs. In the meantime, scientists have become more circumspect: the pharmaceutical industry constantly explains that many animal tests have already been replaced, that the number of animals in experiments has now been greatly reduced and that toxicologists can very largely abandon LD50 tests. In many areas alternative methods, such as in-vitro systems with test-tube methods using cell cultures, micro-organisms and so on, have been worked out.

Today, in nearly all fields of medicine, in-vitro methods are being used in addition to animal experiments. In some areas scientists are still at the beginning; in others, as for example in AIDS research, in-vitro methods have hitherto had almost the only successes. The possibilities of the in-vitro system are innumerable. They include the study of pharmacological mechanisms, the evaluation of toxic risks, the genetic and teratogenic effects of chemical substances, the study of pathogenic mechanisms of viruses, the production of vaccines, its use in cancer therapy, the development of test models for immunological research and so forth.

This development shows that, under the pressure of public opinion, the abolition of animal experimentation is possible and, furthermore, that many experiments which were recently declared to be an unavoidable part of modern medicine have nonetheless been replaced in a matter of a few years. I am absolutely convinced that the abolition of animal experiments is possible, and in the foreseeable future will be achieved, because medical science itself will recognise that animal experimentation leads to a dead end.

Fourth myth: "Animal research is necessary because the important diseases are not yet curable"

The fact that the important illnesses cannot be cured, or even effectively influenced, by modern medicine shows how little animal experiments can contribute to the elimination of human diseases. Various severe disturbances, from cancer to all the possible chronic and degenerative changes, can without doubt be forcibly achieved in the animal model; but they have nothing in common with the diseases of man, which are caused by different multiple factors and., above all, by disturbances of the fine interplay between body and mind. As long as conventional medicine does not recognise that animal research is not only not necessary but, on the contrary, represents a complete block because of the totally different psychosomatic conditions involved, any real development in medicine is unlikely.

This is scandalous, since today's medicine could, right from the start, be in a position, due to its authority and influence, to prevent most of the apparently uneliminable illnesses of civilisation. After the decrease of infectious diseases in the industrialised countries, the present physical and psychosomatic diseases appear to be connected with factors which can, in principle, be influenced. These factors are smoking, alcohol, incorrect nutrition (with too much meat and fat), lack of exercise, stress and so on. In addition to these, there are factors which could be largely controlled by society, such as toxic substances in the air and water, and dangers due to radiation.

The logical consequences of the fact that most of the important illnesses are not curable cannot be a further extension of animal experimentation; it should rather be the investment of considerable' effort towards prevention, control and research into the causes of these illnesses. For example, three extensive studies in Germany with vegetarian and meat-eating control groups have demonstrated that healthier nutrition, without meat, considerably reduces cancer risk, decreases the probability of cardiovascular diseases and increases life expectancy.
Medical science is desperately looking for animal models for the diseases of modern civilisation. But why do we need models, when the causes of present-day illnesses are so obvious and, above all, could so easily be influenced by reasonable health policies?

Fifth myth: "Animal experiments are necessary in the struggle against new and threatening diseases"

This myth ignores two basic points. First, the origin of the typically new and threatening illness of AIDS is still not definitely clear, but it appears increasingly plausible that this disease originated in experimental laboratories. Sceptical scientists hypothesise, especially in the field of cancer research with retroviruses, a possible origin of the human pathogen HIV.
But another point is perhaps even more important: AIDS research is a classic example of modern research to which animal experimentation has made virtually no contribution. Relevant progress in AIDS research is not based on animal experiments but on knowledge of infectious diseases, on clinical observation of patients and on in-vitro studies using cell cultures.

Sixth myth: "Risks from new drugs, chemicals and vaccines can only be judged by animal experiments"

Many important drugs were found and applied to man before the era of excessive animal research - with adequate precautions, naturally. On the other hand, animal experiments have been carried out for decades in order to judge the risks of new chemicals and drugs, and for decades there have been numerous examples of animal experiments whose results have not proved sufficiently reliable. The many drugs which, in spite of excessive animal research, have led to severe damage and even death in man, and which have been withdrawn on the insistence of the drug administration authorities, are proof of this. Of course, after such a catastrophe it is maintained that inadequate or incorrect animal experiments were carried out. But it is essential that the drug-user should be protected beforehand, since scientists can only afterwards tell which are the so-called "correct" animal experiments. Scientists could test thalidomide (or contergan) on as many rats or mice as they wished; the teratogenic effect is observed, apart from in man, only in the Himalayan rabbit or in special baboons. One more example: about one third of all patients with diseases of the kidneys, and who have to be dialysed or who have to wait for a kidney transplant, have had their kidney functions destroyed by pain-killing substances considered safe on the grounds of animal research.
We must not forget that the final risk posed by chemicals and drugs is always taken by man himself; but, inasmuch as animal experiments give a false sense of security, man is led to an incautious use of new substances, and the risks increase thereby.

Seventh myth: "Animal experiments cause no damage to man"

Medical research and science based on animal experimentation play an essential role in the problem of today's medicine, in that it is in every respect undergoing one of the worst crises in its history.

We have medicine producing experimentally developed super-achievements but which is not affordable for most patients any more. We have drugs which can, in animal models, eliminate various intentionally produced defects; but most of these drugs cannot cure the patients - or they definitely harm them - because a chemically or operatively induced disturbance is quite different from a human disease, which may be induced by psychosomatic interactions and caused by multiple factors. Apart from this, an ill human being, in all his individuality and complexity, nearly always reacts quite differently from a healthy animal.

The absolute helplessness of today's medicine in face of the shocking cancer mortality rate; its continuing powerlessness in respect of cardiovascular diseases; its distressing failure in the area of chronic illnesses, from arthritis through allergies, asthma, auto-immune diseases, multiple sclerosis and up to diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and the nervous system - all this is no accidental event, nor is it a particular curse of fate. Here, the logical consequences of a one-sided orientation on a wrong-model system are apparent - a model system which has been developed and tested on the basis of animal experiments but which can have only minor importance for man.

It sounds paradoxical, but animal experiments stabilise today's illnesses, because the hope of finding drugs by animal testing destroys the motivation for self-initiative and for a basic change in our way of life. As long as we hold on to the hope of new drugs against cancer, cardiovascular diseases and so on, not only we ourselves, but also our health systems, are inadequately motivated to come to terms with the causes (such as smoking, alcohol, wrong nutrition and stress) of these illnesses.

Eighth myth: The animal does not suffer from experimentation"

The suffering of the research animal has already begun long before the experiment, as it has been bred, kept and transported under entirely abnormal conditions. There is no painless animal research! How should toxicological experiments, in which the animal is poisoned, sometimes more, sometimes less quickly, be carried out without pain and agony? Animal experiments in the area of toxicology, cancer research, surgery and radiation research amongst others, are not conceivable without considerable suffering on the part of the affected animals. Even today, animal research causes enormous suffering, which usually does not end till death.

Ninth myth: "Only experts are able to judge the necessity, significance and importance of animal experiments"

The view that the layman, because of his lack of specialist knowledge, cannot discuss animal experimentation explains why experimenters could for decades practise animal research relatively undisturbed. Even today, politicians, lawyers, theologians, philosophers, but above all the average population, have either no idea or a completely wrong one, of the suffering and agony which the animals undergo in the field of animal experimentation. But the barriers of silence have for the last few years been increasingly broken down by the mass media. Furthermore, essential changes have recently been accomplished. Groups for the prevention of cruelty to animals are more and more supported by experts critical of the system, and there are now national and international medical associations which reject animal research.

Tenth myth: "The abolition of animal experiments is not possible"

This myth, which is repeated again and again by the defenders of animal research, is one of the pillars of the conservation of the animal experimental system. The belief that animal research can at most be reduced to a "necessary extent" but never totally abolished, leads to fruitless discussions about the extent and degree of replaceable or dispensable animal experiments and detracts from the basic problems of the animal-research system.

The opportunity to abolish animal research is today greater than ever before. The movement against vivisection is increasingly becoming a part of the ecological movement, which is concerned with the terrible damage which man in his arrogance has caused. Critics of animal research, together with other ecological groups, strive against the unlimited exploitation of nature and understand our eco-system to be a very easily disturbed and in many ways inter-connected system.

It is of the highest significance that the motivation of the critics of animal experiments has changed. Whereas the animal itself, and the pitiless treatment of it, was earlier the focus of attention, critics of vivisection now underline the fact that man damages himself most of all by the heedless exploitation of animals. A medical system which is based on animal exploitation, with all its consequences, means that man is more and more removed from his declared and wished-for aim - namely, the comprehensive healing of body and soul.

Is the abolition of animal experimentation possible? I do not only believe it - I know it! Either man succeeds in creating a new consciousness of the multiple network existing within nature and then dispenses voluntarily with vivisection, gene technology and the use of nuclear technology (because of its enormous capacity for inflicting damage and danger), or nature abolishes man, together with his animal experiments. Mankind still has the choice! Man still has the possibility of stopping the unlimited exploitation of our planet, with all its living beings, and of abolishing vivisection in his own interest.

In conclusion: I am strongly convinced that animal experimentation is not only a cruel and thus unethical method, but it is also an unscientific method, which, in the interests of man and animals, must be abolished as quickly as possible and replaced by reasonable and humane methods.

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