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Vivisection in medical science: a methodological error”

Prof Dr Pietro Croce
Speech delivered at the International Scientific Congress, London, April 1991

A congress is a meeting of people sharing some ideas in common. Therefore, one could consider superfluous a speech aiming to persuade an audience which is already persuaded. However, does that mean that one should keep silent? “In silence, everything decays,” said Saint Catherine of Siena six centuries ago. So, I am glad to have come to London to share with you some ideas and some strategies, designed to strengthen our movement against vivisection.

Our movement, which calls for an unconditional and total ban on experimentation on living animals, is being joined by an increasing number of doctors, veterinarians, biologists, scientists and medical technicians. This encouraging situation suggests that the moment has come to do some planning for the future.

First of all, a minor but not irrelevant problem is that of unifying our terminology. Since our movement produces scientific arguments against vivisection, I suggest for it the name “Scientific Antivivisectionism”.

A second problem, an awkward one indeed, concerns our relations with some other movements, mainly those called “animal rightists”. We often recognise in them a tendency to accept, and even support, the politics of “the three Rs” – Reduce, Refine, Replace. That means, in short, accepting experimentation on animals as useful or even necessary – an approach which we reject resolutely. However, this is no reason for declaring a sort of “Gulf War” against these friends of ours.

The proposal of “the three Rs” comes from people who are sincerely convinced that their politics is in favour of the animals. To look at the matter optimistically, we shall gradually progress to reducing and replacing that same gulf that separates our different approaches to the problem, and we shall persuade our friends that we are animated by the same respect towards animals that they claim to have.

Much easier and less embarrassing are our relations with the vivisectionists. In their case we recognise them without ambiguity as our declared opponents. Accordingly, I am fully convinced that we should avoid facing them directly, as in Round Table conferences or organised debates, especially in the presence of an audience of non-doctors, for the following reasons:

1. Vivisectionists usually use a strictly technical jargon in discussion, in order to make things as obscure as possible. Our constant aim, on the contrary, is to make ourselves clearly understood by lay people, especially by the young.
2. Vivisectionists stick obstinately to technical details. An obvious example of this occurred very recently, on 28 February, in Belgium.

It was at a Round Table conference organised by the Ministry of Social Affairs. The four invited vivisectionists spoke for 3 hours and 40 minutes, which meant 55 minutes to each speaker. Evidently they were trying to make the audience collapse by starvation and drowsiness! They projected hundreds of slides, unintelligible drawings, mysterious statistical curves and endless series of numbers. And they obtained what they actually wanted – to skirt around the basic question, which, put very simply, is: “Are we justified in considering animals as experimental models of man?”
Millions of animal exp
eriments are performed every year. It is therefore no wonder if, once in a while, a few of them coincide with occurrences which are subsequently observed in man. The coincidence phenomenon is fairly common in nature. Besides, one should not think that a wrong conceptual scheme always provides wrong results. We have a striking example of this in the history of human thought – the Ptolemaic system.

For over two thousand years, thanks to Ptolemaic cosmography, solar and lunar eclipses were predicted with astonishing accuracy, and every day sailors had reason to be grateful to the Ptolemaic maps for reaching port. Indeed, over the course of two thousand years the work of the greatest philosophers, mathematicians and theologians had made the Ptolemaic system into a perfect sphere of human thought, in which every single tessera of the mosaic fitted perfectly into place. Nevertheless, the whole system was wrong, and in fact the entire system was discarded, without any attempt to spare those details which had proved to be right or of use. Similarly, the whole method of experimenting on living creatures, having been shown to be fallacious, must be discarded. We must also be aware of the fact that we are not dealing with the occasional dilemma of “experimenting or not experimenting on animals”, but that we are striving for a new concept of life, for a new cultural approach to the existential problems of humanity.

We should not accept provocations such as those often used by our opponents when they say, for instance: “You should admit that, at least in the past, animal experimentation has produced some useful results.”

No, sir! A science which uses an erroneous method is erroneous at any time, in the past just as in the present. As a matter of fact, a large part of modern allopathic medicine is erroneous, as lay people are discovering more and more, every day, and to their cost.

Our opponents object: “But science has always advanced by trial and error.” Right, but the error should not be systematic, and it should not be encouraged by a system of medicine which is turning into an industry, interested only in “promoting” itself according to the consumerist principle of “Let us create illnesses so that we can cure them, and then cure the illness caused by the cure used to cure the original illness . . . etc, etc.”

Scientism is a degeneration of science, a religious attitude which has transformed science into dogma, intolerance and idolatry. In medicine, scientism promises a mechanistic solution to all the problems of illness: “A pill for each disease.” The main consequences of this are twofold:

1. The Medicalisation of Society
A predictable result is the medicalisation of society, with easily quantifiable economic consequences. Indeed, the recourse to medicine has reached neurotic peaks, even threatening to exhaust the entire national income.

2. The Industrialisation of Medicine
The second negative consequence of scientism is the industrialisation of medicine. The desire for health has been turned into the need for health – that is, “need” as defined by industrialised society, which creates “needs” much beyond individual and collective necessities, in order to add indefinitely to the two economic pillars of industry: demand and production. Such a self-promoting mechanism is unacceptable in medicine, where improving demand means promoting existing diseases or creating new ones. Indeed, 60 per cent of all today’s known diseases are of iatrogenic origin, whilst only three or four decades ago the term “iatrogenic disease” meant “a disease caused by the incompetence or carelessness of doctors”. That was considered disgraceful, however rare its occurrence, and nobody could ever suspect that one day it could turn into a normally accepted component of medical praxis.

From Animal to Man
Since no animal species is an experimental model of any other animal species, in order to investigate some functions and possible problems of human health, recourse to the only reliable model of man – that is, man himself – is unavoidable. This statement is not an extravagant proposal for the future, but the recognition of an already-existing and well-established praxis; experimentation on man has been carried out for centuries. And it is performed principally on the unprotected: prisoners, children, mature foetuses, the aged, the handicapped, the starving populations of the Third World. Therefore, the point is to establish, not whether experimentation on man is legitimate, but by which methods and within what limits we are justified in performing it.

One of the major problems is that of testing the efficacy or the possible toxicity of pharmaceutical drugs. For the latter, clinical experimentation – that is, experimentation on man – is requested by law. In a recent meeting in Rome, I proposed some rules aimed at the strictest protection of the subject under experimentation. I summarise these as follows:

1. All experimentation should afford a reasonable probability of helping the subject of it, regardless of any possible extension of the benefit to the community.
2. The subject should give his/her written consent.
3. The subject should be carefully informed about the aims, dangers and possible advantages of the experiment.
4. Immediate interruption of the experiment at the request of the subject should be granted.
5. All experimentation on healthy volunteers should be excluded.
6. Absolute certainty that no other therapeutic or diagnostic methods are available should be guaranteed.
7. As long as the medical research is contaminated by the methodological error of experimentation on animals, the researcher should disregard all data arising from it.

An analysis of the points summarised in the preceding paragraphs should be evidence that we, the antivivisectionists, perceive clinical experimentation in a perspective that safeguards the individual far more than some official recommendations, such as those of Helsinki (1964) and Tokyo (1975). These lay stress on the overall objectives of clinical experimentation, implying that “a collective benefit is worth the sacrifice of one or even of a few”, a justification which is the residue of the religio-sacrificial system of thought which has burdened humanity since the beginning of time and which ranges from propitiatory immolation on the altar to the condemning to the stake of witches and heretics – sufferings that today, just as in the past, are inflicted on Man “for the betterment of suffering humanity”.

During my speech, the word that has occurred most frequently is “experimentation”: experimentation on animals, experimentation on man – experimentation on diseased humans, experimentation on healthy volunteers.

Well, at the end of my speech I want to pose to you, to the entire audience, a provocative question: “Do you really think that medicine is essentially an experimental science?” If not, then what is medicine?

Medicine is, essentially, a science of observation, in which experimentation is only a minor part of the medical investigation. But the worst of it is that this minor part has been contaminated by a gross error – that of having taken animals as models for humans.
Medicine is, I repeat, a science of observation; and, what is more, medicine is a devotion to the respect for life.
Thank you.

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