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Has animal research helped ordinary people?

How has animal research helped ordinary people?
Oxford University claim:

Life expectancy in this country has increased, on average, by almost 3 months for every year of the past century. Within the living memory of many people diseases such as polio, tuberculosis, leukaemia and diphtheria killed or crippled thousands every year. But now, doctors are able to prevent or treat many more diseases or carry out life-saving operations – all thanks to research which at some stage involved animals.

Each year, millions of people in the UK benefit from treatments that have been developed and tested on animals. As the Department of Health put it: ‘Research on animals has contributed to almost every medical advance of the last century. The NHS would not be able to function effectively were it not for the availability of medicines and treatments that have been developed or validated through research using animals. The public health – in its widest sense – is the ultimate beneficiary of medical research using animals.’

SPEAK’s response:

Life expectancy has increased overall in the UK for a number of reasons, not least of which is the socio-economic climate, better diet, and higher standards of hygiene and increased awareness, as well as the provision of a free National health service. Longevity and public health cannot be solely attributable to a single factor – and certainly not to animal experiments as Oxford University’s answer suggests. There is quite simply no prima facie evidence to substantiate this.

According to NHS statistics, 12 million people were admitted to UK hospitals last year. And according to the British Medical Journal (July 2004), 5% of those hospital admissions were as a result of an adverse drug reaction (ADR), of which 18,000 resulted in death. This figure is more than five times the number of people killed in road traffic accidents.

All of these drugs had been safety tested on animals. The fact that drug safety testing relies so heavily on animal experiments means that there is something wrong with our current testing methods. At best, animal tests will reveal between 5% and 25% of human side effects (however these side effects can only be identified in retrospect).

Many of the deaths from adverse drug reactions are associated with liver failure. In fact, according to the New England Journal of Medicine (2003), liver failure is the most common reason for a drug to be withdrawn from the market. Liver failure also has the poorest correlation with animal toxicity studies (i.e. It doesn’t show up in animal experiments).