EXPERIMENTING on animals in the name of research is, understandably, a hugely contentious moral issue.
Those opposed condemn it as nothing more than cruelty. Their case is considerably supported by instances where animals have been used to test cosmetics or cigarettes.
Opponents of animal research – such as the campaign group Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) – use graphic images of experiments to support its argument that it is an unnecessary practice. Just last week the National Anti-Vivisection Society (Navs) launched a campaign against Air France, the last remaining passenger airline to transport monkeys destined to be experimented upon.
That mainstream campaign, supported by TV wildlife presenter Chris Packham, revealed a widespread unease over vivisection.
But while Navs may use peaceful means to get across its message, more extreme elements in the animal rights movement have turned to violence, attacking scientists and firebombing research centres.
Despite the vocal opposition to experiments on animals, there is no doubt that it has delivered benefits. The use of animals in research and development has helped create drugs which prolong human life. We may feel uneasy about what happens in laboratories but the results can make that justifiable. It is difficult to argue for an outright ban on experimentation when we see the positive impact of advances in drug technology. Illnesses which might once have been fatal are now manageable or even curable thanks to research which, in many cases, involved the use of animals.
Britain is often thought of as a nation of animal lovers but, given that we already breed millions for slaughter each year for food, there may be something of a double standard in condemning all experiments.
It is precisely because of the ethical dilemma over the use of animals that we welcome work currently being carried out at Glasgow University, where scientists are developing new methods to use stem calls to examine serious injuries and illnesses, such as cancer.
In one new study, researchers are using stem-cell techniques to create new ways of testing leukaemia drugs. Previously, this important work would have involved the use of laboratory mice.
Where once human leukaemia cells would have been transplanted into animals before testing could begin, scientists can now use stem cells – in endless supply – to study the efficacy of the drugs they’re developing.
In a separate study into damage to the central nervous system, cells cultivated in the laboratory have been used to work on treatments. This research is assisting scientists seeking treatments for spinal injuries and a cure for devastating multiple sclerosis. And, again, it reduces the need for animals to be used in the process.
The work being carried out at Glasgow University will not remove completely the need to use animals in medical research but the numbers of animals being used will be greatly reduced thanks to the work of these pioneering Scottish scientists.
The increase of the use of stem cells in medical research is not just to be welcomed because it reduces the need for animal test subject. Even those who fully support vivisection concede that animals do not perfectly replicate humans in their responses.
By using stem cells scientists can more accurately gauge the effect a treatment will have on a person. There are those for whom a single experiment on a single animal is an experiment too many. But as long as studies are carried out as humanely as possible the arguments for outweigh those against. But the move to increase stem cell research should be supported
Putin’s bear necessities are the target
SOME two months after Russian forces entered Ukraine, president Vladimir Putin appears to remain unconcerned by the threat of consequences for his nation’s actions.
Governments may have condemned Russian intervention in the former Soviet state, but Putin is unmoved.
Talks between Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the EU in Geneva earlier this month were said to have ended with an agreement which would mean steps taken to “de-escalate” the crisis. Clearly, this has not happened. Instead, Russia continues to deny allegations that it is leading a secessionist revolt in east Ukraine. But the accusation that Putin supports armed pro-Russian Ukrainians remains credible.
The G7 group of international leaders has agreed to press ahead with further sanctions on Russia after accusing it of flouting the Geneva accord. This is welcome news. These are those who might dismiss the threat of sanctions as ineffective. But with the option of military action ruled out, sanctions are all that other nations have at their disposal as they try to calm a crisis that has seen a number of deaths.
Sanctions already in place have had some impact. Putin’s popularity is grounded in soaring prosperity among Russians. The stand-off over Ukraine threatens that. Already, there has been heavy capital flight from Russia, leading to a cut in the country’s credit rating and necessitating an interest rate rise by the central bank to reverse a drop in the value of the rouble.
The political truth “it’s the economy, stupid” applies in Russia, just as it does elsewhere. Putin’s mood might well remain (or appear to remain) bullish, but a further negative impact on the Russian economy may well change the president’s mind.
Putin’s claim that he is not behind the current instability might ring more true if he were to condemn violent pro-Russian militants who have occupied Ukrainian public buildings. As he continues to refuse to do so, his protestations of innocence seem ever more hollow.
The prospect of an escalation of armed conflict in Ukraine is horrifying. The best chance of this not happening is for Russia to stand down. G7 leaders must ensure the new round of sanctions bites and bites hard.