Animals in Laboratories

Animals are kept in laboratories for a wide variety of experimental purposes (vivisection), for testing drugs and medical procedures, for testing any product with which people come into contact (household cleaners, cosmetics, toiletries, paints, etc), for testing military weapons, gases and simulated field conditions, and just for research. Many national and international legislations require animal testing before granting permits and licences, and it is in the interests of producers to continue this process (thus disclaiming responsibility for failures). What is sure and certain is that it is not in the animals’ interests – and while many suffer extreme pain and premature death, all undergo unnatural living conditions before being used for tests.

There is a wealth of published research that demonstrates that, particularly in the pharmaceutical use of animals, the human health benefits are outweighed by the problems associated with testing on other species. What is toxic to one species may be innocuous to another, as in the case of thalidomide, aspirin, and many other drugs.

While the Catechism accepts a modified form of the situation that exists (‘within limits’), there have been Catholic voices, notably British ones, that have spoken out against the practice. Saint John Henry Newman, in his 1842 Good Friday sermon, preached movingly about cruelties exercised on animals, including the use of live animals in experiments, known as ‘vivisection’, concluding that:

“There is something so very dreadful, so satanic in tormenting those who have never harmed us, and who cannot defend themselves, who are utterly in our power, who have weapons neither of offence nor defence, that none but very hardened persons can endure the thought of it.”

In 1875, Cardinal Edward Manning of Westminster and others were so horrified at the practice that they formed the Victoria Street Society which, from 1897, has been known as the National Anti-Vivisection Society. As Vice-President, he made frequent speeches against the ‘detestable practice’ which he considers ‘immoral in itself’, including the following:

“This I do protest, that there is not a religious instinct in nature, nor a religion of nature, nor is there a word in revelation, either in the Old Testament or the New Testament, nor is there to be found in the great theology which I do represent, nor in any Act of the Church of which I am a member; nor in the lives and utterances of any one of those great servants of that Church who stand as examples, nor is there an authorita­tive utterance anywhere to be found in favour of vivisection.”

There are agencies and institutions which do not use animals and seek viable alternatives. Catholic academic and research institutions should join this trend and call for an end of all animal experiments, an immediate one especially for those which are unnecessarily repeated.

As the Church is rightly cautious about the growth of bio-engineering, it would further safeguard the human person by upholding the integrity of creation in relation to the genetic engineering, modification or cloning of any animal. Changes to the genetic constitution of any creature, other than occur naturally or by natural processes, trespass against the divine law and intention for that creature.

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