Vivisection is the dissection of living animals for scientific research and is sometimes more broadly used to describe all types of animal research. The dissection of living animals to learn more about how the body functions datesback to ancient times. Galen (ca 130-ca 200 A.D.) conducted numerous animal experiments (principally using the Barbary ape) to investigateanimal physiology. For example, he would cut nerves to determine which nerveswere associated with paralysis in different parts of the body. In the seventeenth century, William Harvey (1578-1657) conducted famous animal experimentsthat demonstrated how the blood circulates through the body. Despite the many advances made in medicine through vivisection, many people oppose animal experimentation. As a result, an ethical debate over animal experimentation hasbeen ongoing for more than 200 years.
As the science of medicine grew so did the use of vivisection. In the mid-nineteenth century, Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) isolated the microbe that causes anthrax and then developed a vaccine against the deadly disease through his studies on rabbits and guinea pigs. Following in the footsteps of Pasteur, manyother scientists began experimenting with animals to develop vaccines and antibiotics. This vein of research continues today in the study of diseases such as AIDS, malaria, and other infectious diseases. Vivisection has also beenof vital importance in many other areas, including advances in open-heart surgery, treatments for kidney failure, and the development of drugs and transplantation. Keen insights and life-saving advances in medicine gained through vivisection have propelled animal experimentation to the forefront of modern scientific research.
In addition to medical experiments, vivisection has been used in other typesof research, such as testing cosmetics and household cleaning products. Manyof these experiments focus on a substance's toxicity, such as how it may irritate the eyes. However, growing sentiments against this type of "non-necessary" research has led most industries to abandon animal testing. But medical vivisection remains a hotly debated issue. On the one hand, proponents say thathelping cure diseases justify vivisection. However, animal rights' activists(or anti-vivisectionists) do not believe animals should be harmed to help humans. Many also question the validity of scientific results based on animal experimentation, pointing out that animals' bodies and physiology often differgreatly from human beings. They add that alternatives can and should be developed for vivisection. These alternatives include more test-tube (in vitro),clinical, and epidemiological studies and greater use of mod odern medical technology such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, which provide detailed images of the body and its inner workings.
In 1966, the United States passed the Animal Welfare Act, which sets standards for housing, handling, feeding, and transportation of experimental animals.However, the act places no restrictions on the types of experiments that canbe performed.
Vivisection remains a prominent component of medical research today. Researchers and others point to past advances in medicine made through the use of vivisection and say that many more disease that cause wide-spread suffering among humans may be cured through animal research. For example, recent animal research has indicated that nerve regeneration is possible, which could lead totreatments and cures for spinal cord injuries that cause paralysis.
The English writer Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) reflected the anti-vivisectionist's belief succinctly in 1758 when he wrote: "And if the knowledge of physiology has been somewhat increased, he surely buys knowledge dear...at the expense of his humanity." The pro-vivisectionists counter that many future advances in healing diseases and healing the body can not be achieved without animal experimentation. The ethical debate over vivisection is unlikely to abate in near the future.