Intended for healthcare professionals

Book Book

Vivisection or science? An Investigation into Testing Drugs and Safeguarding Health

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 13 January 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:115
  1. Rhona MacDonald
  1. BMJ

    Pietro Croce

    Zed Books, £14.95, pp 209 ISBN 1 85649 733 X

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    Animal rights activists have made the headlines several times already this year. However, if you think that antivivisectionists are just fanatical arsonists, weird hippies, or old ladies who feed stray cats, then think again. In this disturbing and thought provoking book Professor Pietro Croce, an Italian scientist who used to experiment on animals himself, explains why he now believes this is unethical. Surprisingly, this view is not based on his love of animals but rather his “concern for the health of other human beings.”

    His main argument is that using animals as an experimental model for humans is methodologically flawed and unscientific and has led to many people being harmed or even killed. He gives many examples of this, including the case of thalidomide. This drug was first prescribed to pregnant women in 1957 and marketed as a harmless tranquilliser. In 1961, after “repeated and rigorous animal experiments,” British Distillers distributed the drug around the world, resulting in the birth of thousands of children with phocomelia. Croce argues that catastrophes like this are inevitable given the biological differences between animals and humans, and supports this with some fascinating examples. For instance, sweet almonds, the basic ingredient of marzipan, are poisonous to dogs, foxes, and turkeys; chloroform is toxic to cats and rabbits; and isoprenaline is tolerated by cats in doses 175 times greater than considered safe for humans.

    Croce also says that experimenting on animals is a slippery slope to experimenting on humans. This may sound far fetched, but Croce gives many examples to bolster his concerns. Hepatitis B vaccine, for example, was first “tested” by Dr Krugman on institutionalised children without their consent. Krugman had started off experimenting on animals.

    So what is the alternative? Croce explains in great detail how epidemiological methods, computer simulation, and in vitro studies can be effectively used instead of animal experiments. In fact he takes great exception to these methods being called “alternative” and instead calls them “scientific.”

    Although Croce doesn't mince his words, this is a balanced and thoroughly researched book. It also has a long history. It was first published in Italian in 1981 and was translated into English in 1991. This is an updated edition of what is generally regarded as “the Bible of antivivisection.”

    If you want to read a book that challenges everything you think you know about science and research, then this is the one for you. It certainly changed my view.

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