Intended for healthcare professionals

News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

UK patients group hits back at anti-vivisectionists

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 23 February 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:444


The arguments made by Seriously Ill for Medical Research
(SIMR) in its new report, as detailed in your recent article
(‘UK patients group hits back at anti-vivisectionists’) is
no more credible than their other outpourings.

Let me say at the outset that anti-vivisectionists are also
subject to disease and the heartbreak that can often
accompany it; we do not come from a planet where people live
in good health forever. We, therefore, have a keen interest
in promoting sound research and opposing that which is
irrational and fails to deliver. The simple reality is that
medical therapies - whether they be new drugs, diagnostic
tools or surgical procedures - that depend on the experience
and data acquired from animal 'models' can not be reliably
used for people.

Just this week, a trial of an experimental vaccine for
Alzheimer's Disease has been halted after 12 volunteers
became seriously ill - the same vaccine that was variously
hailed in 1999, on the basis of mouse experiments, as
'exciting and encouraging' (Apples for Health. Vol.1. No. 6,
9 Jul '99)...'stunning' and 'wild and amazing' (Science
Newsonline Vol 156. No. 2 Jul '99).

Given the above, it comes a bit rich that SIMR should
accuse those on our side of the argument of 'manipulating
public opinion'. The public is routinely softened up by
powerful commercial interests and their allies into
imagining that medical miracles, supposedly based on mouse
and other animal studies, are now routinely on offer.

SIMR complains that some of the photographs our movement
uses are old. We would dearly love access to very many more
contemporary photographs. Every August, Animal Aid hands out
our ‘Mad Science Awards' for typically grotesque and
pointless research on animals. Three years ago, I wrote to
every one of the 12 winning research teams and asked them
for photographs that would accurately reflect their work
because, it was explained, we did not want to misrepresent
them. Only one replied - but failed to come up with a
single image.

Is it SIMR's case that monkeys, mice, rats, cats, dogs
etc are not subjected to extraordinarily painful toxicity,
carcinogenicity, neurological and other research procedures?
We routinely consult published scientific papers and find,
without the need to embellish, examples of animals having
their skulls drilled open and corrosive chemicals applied;
others injected with lethal toxins, pathogens, industrial
chemicals etc.

SIMR complains that groups such as Animal Aid, BUAV and
NAVS fail to finance non-animal research. That is not our
function. Our function is to educate and campaign and move
the argument forward. In fact, there is already a multitude
of anon-animal research methods available - the problem is
encouraging the scientific community to embrace them. Animal
Aid, for a decade, has worked diligently to detail and
promote the scientific and ethical merits of donated human
tissue for in vitro testing - as against the use of tissues
obtained from animals specially bred and killed for their
body parts. Around 400,000 animals meet this fate every

Meanwhile, SIMR posits the sum of £31.2 million - said to be
the collective income of BUAV, Animal Aid and NAVS. I have
no idea what the other two groups have received but readers
may have missed the point that this was said to have been
the three groups’ total income OVER TEN YEARS. It is also
the fact that the groups concerned depend entirely on
voluntary public support - we are all not-for-profit
organisations, without shareholders. We get no support from
the government (quite the opposite) and none from powerful
drug and biotech companies.

I would like to issue a formal challenge to SIMR to
declare any and all financial support it receives from
pharmaceutical or biotech companies or from any other
medical products company.

In protesting at South Cambridgeshire District Council's
decision to throw out a proposed primate research lab, SIMR
seeks to give the impression that the dispute is between the
mindless thuggery of animal rights campaigners and the
well-directed altruism of researchers keen to deliver cures
for diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and

The reality, as already indicated, is very different. As we
noted in our formal, thoroughly referenced objection to the
monkey lab, the fight against such human conditions is not
advanced by opening up the skulls of monkeys, chemically or
surgically mutilating them and pretending the result is the
equivalent of these specifically-human neurological
conditions. Not only is the disease-construct bogus, there
are important differences between non-human and human
primates relating to, for instance, the impact of viral and
other pathogens, and the manner in which drugs are absorbed
and excreted. What harms or helps a macaque might have
precisely the reverse effect in people.

There is a lot of money and intellectual prestige tied up
with such research - never mind its efficacy or safety.
Those who profit from it indulge in the worst kind of moral
blackmail (let us have our way or you'll get Alzheimer's and
cancer) to extract public and political support.

In short, experiments on animals are a betrayal of people
too, because they yield nothing of any use. Consequently,
when drugs do prove beneficial to patients (and a great many
declared as safe on the basis of animal tests end up maiming
and killing people) it is DESPITE the fact that they were
animal tested.

If SIMR supporters were to engage in a serious and objective
assessment of the use of animals in biomedical research,
they would see that their own interests lie in joining us on our side of the argument.

Competing interests: No competing interests

27 February 2002
Andrew Tyler
Director, Animal Aid
The Old Chapel, Bradford Street, Tonbridge, Kent TN9 1AW