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Since the introduction of the scientific method in the 17th century, experimentation has been scientists’ key to proving otherwise unconvincing claims. Our inquisitiveness and curiosity has been the driving forces behind our urge to prove hypothesizes, leading some to go all out in their adventurous ventures – as we have seen in Frankenstein (recall, if you may, the animals that were jolted alive with injection of electricity charges… and the hideous monster that was the product of Frankenstein’s fervor in experimentation)Animal experimentation
Just take a cursory glance at your first aid kit or your array of cosmetics on your dressing table. Every bottle of pills, tube of face cream, palette of eye shadows and lipsticks has its birth at the laboratory, through a process of trial and error before it could be proven safe for human use. Tens of millions or mice, and even primates have been used in medical research and product testing. While there is growing consensus that it is not acceptable to test cosmetic products on animals, the debate on whether scientific and purely medicinal investigations justify animal experimentation.
The morality of using animals in experiments can be looked at from many points of view. The key ethical question to ask is whether it is right for us to treat non-human animals purely as a means to a greater end by assuming reduction in human suffering and death to be of first priority. If we follow Rene Descartes’ argument that animals are not capable of experiencing pain because pain is felt by the soul and animals have no souls, then animal experimentation would have been perfectly justifiable. But the truth is we know very little about animal consciousness, just as we have limited access to our human counterparts’ minds. What do we know about what goes on inside animals’ heads? Do they have feelings, thoughts and beliefs? Are they capable of reasoning? Can they suffer or feel pain as we humans do? So long as these questions hang unanswered, the quandary unraveled.
However, these ethical debates do little to stop animal experimentation – simply because past experience has shown what invaluable advances can be made in medicine by experimenting on animals, and that live animals are the most reliable subjects for testing medicines. In many countries (e.g. the UK and US), all prescription drugs must be tested on animals before they are released into the market. To ban animal experiments would be synonymous with banning medical advancements, paralyzing modern medicine and perpetuating human suffering.
Therefore regardless of the heatedness of this decades old moral debate, animal experimentation is here to stay. Or so it seems.Human Experimentation
Because of the negative connotations it bears, ‘human experimentation’ has more recently been euphemized under the guise of ‘clinical trials’. Medical experimentation first began with animals, but it quickly became clear that human experimentation would open many new doors to achieving higher accuracy and precision in results. After all, the closest a non-human animal can get in terms of genetic similarity is 99% (chimpanzees) – the remaining 1% has the potential to make a whole lot of difference, adversely affecting what is deemed most important in science and experiments – precision and accuracy of results.
Everything is done under the broad banner of scientific knowledge, and while all experiments on humans have to be conducted under “voluntary and informed consent” on the patient’s part, there exist many gray areas to deal with. For example, there exist cases that prove “informed consent” virtually improbable, as with the case of handicapped, captive populations (children in a boarding school or institution, adults in prisons), and prisoners of war.
As we shall wee, it is these gray areas that eventually lead to indiscriminate human experimentations that have gone too far.Gone too far
Human experiments in the Nazi regime
From about July 1942 to about September 1943, experiments to investigate the effectiveness of sulfonamide, a synthetic antimicrobial agent, were conducted at Ravensbrück. Wounds inflicted on the subjects were infected with bacteria such as Streptococcus, gas gangrene, and tetanus. Circulation of blood was interrupted by tying off blood vessels at both ends of the wound to create a condition similar to that of a battlefield wound. Infection was aggravated by forcing wood shavings and ground glass into the wound, and treated with sulfonamide and other drugs to determine their effectiveness
The grimaces that the phrase ‘human experimentation’ brings to faces are not unjustified. Atrocities of human experimentations are uncountable throughout history, but they more often culminate in times of war, where human rights had been blatantly brushed aside. World War II saw a slew of gross human experiments that goes to show human perverseness in its extreme – from the medical experimentation on unprecedented number of people by the German Nazi regime to the lethal human experimentations undertaken by Japanese Army Unit 731.
A covert biological and chemical warfare research and development unit of the Imperial Japanese Army, Unit 731 committed numerous atrocities beyond imagination: vivisection of living people (including pregnant women who were impregnated by the doctors), prisoners had limbs amputated and reattached to other parts of their body, some prisoners had parts of their bodies frozen and thawed to study the resulting untreated gangrene. Humans were also used as living test cases for grenades and flamethrowers. Prisoners were injected with strains of diseases, disguised as vaccinations, to study their effects. To study the effects of untreated venereal diseases, male and female prisoners were deliberately infected with syphilis and gonorrhea via rape, then studied.
We must be cautious not to violate the integrity of humanity or of animal life over which we have a stewardship responsibility
Cheshire, member of Christian Medical and Dental Associations.
Notorious experiments with prisoners were also reported, smudging US’s human rights records. Experiments included high-risk cancer treatments, the application of strong skin creams, new cosmetics, dioxin and high doses of LSD. Many incidents were discovered upon further investigation only after prisoners filed lawsuits against doctors, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies.
Last but not least, the cross-experimentation between humans and animals is also considered to be extremely immoral. Scientists believe that more humanlike animals make for better research subjects for drugs testing or even organs harvesting ( collecting organs for transplant into human bodies). Just as how the line between humans and robots can be easily blurred (H or R part 3), when we inject human cells into animals, the resulting chimeras (hybrids between humans and animals) could pose a potential moral dilemma to the human condition. Many instances of such already exists in the world today. Chinese scientists at the Shanghai Second Medical University in 2003 successfully fused human cells with rabbit eggs while researchers at the Mayo Clinic created pigs with human blood flowing through their bodies in 2004. Seeing as how animal experimentation is already considered immoral, wouldn’t experimentation on hybrids that could possibly develop human emotions or intelligence constitute an absolute depravation of our moral integrity? Scientists justify themselves by stating that these studies would lead to huge medical breakthroughs and the law does not prohibit such experimentation. Hence, the only question that remains is, “how far would they go?”
Well, hopefully before this happens, in any case.
Indeed, the length at which humans are willing to go for the sake of science is unfathomable. These mistakes – committed only so recently in our history – are reminders of how we are capable of denigrating humanity’s very existence as sovereign individuals, and how important it is to draw a line between justified human experimentations and going too far in the name of Science.
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