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Memhet Oz, the celebrity doctor and Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, is facing accusations that he played a role in the mistreatment of animals following a report that experiments he oversaw led to the deaths of hundreds of animals, including dogs.
According to an analysis of Oz’s published research conducted by Jezebel, Oz was listed as the “principle investigator” on dozens of experiments conducted at Columbia University over the course of two decades involving more than 1,000 live animal subjects. In 2004, the university was fined $2,000 by the United States Department of Agriculture after an internal investigation into its animal research practices, including in experiments conducted by Oz.
A spokeswoman for the Oz campaign told CNN that the allegations are “totally false and preposterous,” adding that Oz was not present for or aware of any mistreatment of animals while experiments were taking place. Those denials didn’t stop his Democratic opponent, John Fetterman, from tweeting “Dr. Oz kills puppies.”
The allegations against Oz have brought renewed attention to the long-standing fight over the use of animals in scientific research, a debate that is as old as science itself. Every year, millions of animals are used to test everything from pharmaceutical treatments to chemical safety trials to behavioral medicine. The vast majority of these animals are rodents such as rats and mice. But researchers also conduct studies using a variety of species, including dogs, monkeys and rabbits.
Animal testing has been critical in some of the most important scientific breakthroughs in modern medicine, including the discovery of insulin as a treatment for diabetes, the development of penicillin and creation of the first polio vaccine. But the practice has become increasingly controversial in recent decades thanks in part to the emergence of the animal rights movement. Polling suggests that the U.S. public is evenly divided over the efficacy of animal research, with just half of those asked saying they favor it, according to a Pew survey conducted in 2018.
Why there’s debate
The most vocal critics of animal testing argue that it’s plainly immoral for humans to deliberately cause any harm to animals, regardless of the potential breakthroughs it might produce. But there’s also significant opposition among experts with less hard-line views, who make the case that science can advance without imposing so much suffering and death upon animals.
One of that second group’s main arguments is that animals are so different from us that most experiments fail once they enter human trials. Others say that modern scientific developments, including complex computer modeling, 3D printing and lab-grown human tissues, mean animals are no longer needed for most experiments and are likely to lead to less accurate findings than these alternatives.
Most scientists involved in animal testing say they wish the practice wasn’t necessary, but that it still provides critical research that can’t be done in any other way. Some argue that extreme examples of cruelty often cited by critics don’t represent what most animal testing looks like — either because those studies violate the strict ethical guidelines most researchers adhere to or because they are simply illegal.
The movement to scale back animal testing has had some recent successes in Washington. Most recently, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill that would eliminate a federal mandate requiring all experimental drugs to be tested on animals. The legislation, which still needs to be approved by the House, would allow drugmakers to rely on non-animal testing methods for the first time since 1938.
Animal research is far from perfect, but its scientific benefits are undeniable
“Negative public perception of animal research can be partly explained by animal-rights groups who forward the message — sometimes quite aggressively — that all animal use should be stopped. While these groups often have valid concerns regarding the lack of information about lived experiences of these animals, it does not change how animal research has played an essential role in improving the health of humans and animals alike.” — Michael W. Brunt, Conversation
We’re long overdue for a moral revolution when it comes to how science treats animals
“Despite a painful ‘science first’ history fraught with injustices such as racism, sexism and ableism, human research has become more ethical. … The time is long overdue for a similar aspirational framework for animals. The practice of research involving animals must come to terms with centuries of scientific findings that lay bare the capacities and experiences of nonhuman beings.” — Hope Ferdowsian, Scientific American
If true alternatives were available, no scientists would choose to experiment on animals
“Researchers, scientists, people in drug development, they’re not stupid. If you can show a better way to do it, bring it on because I promise you people will be beating your door down.” — Tony Yaksh, a professor of anesthesiology and pharmacology at University of California, San Diego, to KPBS
Findings from animal-based studies rarely translate to humans
“The case for animal testing is that it’s the only option. How else can we test potentially dangerous treatment if not on animals? That argument ignores the fact that the information derived from these studies is often so unreliable as to be unusable. Humans are not dogs, mice or pigs and our bodies don’t react to treatment the same.” — Drew Sheneman, NJ.com
There are some things you cannot test without using animals
“At this time, we have no way to delve into the deep biological underpinnings of how the brain drives reasoning, emotion and organizes behavior without studying animals, especially other primates. … We will happily abandon animal research when tissue cultures, computer models and organs on chips are capable of manifesting pain, false beliefs or depression. I am longing for that day.” — Katalin Gothard, physician and neuroscientist, to Washington Post
New technology has made animal tests obsolete
“Scientists have developed effective methods that can allow for rapid drug discovery. … This allows them to predict accurately how a drug would perform in a human subject, rendering animal testing obsolete.” — Elise Amez-Droz, Wall Street Journal
New technology may soon make animal testing obsolete, but we’re not there yet
“The solution to the quandary of animal experimentation may come from scientific and technological breakthroughs such as sophisticated computer modeling, tissue engineering and other human biology-based methods. … I look forward to the day we stop using sentient beings in laboratory experiments. We must find ways of improving the health of human beings without harming or killing other living creatures.” — Robin Abcarian, Los Angeles Times
Animal testing can hinder science just as much as it advances it
“Defenders of animal testing often argue that while it may be imperfect, it is our only option for advancing human medicine. This view neglects how differences in the bodies of species can lead to misleading information — which can be worse than no information.” — Brian Kateman, NBC News (referencing the study "The Flaws and Human Harms of Animal Experimentation")
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