Human Exceptionalism

Don’t Learn Wrong Lesson About Animal Testing

There is an awful story here in the UK about 6 human subjects who were catastrophically injured during a test of a new drug being developed to treat leukemia. One may be in a coma for up to a year.

Many questions have been raised about whether the experimenters followed necessary safety protocols, and etc.. There have also been conflicting reports in the media here about whether there were adverse affects noted in some animals during that stage of the research, with the company firmly claiming that to the contrary, there were no red flags raised. It will take time to sort that out, but we do know that the human trials went forward resulting in a tragedy reminiscent of a gene therapy experiment out of the University of Pennsylvania that went terribly wrong a few years ago in which one young man died.

This story from the Times warns that animal models are not precise predictors of how humans will react to drugs. This is true, of course. But we shouldn’t learn the wrong lesson. I have no doubt that animal liberationists will declare that the case (assuming that animals did not react adversely to the drugs) proves animal testing to be useless for the development of human medicines–an oft made charge. In fact, the reverse is true. Adverse animal testing have often warned of dangers before use was tried in humans, thereby saving lives. Indeed, in the U of P case, monkeys had died from the experimental therapy, but the medical experiment in humans proceeded anyway and the human subject was not warned before agreeing to submit to the experiment. This led to a lawsuit and confidential settlement in which, no doubt, much money changed hands. (Confidential settlements of this sort deprive the public of much needed transparency. See Ralph Nader’s and my book, No Contest: Corporate Lawyers and the Perversion of Justice in America.)

Animal testing is not the be all and end all of medical research, but it remains a crucial component–which is why it is legally mandated in law and was made an essential part of the Nuremberg Code.

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