Even if the anguish of the animal rights activists, who vandalised the Milan University’s pharmacology laboratory, is understandable, their destructive behaviour cannot be supported. They may have experienced the childish pleasure of being naughty when releasing the mice and rabbits, tearing research papers and mixing up the labels to confuse the researchers. But what they did not seem to realise is that it wasn’t such puerile conduct which led to the framing of laws against cruelty to animals during experiments to test new drugs or to find out how living beings function, but sustained campaigning to draw a moral line against causing suffering to the animals.
Few will disagree about the need for research to eradicate some of the existing aliments like polio and tuberculosis, and find a cure for seemingly intractable afflictions like cancer. That such research has borne fruit is evident from the increase in the longevity of humans in recent years. But, there is also little doubt that those working in the laboratories have to follow strict guidelines which preclude inflicting avoidable pain to the hapless creatures living in captivity.
There are over 5,000 laboratories in India using animals for scientific research. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, makes it obligatory for them to register with a Committee for the Purpose of Controlling and Supervising Experiments on Animals. Yet, only about 2,000 labs are registered. The focus has to be also on reducing the number of animals and using improved techniques of experiments. It has also been suggested that suffering of the animals can be reduced by using less invasive methods and providing better medical care and living conditions. Considering that an estimated 100 million vertebrates are subjected to experiments every year, the need for merciful treatment is undeniable.