Animal testing: not just about emotions

by: in General

Scientific research involving animal testing at Maastricht University caused a lot of commotion last week. A group of animal rights activists mobilized, according to their own sources, more than 100.000 people to sign a petition to halt experiments involving dogs in particular. Emotions got so heated that a rational discussion about the pros and cons of animal testing became completely impossible. At a time when science needs a rational discussion regarding this topic. Why? 

Sincerity and responsibility
Because researchers who carry out experiments involving animals at Maastricht University and other knowledge institutions do this with sincerity and responsibility. They are aware of the necessity to look for alternatives for animal experiments and actively contribute to this process. This is also the case for the group in Maastricht, that is conducting research on animals using a multi-method approach.

For years researchers have been working on improving healthcare, including the care needed for people with heart disease. In this light I’d like to point out that virtually all medications that we use in medicine today could only have been developed by means of animal testing, medications that save thousands of lives every day. As a university we uphold this necessity while at the same time we try to refine and reduce animal testing and look for alternatives. Nevertheless, science remains dependent on animal testing when it comes to finding adequate and responsible solutions to certain medical issues. How bitter this may sound: in reducing the suffering of a large group of people worldwide we find justification for the inevitable suffering of a smaller group of animals.

Meaningful discussion
That is why we stick by our researchers. We are convinced that the independent commission that investigates the need for each individual animal experiment has done its job following every letter of the law. Then why has the board, together with the researchers involved, decided to hold off on these authorized experiments? Are we wimps, afraid of conflict, are we simply throwing in the towel, as suggested in a recent comment by the Limburger? No, on the contrary.

Our university has spent the last years opening up and committing itself more to society, for example in the context of the so-called ‘Kennis-As’ strategy aimed at enforcing the social-economic structure of our region. Following that openness, and being an important regional employer that takes responsibility, we felt it was necessary to pause. Not only to listen to the many concerns, but also to investigate how we can contribute to a meaningful discussion with society. This discussion needs to be about the necessity of animal testing, our goals and our contribution to the health and well-being of that same society. Our decision is not one of weakness, but one of strength.

The discussion is necessary, because we cannot shape our course solely based on the demands of activists with a pronounced view on the matter. We feel it is important to include the advice of external experts as well, and take into account the feelings of the many people that have approached us thus far. But we also want to express our confidence in the necessity and quality of the work of our researchers, who perform their tasks with great passion and expertise in order to serve the well-being and health of the people of Limburg and far beyond.