Animal testing is one of those sticky subjects that should never be brought up at dinner parties - unless you really like watching your guests squirm or devolve into rage-induced table flipping monsters. Some wholeheartedly support all animal testing as life saving progress, others wholeheartedly denounce it as cruel and barbaric. Still more are wildly uncomfortable with the practice itself but are forced to acknowledge that if it wasn't for (some) animal testing, many of the people we love would not be alive today making for one heck of a moral quandary.
On the other hand, many dogs, cats, rats and other sentient creatures have suffered tremendously and died because of animal experimentation (sometimes for trivial reasons) when there may be better scientific alternatives
. Most modern laboratories and institutions establish an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee
to ensure that all animal testing is done responsibly and with a minimum number of animals used to gather good scientific data.
The media, however, favor the Black and White Morality
, so don't expect to see too many shades of grey (it's worth mentioning that they do exist however - see the third group of examples).
The actual term can cover a number of things, which raise different dilemmas...and different levels of controversy. Behavioral experiments, like that of rats in mazes or Pavlov's dog
don't tend to raise too many hackles unless physical or psychological trauma is involved (i.e. raising a baby animal in total isolation to see how its development is affected). Cutting animals open while still alive (vivisection) usually turns up in Free the Frogs
plots and sci-fi/horror films, usually involving a degree of moral dilemma. Medical testing (using animals to test new drugs and procedures in order to benefit human patients) is probably the most contested minefield, with both staunch supporters and equally determined detractors. Cosmetic testing (using animals to test lipstick, shampoo, mascara etc.) rarely turns up in the media, unless the scientist is a villain in an animal-centric show. If it does show up, it is almost always exaggerated and even sometimes Played for Laughs
, especially since using animals for cosmetics testing is falling out of favor—cultured human cell lines are turning out to be much more useful and better for PR.
The portrayal of animal testing in fiction strongly depends on a number of factors: Humans Are the Real Monsters
vs. Humans Are Special
, Science Is Good vs. Science Is Bad
, and the show's place in the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism
Shows that are pro-animal testing, usually because of an adult/pragmatic/scientific slant to the story, will feature hard-working and crusading scientists on the search for a cure for cancer, hampered by the Animal Wrongs Group
. Usually turns up in crime shows, science fiction and occasionally drama.
- You will see: The Littlest Cancer Patient, desperate for the laboratory to come up with a miracle cure; those who owe their lives to the research in the lab; familes of seriously ill patients; affable scientists dedicated to preserving human life; the Animal Wrongs Group, possibly the scientists looking after the animals and a few rats pottering around their cages in some fairly benign experiments.
- You will probably NOT see: the gorier of the procedures; dead animals; cosmetic testing; very much of the animal subjects themselves (unless the scene is set up to show the scientist caring for them), far less their viewpoint; cats, dogs and other cute animals that are kept as pets or that people tend to have an affinity for; an animal rights person with any semblance of sanity.
Children's shows, or those with a heavy handed
animal rights/welfare message to get across, use a different tactic.
Some children's shows use scientists as insane or even as the Big Bad
to show how evil animal testing is. The scientists will be either totally unconcerned about the animals' welfare or actively revel
in tormenting their test subjects. However, those aimed at a more "grown-up" audience realise that this isn't exactly credible. Instead, they will show the world of vivisection through the animals' eyes - they don't know what's going on, they don't think "oh well, at least the humans will get some good out of this" - all they know is that they're in pain.
- You will see: Horrific procedures aplenty; far too many electrodes; cute animals suffering; the viewpoint of the animals themselves; demented scientists with no redeeming features/faceless scientists with no features at all, animals dead or disfigured due to the testing, and often one horrified human who can't believe that this is going on.
- You will probably NOT see: the people whose lives have been saved via medical research; their families; the actual point of the procedures themselves; the ordinary lives of the scientists; the animals being looked after in any way; proposals for a viable alternative (some tried less acceptable ones).
It's pretty obvious that even in fiction, there are no easy answers. For a start, whichever side of the debate that the show/book/comic falls in, it will probably caricature the other side - either scientists are evil animal killers who will do anything For Science!
, or anyone who has anything to do with animal rights is a misinformed and fanatical vigilante. It would be extremely unusual for a scientist and an animal rights person to sit down and have a civil conversation about their differing points of view (for a start, it makes for pretty bad drama
Back in reality, this is a very, very
complicated subject. No matter what your stance on it is, be prepared for someone to disagree with you. Whichever side of the debate you fall on, though, the squeamish and nightmare-prone should probably avoid the examples...
See also Animal Wrongs Group
and Science Is Bad
for in-universe negative connotations towards this.
Pro-Animal Testing Examples:
- I Am Legend with Will Smith featured large scale animal testing on rats. The experiments are for the sake of humanity, so it's good. The fact that they were infected vampiric rats probably helps justify his work, too.
- Not to mention the experiments Neville performs on the dark seekers, whom he doesn't see as humans. At first.
- Temple Grandin's books, which promote humane practices in livestock handling, point out that tests of animal behavior are often the only way to make life better for animals, by determining what causes them distress so it can be avoided. Does take the animals' point of view, as Grandin warns that we can't just assume that an animal will be content with the same conditions we'd find comfortable.
- Urn Burial by Robert Westall uses this. The Jerkass dog-aliens cheerfully conduct lethal tests on humans, perceiving them to be a "lesser species"; but are outraged at the idea that humans would use dogs in animal testing. Ralph, the human protagonist, is equally outraged at their treatment of people.
- Many police procedurals/whodunnits will feature a respectable lab at the mercy of a crazy Animal Wrongs Group. Strangely enough, they never seem to be the ones who actually commit the murder, although they're usually portrayed as fanatical enough to kill a scientist. There are some aversions, however - the Dalziel and Pascoe episode "Project Aphrodite" apparently concluded that EVERYONE involved in the debate was nuts.
- Documentaries...well sort of. No matter how much they try to present a balanced argument, most end up on the "Animal Rights people are nuts/ Science is Good" side of the argument through the use of interview and commentary.
- Trauma Center: New Blood. Marcus inadvertently unleashed Stigma via vivisection, but vivisection itself seem to be largely considered something that medical researchers just have to do - the ends justify the means (he talks about "disposing of the subject", not "killing the rat.") Some room for disagreement here, of course.
- In The Critic episode "Dr. Jay", Jay tests his cure for Duke's terminal illness on rodents. Most of the animals at the kennel he acquires them from are being used to test cosmetics — but as models; Jay finds himself attracted to one sultry-looking bunny and his son Marty leads him away ("Dad, you need to start dating...").
Anti-Animal Testing Examples:
- We3 is pretty unambiguously anti animal testing, and the covers implicitly support the "family pets stolen and sold to testing labs" allegations alluded to below.
- The Plague Dogs seems to oppose animal testing in crushingly depressing, gory, Bergman-esque watercolor animation. Just in case any kiddies are watching this film because of Watership Down, you have a Shout-Out: in the first 5 minutes the dogs walk through a room full of immobilized rabbit heads in the dark. Apparently the author stated that he wasn't looking to make the message against vivisection, but a story about the brutality of modern society and humanity in general. Whether or not it supports anything, one of the dogs does comment about the testing, that "It must do some good..." The book is much different and that example is under the "ambiguous" sections.
- The Legally Blonde sequel Red, White, and Blonde centers around an attempt to ban cosmetics testing on animals.
- Ferngully doesn't just pack in enviromental issues - it shoves in the anti-animal-testing ones too, with the brutally-treated Batty Koda entering the "Batty Rap" which actually had some of the gorier imagery cut from it. Examples used in the song were mostly cosmetic, but the plot-affecting device was the radio antennae implanted in his head which sent him insane.
- Stray, a book by A.N. Wilson. Pufftail is captured and sent to a laboratory, used to test shampoo. That's unpleasant enough, but his record of a cat screaming "My eyes! I cannot close my eyes!" because his eyelids had been cut off to test the effects of sleeplessness was horrifying.
- On that note... quite a few animal care books will warn you against thieves who kidnap pets in order to sell them to laboratories. Given that even people who support animal testing in principle would baulk at the idea of that happening to Tiddles or Fido... Paranoia Fuel, anyone? It is difficult to get a fix on the reality of this situation - pet care manuals and sites, and certainly the Animal Rights supporters, will definitely warn you against it; scientific sources will maintain it's an urban myth. What is true is that animal shelters in certain US states are obliged to hand over animals to any "Class B" dealer (selling to laboratories) who asks for them.
- Happens sometimes in the present, and happened often in the past, but not entirely realistic—the vast majority of lab animals are bred in the labs, so that their genetics and upbringing are fully known. Using animals with unknown histories is a great way to mess up your research.
- Although Reginald Hill's Dalziel and Pascoe novel The Wood Beyond mocks some animal-rights protesters, it comes out against testing.
- Most of the Maximum Ride series has the various evil science labs perform horrible experiments on animals, including, among other things, giving a cat human fingers under its claws. This tends to be kind of overshadowed though, since those labs perform equally disgusting experiments on human children, usually kidnapped.
- In A Night in the Lonesome October, Snuff the dog is captured and nearly cut apart by some Victorian-era anatomists. As it's a period piece, the hellish conditions faced by him and other animal specimens aren't necessarily something the reader is meant to condemn in the present day, so much as something to be very glad isn't common scientific practice anymore.
- The Plague Dogs has a lot of this.
- William Kotzwinkle's novel Doctor Rat comes off as decidedly anti-experimentation, describing in gruesome detail a variety of procedures, many of them done For the Evulz. The eponymous character, a lab rat, is wholly in favor of animal testing - but he's described as having been driven insane by the experiments to which he's been subjected and is viewed as a traitor by the other denizens of the lab.
- Felidae had a number of horrific experiments detailed in a researcher's journal. Said researcher, Dr. Pretarius, was attempting to create a sort of "glue" for injuries, using cats as test subjects. It's pretty gruesome (and involves questionable methodology), as the glue eats away at flesh and bone rather than binding wounds together, but there's no real malice from the scientists initially. The glue only works on a single cat named Claudandus, possibly due to a minor mutation. As the project hits more dead ends, money begins running out, and his assistants leave him, Pretarius goes mad and starts cutting Claudandus apart and gluing him back together in every way he can imagine, just for kicks. He's eventually killed by the very same cat, who then goes on to try and wipe out humanity.
- This is the cause of the aporkalypse (no misspelling) in Tuskers from Ragnarok Publications. Science creates super-intelligent boar who menace a small Arizona town!
- Another cosmetics-testing example, back when it was making headlines: a Bloom County story arc had Opus thinking his mother was one of these for Mary Kay cosmetics. He ends up caught between the Mary Kay commandos and a terrorist animal-freedom group in a shootout.
- Garfield: His 9 Lives had a story called 'The Experiment', in which the cat protagonist (supposedly an earlier life of Garfield) was given an injection that eventually turned him into a dog.
- Oddworld. In Munch's oddysee, test creatures (called "fuzzles") are experimented on by evil scientists ("Vykkers"), who are one of your antagonists.
- The Fire Emblem Tellius games have Izuka's experiments turning laguz into rabid warriors, though made worse (and blurring the line of this trope) by the fact that laguz are a race of people who can transform into animals.
- Cave Story has The Doctor who has similarities to Izuka above.
- Felidae, based on the book of the same name. Dear Lord. Like the murders weren't horrible fuel enough. Francis comes across a tape of a perfectly healthy cat, shown meowing and struggling, being bolted to a table and having its head cut open to test a new "glue" for wounds. Said glue eats through its skull into its brain while it is conscious as the scientist impartially narrates and observes its dying twitches. Enough to give anyone nightmares (and check that your own pets are where you left them). As if that wasn't enough, most of the cats in Francis' neighborhood are mangled by the lab's experiments - Felicity is blinded, Bluebeard has a withered paw, and Claudandus goes insane.
- The Secret of NIMH: The animation in the laboratory, and the effects of the concoction given to the rats and mice, are pretty nightmarish.
- Weirdly enough, everything good about the rats is owed to these experiments.
- The anti-animal testing episode of Captain Planet and the Planeteers saw Dr. Blight testing cosmetics on animals For the Evulz.
Anime and Manga
- Pet Shop of Horrors throws a huge surprise the readers' way when it turns out that Count D - who would seem to be the first person that would start lecturing a scientist - is actually fairly laid back on the animal testing issue. When Chris expresses dismay that a monkey has to die in order to give a dictator a new heart, T-chan and D merely remind him of the law of the jungle - something has to die so that something else can live. When the donor monkey is kidnapped, D takes no steps to save it. At the end of the story the monkey is used as a heart donor, but instead of going to the dictator, it goes to a cute little girl - the daughter of the man who stole the monkey.. While a generally upbeat ending, the writer includes Dramatic Irony that makes it quite painful when the little girl waves bye-bye to "Mister Monkey", telling him to come play with her again.
- There's then the subplot, which involves D's "long-lost sister" being sent to visit him by her father...with the explicit purpose of him taking whatever organs or body parts he needs for an unspecified illness he's suffering from. When D refuses to accept that offer, she promptly attacks him, furious that her big brother doesn't "need" her as she was always told. It turns out that the "sister" was actually an orangutan and D ultimately does use its blood as a cure, after his pets are forced to kill it.
- Another Akino manga, Genju No Seiza, features a plotline where the animals killed via animal testing start possessing living animals in the area. Again, it's technically ambiguous - Fuuto can hear the animals' torment as they die, frightened and in agony...but can also sense the lead doctor's desire/desperation to save people who otherwise face a slow death. The doctor pulls the "well, you eat meat, don't you?" card, stopping Fuuto in his tracks as he berates the doctor. However, the doctor appears to be operating illegally (using an Abandoned Hospital), and his gene splicing results in an unnatural hell-beast that cannot be calmed by any of the Guardian Beasts, and which ultimately attacks Fuuto. Coupled with the test subjects' desperate cries for help that are repeated throughout the chapter...Genju comes out slightly more on the animals' side than Petshop.
- When the Wind Blows takes this stance, surprisingly. While it's revealed that the School has performed rather gruesome experiments on the lab mice, Frannie does take care to note that as a vet, she has benefited from discoveries made by animal testing and could argue both sides of the issue. The main thing that angers her is that the lab mice were left with no food, ultimately all starving to death.
- 28 Days Later, in the very beginning. The Animal Wrongs Group aren't treated as anything other than wrong for setting the Zombie Apocalypse upon the world. Then again, it also wouldn't have been an issue if the scientists hadn't been making zombie chimps in the first place.
- "Zombie chimps" weren't the scientists' main objective, but it was still ironic the end result in trying to neutralize violent impulses.
- In 90s teen movie Drive Me Crazy, the tension between the main character and his ex girlfriend centers around this. She is against animal testing and wants to attend a protest, and he declines. She becomes angry and breaks up with him, but it turns out that he declined because his mother died of cancer and might have been saved through advances in animal testing.
- In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the scientist uses the results of his research to help his dementia-addled father, but the drug company he works for is really only in it for the money to start off with, and Cesear's heightened intelligence does little more than alienate him from both apes and humans until he infects the other apes with the virus.
- The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams is a difficult enough case to judge. The overall stance is definitely pro-animal; horrendous experiments which are not related to the plot or protagonists (including a monkey in a sensory deprivation chamber, immobile rabbits blinded by hairspray, guinea pigs with their limbs and ears rotted off through application of tar, etc.) are described in great detail and with a chillingly bland tone. When the main scientist is asked what the traumatic experiments endured by the main canine characters were for, he defers and cites legislation which means that the experiments do not by law have to be for anything. However, a few scenes, including one of the scientists becoming overcome with guilt, and a scene where he comforts his Littlest Cancer Patient daughter by describing some of the medical advances achieved through animal testing, prevent the book from taking a definite side. The movie is far less ambiguous.
- The Douglas Preston/ Lincoln Child novel Mount Dragon shows experiments gone wrong, too. In this case it's a rampant case of flu which they created while trying to find a cure. The chimp-experiments had previously been discussed in pro and contra though and also been shown in some kind of detail.
- Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH - the book that The Secret Of NIMH above is based on - is more neutral. It's still the rats' point of view, but the experiment is depicted more like a real one would be, even citing—of all things for a kids' book featuring cute critters—a control group.
- The Time Traveler's Wife featured a geneticist experimenting on mice to make them time travel in order to figure out a cure, but there isn't much said or implied one way or the other about the morality of doing so.
- Animorphs had The Experiment, part of which involved the group morphing chimps and sneaking into a lab. There were some anti-testing complaints in the book, but also acceptance by even Cassie of testing being needed for things like diseases.
- Man vs Beast is ambiguous in this. On the one hand, the scientists are using animals for testing, in various ways and for several reasons. On the other hand, the animal rights group that oppose do things like attacking a mother, and her teenage son who tries to defend her, napalming a courier company, and kidnapping a celebrity with the intention of torturing him live on the internet.
- Ratbert from Dilbert started out as a test subject. The scientist he works for is a bit odd, but did have to be careful, since Ratbert was his only test subject. Ratbert eventually left him, before the comic moved to its more business setting.
- The Last of Us shows that the Fireflies were performing tests at one point on the cordyceps with monkeys. Since the cordyceps only affects humans, not animals, though, the monkeys themselves are no worse for the wear afterward. The protagonists find them wandering around the abandoned labs, but don't comment on the testing one way or the other.
- In Portal and Portal2 animal testing is mentioned a little bit and is implied to happen at the end of the multiplier campaign in the sequel. The only stance on animal testing that game takes, however, is that it is less fun and scientifically productive than human testing.
- Pinky and the Brain are themselves a product of testing and research, and act with levels of freedom ranging from 'escaping every night' to 'practically running the labs'. Animal Testing here is more of the back story; it can become a rare plot device, an artifact of the backstory, or what they're doing in the story itself. They also end up encountering an Animal Wrongs Group and vainly try to tell them that they're genuine lab mice—as in not able to survive in the wilderness.
- Notably, at least one of the animals to have had their intelligence increased (a cat) expresses bitterness at having her old life taken away. Pinky, the Brain and Snowball, however, seem fine with it.
- Professor Farnsworth of Futurama is not above the using occasional animal test subject. In one episode, he creates a hat that turns a monkey into a super-genius, which of course causes the monkey to be miserable until the hat is damaged, leaving him with just average human intelligence.
- In a much later episode, the Professor defends his use of monkeys as test subjects for a body-switching machine with "Science cannot move forward without heaps [of dead monkeys]!"
- One episode had Leela suffering from an incurable genetic disorder and finding herself inside Mom's genetics laboratory. She is appalled at the experiments she witnesses, and even after Mom points out the benefits of genetics testing she still rails against it. But the moment she's told she can be cured by genetic modification, Leela is suddenly all for it.
- Lisa in The Simpsons is for animal rights. One episode involved her and Homer being framed for releasing a bunch of experimental animals by a private investigator, which included pigs slathered with makeup and monkeys addicted to cigarettes.
- But I'm a Cat Person combines this with What Measure Is a Non-Human?. Experiments on the sapient, shapechanging Beings (sometimes appearing in animal form, sometimes human) are not regulated at all. Characters have different views on whether this is more or less justifiable than animal testing.