We know there is no way to get meat, dairy or eggs without harm. But what about medicine? As you know, medicine has to be tested on animals by law before going through clinical trials.
Can we find anything called vegan medicine or cruelty-free medicine yet? Is it crystal clear compared to dairy & meat industry for a vegan to make a decision?
The subject matter can be puzzling for vegans, to begin with, but due to the severe impact it can have on our lives, it really makes sense to have a discussion and be prepared, so that we can equip ourselves to make informed decisions under unforeseen circumstances.
We believe this discussion, our common sense and our ability to see the bigger picture of our efforts towards animal rights would help us deal with such situations and lead a fulfilling vegan life.
A Bit of History on Animal Testing—What Triggered Animal Testing?
When we look at history, there had been many gloomy eras with life-threatening diseases. Polio, anthrax, malaria, and influenza outbreaks have caused illness, disability, or death to millions of people.
The outbreaks owing to the bacteria Yersinia pestis caused the Plague of Justinian, the Black Death, and the Modern Plague, which accounted for 50-200 million deaths worldwide primarily in Europe, Middle East, North Africa, China, and India  .
Until the 20th century, it was not uncommon to lose a child due to disease. Many children were lost every year due to smallpox, polio, diphtheria, rubella, whooping-cough, tetanus, measles, and mumps .
One of the major discoveries came from a renowned German physician and scientist Robert Koch when he first found out the bacterium that caused the anthrax disease in 1875 as a result of tests made on animals .
His work was a revolution in medical research and one of the first demonstrations that proved diseases could be caused by microorganisms (germs) in an era where people generally believed, diseases were a result of a curse or some evil force.
Due to such immunization with the development of vaccines as a result of animal-based medical research, it has been declared that smallpox is eradicated since 1977, polio has ceased to exist in the Western World, and illnesses due to whooping-cough, tetanus, and mumps are rare in developed countries .
Efforts & Establishment of Animal Welfare for Animal Testing
Animal Testing Regulations in USA
The Animal Welfare Act was passed by the Congress in 1966 which regulated animal research . The 1985 amendment was an impactful improvement to the act, which established the Animal Welfare Information Center in order to provide alternatives for painful animal experiments.
According to the Animal Welfare Act and the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, scientific justification has to be established by means of argument for a procedure to be carried out on an animal.
The Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) is responsible for ensuring that all alternatives are considered which include non-animal alternatives, that any experimentation is not needlessly duplicative, and pain relief is given unless it would interfere with the study.
Worldwide Practice of The Three R’s
These 3R’s are now implemented in many research facilities worldwide including in the United States and the European Union.
The 3R’s are :
- Replacement which refers to the preferred non-animal methods instead of animal methods wherever it’s possible. These alternatives include vitro models like tissue and cell culture, or computer modeling when possible.
- Reduction which refers to obtaining equivalent information by using few animals, or obtaining more information with the same number of animals.
- Refinement refers to the practice that alleviates or minimizes potential pain and looking to enhance animal welfare.
What about Animal Ingredients in Medicine?
According to one medical journal, nearly three out of four common medicines include animal-based ingredients such as tablets, capsules, injections, creams, mixtures, and vaccines.
According to another study, 74 out of 100 common drugs in the UK had lactose, gelatin, or magnesium stearate which are derived from cows, pigs, and fish .
Few Animal Ingredients Commonly Found in Medicine:
- Magnesium stearate
- Stearic acid
- Arachidonic acid
If you’re interested in knowing a list of medicine (including painkillers) that appear to be free from animal ingredients please refer to this link >> https://www.vegansociety.com/resources/nutrition-and-health/medications/list-animal-free-medications
For any further details, you can check the leaflet that comes with medicine, do some online research (product website) or contact the medicine manufacturer.
Some Viewpoints From the Medical Fraternity:
- Opting out of the research condemns our patients (both humans and animals) to suffer and die of diseases. Stopping the research would be, as Darwin correctly judged, a crime against humanity. The work is driven by an honest attempt at advancing knowledge and alleviating suffering and disease in the world.
- Animal testing has contributed to some of the most important medicines in human history. To list a few: vaccines (ex. anthrax, chicken pox, cholera, diphtheria, measles, mumps, polio, rabies, rubella, smallpox, tetanus, whooping cough, yellow fever), insulin, penicillin, chemotherapy. Pacemakers and artificial organs (heart, hip, knees, etc.) also owe to animal testing.
- Animal research has also paid incalculable benefits to animals, resulting in many remarkable life-saving and life-extending treatments. Pacemakers, artificial joints, organ transplants, and freedom from arthritic pain are just a few of the breakthroughs made in veterinary medicine thanks to animal research.
Best Way to Move Forward?
There is no denial, it is required by law that medicine should be tested on animals and some medicine contain animal ingredients as well, though every single pill or capsule prescribed may not have ingredients derived from animals.
Let’s see how the definition of veganism can assist us in this case, which was defined by The Vegan Society:
“Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”
Notice that the definition clearly says “as far as is possible and practicable”
A question we can ask ourselves is, “is avoiding medicine practical?”
Well, we believe it’s not and that should be the pragmatic side of veganism. We just have to face the realities and understand that it’s not an ideal world we are living in.
Going vegan is never about being perfect, rather doing our best and we should never let perfection be a hindrance to do our best, which in this case the best we can for the animals.
Another way to oblige as vegans is by being healthy and reduce our demand for medication as much as possible. Taking medicine should be kept as a last resort while doing our best to be healthy.
Here are Few Points to Consider in Improving Your Health:
- Eat a variety of whole foods like vegetables, greens, fruits, nuts & seeds
- Drink enough water (filtered or boiled)
- Keep processed foods and alcohol consumption at a moderate level
- Add exercising/physical activity (primarily cardio activity) to your routine
- Keep your sleeping cycles steady and make sure to have 7-8 hours of sleep
- If stress levels are high, manage it by taking rests and revitalizing yourself!
- If living in a country exposed to diseases by mosquitoes consider using a bed net. (dengue, malaria, Zika, etc.)
- Be keen on keeping yourself hygienic
- Smoking is highly discouraged!
- Occasionally consider having a general health checkup and a vegan specific blood test
As vegans, we should also be thankful for not being exposed to all the diseases and other health issues associated with meat & dairy consumption such as:
- Antibiotic resistance
- Hormones fed to animals which may increase risks of cancer and other health issues
- Fish is known to contain mercury which may cause brain damage
- Salmonella: this could leave room for typhoid fever, paratyphoid fever, and food poisoning
- Nipah virus
- Menangle virus
- The germ E.coli can cause diarrhea, damage to the small intestines, abdominal cramps, dehydration, and kidney failure
- Hepatitis E virus (HEV)
Further, vegans generally have a reduced risk of heart disease, strokes, various cancers (including colorectal cancer), type 2 diabetes, etc.
Finally, Let’s Try and See The Bigger Picture
- Once a medicine has passed all the rigorous clinical trials it may no longer require testing on animals.
- As you know many medicines contain numerous ingredients that are derived from animals which could be difficult to identify due to the practicality & technicality involved. Even if one identifies such ingredients with a lot of time & effort, there may not be other alternatives for such medicines.
- Think of a life-threatening scenario where someone requires immediate medication e.g. severe injuries caused by accidents, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, war, etc. In such cases, you may not be conscious or have enough energy, and time to check whether the medication is free of animal ingredients.
- We also should be sensible and far-sighted to understand the ripple effect of an event that can be caused by rejecting medicine and may result in adverse consequences. Any negative media headlines related to such incidents can convey a false picture about veganism. This could be even worse if such an incident involves an infant. As a result, some may view a vegan lifestyle as a dangerous lifestyle choice (we all know that is NOT the case), and it can leave room for speculation and condemnation of the vegan lifestyle. Ultimately, the opportunity to save more animals can be hindered.
- On the other hand, if a vegan takes medicine, get cured, and continues to promote animal rights and the vegan lifestyle that can make a lot of difference. Even if he/she helps one person to go vegan, that person would then be saving many more animals making a great impact!
- If veganism is about avoiding medicine as well, then the lifestyle can be perceived as something extremely difficult to follow. It can also pose a lot of difficulties to promote as well. Avoiding medicine should never appear as a roadblock to go vegan.
- Imagine the situation of a vegan who is disabled or suffering from a permanent illness. Though they may continue with a vegan diet it could be difficult to survive unless the prescribed medication is taken. It can only be disheartening to imply or make such vegans feel guilty. We clearly know the intentions of such vegans and should be supportive and a tower of strength. In fact, they deserve a lot of praise!
No doubt that mankind has an irreversible debt towards our fellow animals for the sacrifices they’ve made for the health & survival of humans and other animals. The best we can do for them is to:
- Continue with a healthy vegan diet and stay healthy as much as possible, minimizing our demand for medicine
- Support all the advancements in alternative medical research which avoid animal testing
- Continue to spread the vegan message to save more animals
- Should always remember to pay our due respects to those animals who underwent pain, suffering or even sacrificed their lives for us and other species for the discoveries of medication
- Last but not least, we can always be vigilant to report any animal testing that doesn’t follow the established regulations for animal welfare
- You may use below channels to report such abuse:
- The Animal Welfare Institute (recommended first step for USA) >> https://awionline.org/content/report-concern
- Humane Society International >> http://www.hsi.org/about/
- The Humane Society of the United States >> http://www.humanesociety.org/
- Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA – England) >> https://www.rspca.org.uk/utilities/contactus/reportcruelty
- Respective local police department / local law enforcement agency
- You may use below channels to report such abuse:
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