New Zealand can’t seem to take enough steps backward from their Psychoactive Substances Act. The law was passed last year in an attempt to gain control of new psychoactive substances (NPS). Prior to the Act, NPS would be legal until the government chased it into illegitimacy. By tweaking the molecular structures of the drugs, the producers were always one step ahead. Under New Zealand’s new legislation, manufacturers have to provide evidence that the drug they sell causes minimal harm.
The decision to ban animal testing for recreational drugs means that manufacturers cannot pass the safety requirements in New Zealand, but must go to other countries for their testing.
Enter the age old animal testing debate.
The ethics scientists follow are that animals should only be used if there is a distinct benefit to individuals or society. They follow principles that aim to reduce their impact, such as taking into account well-being, reducing stress and using alternative methods where possible.
The drugs in question are for recreational use. Is this a distinct benefit to individuals or society? It’s hardly searching for a cure for cancer, is it? Should we put innocent animals through potential suffering because we are a species that likes to get high? At the top of the chain, we have a responsibility to protect those in our care.
The banning wouldn’t have taken place if the only animals tested were rats, but the Health Department recommended testing on at least two species. Why are rats so different from rabbits? The National Health and Medical Research Council in Australia believe that justification lies with differences in the experience of pain and distress, but there are other values to consider, such as intelligence and self-consciousness. Animals shouldn’t be put through undue suffering, but it is hard to know where the line is when an animal cannot tell us if they are in pain, and their experiences differ so greatly from ours. There is much we do not know, but how do we find out without doing research?
The questions these investigations try to answer are far larger than the animal itself; what we know about the world is affected enormously by research. For instance, Terry Wheeler, a museum director and entomologist, recently wrote about the crucial role museum collections provide in animal study. Without killing an animal and studying it, how can conservation strategies be launched, new species discovered, climate change tracked or pathogens studied?
There is no viable alternative to animal testing. Safer drugs cannot be developed without it. Unless people stop taking drugs, the alternative is that NPS will be tested on users.
The whole point in the Act was to reduce the harm caused by NPS. By taking control and regulating the market, drugs were taken out of the hands of criminals and placed in heavily monitored areas. But now New Zealand are refusing to let that happen in their own country, and instead allowing it to happen ‘elsewhere’, thus washing their hands of any control of it.
The ancient battle between harming the innocent and a necessary evil rages for good reason, but though we grapple with the immorality that animals should suffer for our consumption, I guess it’s them or us.