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Vivisection (from Latin vivus, meaning "alive", and sectio, meaning "cutting") is defined as surgery conducted for experimental purposes on a living organism, typically animals with a central nervous system, to view living internal structure. The term is sometimes more broadly defined as any experimentation on live animals (see animal testing.)[1][2][3] The term is often used by organizations opposed to animal experimentation[4] but is rarely used by practicing scientists.[2][5] Human vivisection has been perpetrated as a form of torture.


Animal vivisection

Prior to vivisection for educational purposes, chloroform was administered as an anesthetic to this common sand frog.
An anesthetized pig used for training a surgeon

Research requiring vivisection techniques that cannot be met through other means is often subject to an external ethics review in conception and implementation, and in many jurisdictions, use of anesthesia is legally mandated for any surgery likely to cause pain to any vertebrate.[6]

In the U.S., the Animal Welfare Act explicitly requires that any procedure that may cause pain utilize “tranquilizers, analgesics, and anesthetics,”[7] with exceptions when “scientifically necessary.”[8] The act does not define “scientific necessity” or regulate specific scientific procedures;[9] instead, approval or rejection of individual techniques in each federally-funded lab is determined on a case-by-case basis by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, which contains at least one veterinarian, one scientist, one non-scientist, and one individual from outside the university.[10]

In the U.K., any experiment involving vivisection must be granted a license by the Home Secretary. The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 “expressly directs that, in determining whether to grant a licence for an experimental project, ‘the Secretary of State shall weigh the likely adverse effects on the animals concerned against the benefit likely to accrue.’”

In Australia, the Code of Practice “requires that all experiments must be approved by an Animal Experimentation Ethics Committee” that includes a “person with an interest in animal welfare who is not employed by the institution conducting the experiment, and an additional independent person not involved in animal experimentation.”[11]

Anti-vivisectionists have played roles in the emergence of the animal welfare and animal rights movements. Among their arguments is that it is immoral to inflict pain or injury to another living creature, for whatever purpose.[4]

Human vivisection

Unit 731, a biological and chemical warfare research and development unit of the Imperial Japanese Army, undertook lethal human experimentation during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945).[12] Prisoners of war were subjected to various forms of vivisection, in many cases without anesthesia.[13][14]

Nazi human experimentation involved medical experiments on live subjects, such as vivisections by Josef Mengele,[15] usually without anesthesia.[16]

See also


  1. ^ "Vivisection", Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2009: "Vivisection: operation on a living animal for experimental rather than healing purposes; more broadly, all experimentation on live animals."
  2. ^ a b Tansey, E.M. Review of Vivisection in Historical Perspective by Nicholaas A. Rupke, book reviews, National Center for Biotechnology Information, p. 226.
  3. ^ Croce, Pietro. Vivisection or Science? An Investigation into Testing Drugs and Safeguarding Health. Zed Books, 1999, and "About Us", British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection.
  4. ^ a b Yarri, Donna. The Ethics of Animal Experimentation: A Critical Analysis and Constructive Christian Proposal, Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 163.
  5. ^ Paixao, RL; Schramm, FR. Ethics and animal experimentation: what is debated? Cad. Saúde Pública, Rio de Janeiro, 2007
  6. ^ National Academy of Sciences Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals
  7. ^ 7 U.S.C. § 2145(a)(3)(c)(ii)
  8. ^ 7 U.S.C. § 2145(a)(3)(c)(v)
  9. ^
  10. ^ [ The Official IACUC Page]
  11. ^ Singer, Peter. Animal Liberation. Avon: New York, 1990, p. 77
  12. ^ Christopher Hudson (2 March 2007). "Doctors of Depravity". Daily Mail. 
  13. ^ Richard Lloyd Parry (February 25, 2007). "Dissect them alive: order not to be disobeyed". Times Online. 
  14. ^ "Unmasking Horror" Nicholas D. Kristof (March 17, 1995) New York Times. A special report.; Japan Confronting Gruesome War Atrocity
  15. ^ Brozan, Nadine. Out of Death, a Zest for Life. New York Times, November 15, 1982
  16. ^ "Dr. Josef Mengele, ruthless Nazi concentration camp doctor — The Crime Library on". Retrieved March 1, 2010. 

Further reading