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Anaesthetised rat in a stereotaxic restraining device about to undergo brain surgery.
Etymologically, vivisection refers to the dissection or, more generally, any cutting or surgery upon a living animal, typically for the purpose of physiological or pathological scientific investigation.

Some dictionaries and encyclopaedias use the term "vivisection" to refer to any kind of harmful animal experiment, whether it entails surgery or not. "Vivisection" has thus become an emotive term (Croce 1991). It is claimed that animal rights advocates attempt to use the word "vivisection" to recast the terms of the discourse on animal research to favor their position. The term has been applied broadly to any type of experimentation in which animals (including humans) are injured, with or without cutting or surgery (see animal testing for information on other forms of animal experimentation). Supporters of animal research and testing respond that animal experimentation does not require the invasive procedures suggested by the word "vivisection".


Historical overview

Comparatively recent (mainly since the 19th century) controversy regarding vivisection has centred around moral questions of whether the benefits of animal experimentation outweigh the suffering inflicted. Those advocating a strict animal rights view, rather than a more general animal welfare position, may argue that, regardless of possible benefits to society, vivisection is immoral based on its transgression of the rights of animals.

Modern codes of practice like those issued by the U.S. National Institute of Health or the British Home Office require that any invasive procedure on laboratory animals must be performed under deep surgical anaesthesia. These codes are legally binding for most organisations involved in vivisection in the western world (see, for example the U.K. animals (scientific procedures) act (ASPA). Welfare laws and accepted codes of conduct specify that the procedures carried out on laboratory animals should not be painful to them, however the laws do allow for anaesthetic not to be used if it will confound the results of an experiment. Opponents to vivisection claim that the law can fail to protect animals being vivisected [1] ( and point to undercover investigations showing that animals sometimes do suffer [2] (

Human vivisection

Vivisection has long been practised on human beings, and was a prerequisite for the development of the field of medicine. However, human vivisection has had a chequered history. Herophilos, the "father of anatomy" and founder of the first medical school in Alexandria, was described as having vivisected at least 600 live prisoners by the church leader Tertullian. In recent times, the wartime programs of Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele and the Japanese military (Unit 731 and Dr. Fukujiro Ishiyama at Kyushu Imperial University Hospital) conducted human vivisections on concentration camp prisoners in their respective countries during WWII. The scientific merit of these experiments has been questioned, as well as the ethics of using their results. In response to these atrocities, the medical profession internationally adopted the Nuremberg Code as a code of ethics. This code of ethics does not prohibit vivisection on humans.

Human volunteers can consent to be subjects for invasive experiments which may involve, for example, the taking of tissue samples (biopsies), the implantation of catheters, or other procedures which require surgery on the volunteer. These procedures must be approved by ethical review, and carried out in an approved manner that minimizes pain and long term health risks to the subject [3] (


Professor Croce M.D., Pietro, Vivisection or Science - a choice to make (1991) BETA Tipografica s. r. l.:Rome

See also

Further reading

  • Mary Roach, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (2003)

External links

de:Vivisektion he:ניסויים בבעלי חיים nl:Vivisectie pl:Wiwisekcja ru:Вивисекция zh:活体解剖


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