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Vivisection (from Latin vivus, meaning "alive", and sectio, meaning "cutting") is surgery conducted for experimental purposes on a living organism, typically animals with a central nervous system, to view living internal structure. The word is, more broadly, used as a pejorative catch-all term for experimentation on live animals by organizations opposed to animal experimentation but rarely used by practicing scientists. Human vivisection has been perpetrated as a form of torture.
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.
In the U.S., the Animal Welfare Act explicitly requires that any procedure that may cause pain use "tranquilizers, analgesics, and anesthetics", with exceptions when "scientifically necessary". The act does not define "scientific necessity" or regulate specific scientific procedures, but 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 other individual from outside the university.
In the U.K., any experiment involving vivisection must be licensed 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."
Anti-vivisectionists have played roles in the emergence of the animal welfare and animal rights movements, arguing that animals and humans have the same natural rights as living creatures, and that it is inherently immoral to inflict pain or injury on another living creature, regardless of the purpose or potential benefit to mankind.
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). In Mindanao, Moro Muslim prisoners of war were subjected to various forms of vivisection by the Japanese, in many cases without anesthesia.
Nazi human experimentation involved many medical experiments on live subjects, such as vivisections by Josef Mengele, usually without anesthesia.
Vivisection without anesthesia was an execution method employed by the Khmer Rouge at the Tuol Sleng prison. Only seven people survived the four-year run of the prison before its liberation by the Vietnamese army in January 1979.
It is possible that human vivisection was practiced by some Greek anatomists in Alexandria in the 3rd century BC. Celsus in De Medicina and the early-Christian writer Tertullian state that Herophilos of Alexandria vivisected at least 600 live prisoners.