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A physiological demonstration with the vivisection of a dog, 1832.

A physiological demonstration with the vivisection of a dog, 1832.

Credits:Wellcome Library, London.

The word vivisection was first coined in the 1800s to denote the experimental dissection of live animals - or humans. It was created by activists who opposed the practice of experimenting on animals. The Roman physician Celsus claimed that in Alexandria in the 3rd century BCE physicians had performed vivisections on sentenced criminals, but vivisection on humans was generally outlawed. Experimenters frequently used living animals. Most early modern researchers considered this practice acceptable, believing that animals felt no pain. Even those who opposed vivisection in the early modern period did not usually do so out of consideration for the animals, but because they thought that this practice would coarsen the experimenter, or because they were concerned that animals stressed under experimental conditions did not represent the normal state of the body.

Prompted by the rise of experimental physiology and the increasing use of animals, an anti-vivisection movement started in the 1860s. Its driving force, the British journalist Frances Power Cobbe (1822-1904), founded the British Victoria Street Society in 1875, which gave rise to the British government's Cruelty to Animals Act of 1876. This law regulated the use of live animals for experimental purposes.


R A Kopaladze, 'Ivan P. Pavlov's view on vivisection', Integr. Physiol. Behav. Sci., 4 (2000), pp 266-271

C Lansbury, The Old Brown Dog: Women, Workers, and Vivisection in Edwardian England (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985)

P Mason, The Brown Dog Affair: The Story of a Monument that Divided the Nation (London: Two Stevens, 1997)

N A Rupke, (ed.) Vivisection in Historical Perspective (London: Crooms Helm, 1987)



The science of the functioning of living organisms and their component parts.