I have seen many of my relatives die of cancer but I do not want a single animal to die while we try to find a cure for the disease.

I would rather a cure was delayed for 10, 20, 50 years, or never found at all, than one other animal was subjected to testing. This might seem cruel (to humans), but more cruel is what happens in the vivisectors' labs. These places are, in the words of one writer I spoke to recently, perverse abattoirs in which animals are efficiently denied their deaths.

In recent years there has, at least, been hope the situation was improving. Testing cosmetics on animals was banned in Europe in 2009 and earlier this year the EU went further, banning the sale of any new cosmetics regardless of where in the world testing on animals was carried out. But hope is withering – figures from the Home Office released yesterday show that in the UK last year there was an 8% rise in the number of animal experiments.

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That is horrifying. That is more than four million animals a year. That is nearly 12,000 animals a day. The apologists, including the Home Office, say the suffering of animals is kept to a minimum, but what a nasty, disingenuous use of the word minimum. Vivisection means controlled, monitored torture and pain. Most of the experiments in the UK are carried out on mice because they have a similar genetic make-up to us. Clearly that means they feel pain in the same way too.

In his new book, Colin McAdam – the writer who called the labs perverse abattoirs – describes the kind of conditions lab animals endure. McAdam's book, A Beautiful Truth, is a novel but it is inspired by the close contact the writer had with chimpanzees that were the victims of vivisectors. He told me about one in particular, a female chimp called Pepper, which had been deliberately made HIV positive and at the heart of McAdam's novel is a male chimp a bit like her. His cage is "five by five, by seven feet tall and suspended two feet above the ground ... his feet haven't touched the ground in five years". Those measurements are based on reality and yet only last month the US authorities refused to support a proposal that lab chimps be allowed at least 1000 sq ft. The evidence, they said, was not clear enough. And there we have it again: the chilly, scientific phrasing – like "kept to a minimum" – that hides the nastiness.

If there is a beautiful truth in McAdam's novel, it is that there is no such thing as a human/animal divide – there is a continuum instead.

When I spoke to the philosopher Peter Singer on the 35th anniversary of his book Animal Liberation, he put it this way: "We've tended to exaggerate the gulf but we're starting to realise that many non-human animals are more like us than we've given them credit for."

What the vivisectors are forced to do is exaggerate this gulf and claim there is a huge difference between mice and men even as they claim we must experiment on mice to save men. They must suggest mice and rats and other animals are less worthy than us and certainly less worthy than the greater good of finding a cure for illness.

It is undeniably true that animal experimentation has led to the development of some major medicines, although to what extent this is because vivisectors have not been forced to pursue alternatives to experimentation is unclear. I cannot undo this fact and if I was told that one of those medicines could help me, I would take it.

But that does mean we must carry on as we are. As I said, my family has been visited by cancer often but many of my relatives refuse to give a penny to Cancer Research UK and other charities that pay for, and even celebrate, experiments on animals.

The supporters of vivisection say these experiments have led most recently to possible new treatments for motor neurone disease but the cost is too high. I do not want chimps to live in a five-by-five cage which means they can never touch the ground. I do not want mice, or rats, or fish, killed so that I, or my family, or anyone else can be free of illness.

I would far rather live in a compassionate country that was still struggling to find the cure to some diseases than a compassion-free one in which major diseases were conquered at the cost of millions of animals' lives.