Animal Experimentation: Ethical and Practical Issues

Introduction

When talking about animal experimentation, it is hard not to mention the quote by Jeremy Bentham, who formulated the ethical question like the following: “The question is not ‘Can they reason?’ nor ‘Can they talk?’ but ‘Can they suffer?’ Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being?” (Bentham, 2017, p. 144). In the 21st century, science and medicine face numerous challenges in the form of incurable diseases, hunger, poverty, natural disasters, and many others. Experimentation and development of new drugs, crops, and chemicals have proven to be invaluable in saving numerous human lives. At the same time, the price for progress was often paid in the lives of test animals, who were sacrificed on the altar of science.

The population is divided on the subject of animal testing. According to Swami, Furnham, and Christopher (2008), while the majority of the population is in favor of animal testing, that support comes with a promise of humane treatment of the test subject. However, that promise is largely used as a universal compromise to numerous ethical issues surrounding animal experimentation. The purpose of this paper is to provide a convincing argument against animal experimentation by evaluating ethical and practical concerns regarding the use of animal subjects in experimental science.

Ethical Issues Regarding Animal Experimentation

The main ethical issues related to the subject of animal experimentation are the issues of animals suffering and the risks associated with the experiment outweighing potential benefits to humanity. These two issues can be looked upon through the lenses of virtue ethics, presented by Socrates, and utilitarian ethics developed by Jeremy Bentham. Virtue ethics see causing deliberate animal suffering, even for a greater cause, as an unjust deed, as it conflicts with the virtue of Mercy. It cannot be equalized with the process of hunting or slaughtering animals for food, as such actions are directly related to the process of humanity’s survival. Animal experimentation does not directly influence humanity’s survival, as the end result of experimentation is inherently unknown.

Utilitarian ethics seek to determine the balance between pleasure and pain, which is then used to justify the decisions made in personal or public service. As evidenced by Bentham himself, animal suffering is not excluded from the equation and plays a role in his ethical framework. According to Bentham, rights and protection by the law are not granted just for the ability to think and hold a conversation, but also for the ability to suffer (Bentham, 2017). Suffering is placed above the other two prerequisites.

Once more, the issue of unpredictability comes forth, as the benefits from potential experimentation are unknown, whereas potential harm is almost complete certainty.

Lastly, there is an issue of motivation. It cannot be plausibly determined that the request for animal experimentation is motivated by an earnest desire to help humanity rather than the personal ambitions of the researcher. According to Gluck and Kubacki (1991), it is impossible to tell the true motivations of people. The only method available in ethical research revolves around self-examination, which is inherently subjected to personal bias.

Practical Concerns Regarding Animal Experimentation

As it stands, the scientific community implements the rule of the three Rs in animal testing and research. The three Rs stand for Reduction, Refinement, and Replacement. It means that scientists should strive to reduce the number of test subjects, refine the processes to reduce unnecessary danger and suffering, and overall avoid testing on animals if possible.

According to Hagelin, Hau, and Carlsson (2003), the introduction of obligatory ethical scrutiny managed to significantly refine and reduce the use of animals in experiments associated with medicine, agriculture, and animal husbandry. Stafleu, Tramper, Vorstenbosch, and Joles (1999) propose an ethical framework for animal experimentation, which determines the necessity of animal use based on the ultimate aim of the experiment, the weight of human interest, the likelihood and severity of suffering, the assessment of the relevance of animal experiment, as well as harm scores for humans and animals.

The problem with both of these approaches lies in the fact that the majority of the variables that are supposed to justify the research are usually based on incomplete data, anecdotal evidence, or assumptions. According to Greek (2002), animal testing in drug development often offers inconclusive evidence to justify human testing, which is a necessary next step in medical research, thus making risking animal lives a potentially pointless endeavor. Goodall (2000) states that animal experimentation was not as critical to medical research as initially claimed and that the results of many animal experiments were controversial and misleading, causing human and animal suffering as a result.

Conclusions

Animal experimentation is a major ethical and practical issue in scientific research. The survival and prosperity of the human race rest upon scientific progress. However, that progress should not be built on the suffering of animals, which, in many cases, does not even lend any tangible results. Animal experimentation has always been a poor substitute for human experimentation, which raises more ethical questions and dilemmas. Animal experimentation should be banned by law because it is immoral and inefficient. It should stay that way until researchers manage to predict the results, benefits, and dangers of the experiments with a reasonable degree of certainty. Once they would be able to do that, however, the need for animal experimentation would vanish altogether. The suffering of animals should not be used as a tool for the elimination of doubt.

References

Bentham, J. (2017). An introduction to the principles of morals and legislation. Web.

Goodall, J. (2000). Reason for hope: A spiritual journey. New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing.

Greek, R. (2002). Animal studies and HIV research. BMJ, 324, 236.

Hagelin, J., Hau, J., & Carlsson, H. E. (2003). The refining influence of ethics committees on animal experimentation in Sweden. Laboratory Animals, 37(1), 10-18.

Stafleu, F. R., Tramper, R., Vorstenbosch, J., & Joles, J. A. (1999). The ethical acceptability of animal experiments: A proposal for a system to support decision-making. Laboratory Animals, 33(3), 295-303.

Swami, V., Furnham, A., & Christopher, A. N. (2008). Free the animals? Investigating attitudes toward animal testing in Britain and the United States. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 49(3), 269-276.