A Philosophical View On The Use Of Animals In Scientific Research
The use of animals in scientific experiments is one of the major controversies facing the society today. It has led to the formation of many theories about the place of humankind in relation to animals and nature. There are many people who support the use of animals in scientific experimentation just as there are those who strongly oppose the practice. In my opinion unnecessary experiments that do not benefit humans or animals in any way should never be condoned. However, I strongly support the use of animals in research experiments that are beneficial to the health of either humans or animals, and which are conducted with great caution to avoid inflicting unnecessary pain or agony to the animals.
While arguing in support of animal experimentation, Fox (1986) states that “the fact that animals can suffer, although morally significant because it gives animals the status of moral recipients, is not by itself a sufficient ground on which to accord them equal moral status with humans” (p. 70). I absolutely agree with Fox on the premise that animals are not of the same moral status as human beings which means that we are not morally restrained from using animals for beneficial purposes. From a philosophical viewpoint, an act that is not morally wrong is, consequently, morally permissible. Therefore using animals in meaningful scientific experiments is morally acceptable. However, this moral argument should be approached with caution for it does not give us the right to abuse animals or treat them without moral concern for their suffering.
Opponents of animal experimentation accuse scientists of speciesism, which elevates humans to a higher level than animals. They however fail to extend this accusation to the use of plants for human sustenance. This is because if we were to refrain from using plants for nourishment and medicinal purposes on the grounds that such uses would cause them pain or suffering, then life would not be possible on this planet. A similar argument can be applied to the use of animals in scientific experiments. Furthermore, unlike other harmful activities such as pleasure hunting and exploitation of animals for fur, scientific research hardly affects the balance of nature. Hunting poses a risk of wiping out an entire animal species but scientific research uses animals raised in laboratories. The number of animals used in experiments is too low to upset the ecosystem (Yarri, 2005).
It can also be accurately argued that human suffering is of greater concern than that of animals. It is more preferable for an animal to suffer than a human being (Degrazia & Rowan, 1991). For example, in a case where it is absolutely necessary to deform a toe of a being in a research aimed at saving human or animal lives, the most prudent choice would be to use an animal rather than a human being. This is because in human beings “the number of possible conditions – to which animals are not subject- that can produce a sense of thwarted agency, diminished selfhood, or ineffectualness, from which suffering so often arises, is astronomically high” (Fox, 1986, p. 69). An animal will not suffer psychological humiliation from a deformed toe, and might not even realize that it has a deformity.
In conclusion, I am of the opinion that using animals in research does not imply that we do not respect the rights of animals. However, it is the only way through which we have been able to understand the human nervous system, developed vaccines, and discovered cures for many ailments. Until another way of experimenting for cures to diseases such as AIDS, Alzheimer’s, and cancer is found, animals will continue to be used in laboratories.
Degrazia, D. & Rowan, A. (1991). Pain, suffering, and anxiety in animals and humans.Theoretical Medicine, 12, 193-211.
Fox, M. A. (1986). The case of animal experimentation. Los Angeles, CA: University ofCalifornia Press.
Yarri, D. (2005). The ethics of animal experimentation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.