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Animals Used for Medical Research
A Philosophical Viewpoint
Written in July 1991
One of the questions facing society today is whether
animals should be used in scientific experimentation. In the midst of
this controversy, many ideas about nature, primarily animals, are formed.
Each side has different arguments, each one posing questions on the place
of humans with respect to animals and the rest of the natural world.
A side note: Numerous people are writing to me asking me why I am
against animal experimentation. Let me clear this up... as I state later
in this article:
"I do support necessary scientific experiments that will
benefit humans or animals"
I ask that people please read this article carefully. Because of the
numerous people misinterpreting this article, I found it necessary to
include this side note.
Many people argue against using animals for scientific experiments based
on the human and nature relationship philosophies of Peter
Singer, that humans are not completely above nature, focusing
primarily on animals. "If the animal- rights movement had a bible, it is
Singer's 1975 book, Animal Liberation" (New York, Jan. 15 pg 30).
Singer calls many of the attitudes human beings have toward other animals
speciesism, a concept which can been found throughout history.
Aristotle held the view that nature is a hierarchy in which those with
less reasoning ability exist for the sake of those with more reasoning
ability (Animal Liberation p189). Thus plants exist for the sake
of animals, and animals for the sake of man. He based his belief in
slavery on the concept that humans with less reasoning ability existed
for the purpose of serving more rational humans. Although the view that
less rational humans exist to serve rational ones has been rejected by
society, "we still retain that view towards non-human animals" (In
Defense of Animals, Singer p2).
Speciesism is practiced by Jews and Christians who base their
superiority on God's words in Genesis. They believe that man alone is
created in God's image, and man alone is given dominion over all the
animals on earth.
Speciesism is practiced by the scientists of today who lock up
chimpanzees in research centers, sometimes under horrendous conditions,
to be used in experimentation. These same scientists, however, would
never consider doing that to any human being, even one whose intelligence
level was below that of the chimpanzee. The only reason for this
difference is that the chimpanzee is not human, no matter how smart it
is; but a human, no matter how unintelligent, is still a human.
The concept of speciesism is considered by Singer to be as indefensible
as racism (Defense p6). "Speciesism - the word is not an
attractive one, but I can think of no better term - is a prejudice or
attitude of bias in favor of the interests of members of one's own
species and against those of members of other species" (Liberation
p6). Singer bases part of his argument on the utilitarian philosophy
of Jeremy Bentham, who stated, "The question is not `Can they reason?'
nor `Can they talk?' but `Can they suffer?'" All animals feel anger and
fear, pleasure and pain, just like humans, and their equality comes from
their ability to feel pain (New York Jan.15 p30).
The animal liberation movement, however, does not say all beings are of
equal worth, or that the interests of all animals and humans should be
given equal weight. It is stating that "where animals and humans have
similar interests - we might take the interest in avoiding physical pain
as an example, for it is an interest that humans clearly share with other
animals - those interests are to be counted equally, with no automatic
discount just because one of the beings is not human" (Defense p9).
Singer clearly illustrates that his rejection of speciesism does not
imply that all beings are of equal worth by considering how we make
choices within our own species. If we had to choose between saving the
life of a normal human being and one that was intellectually disabled, we
would probably save the life of the normal human being; but if we had to
choose between preventing pain in the normal human being versus the
intellectually impaired - suppose that both had superficial but painful
injuries and we only had enough pain-killer for one person - the choice is
not so clear cut. One would choose probably on the basis of which human
was suffering more. The same is true when other species are considered.
"The evil of pain is, in itself, unaffected by the characteristics of the
being who feels pain" (Liberation p20). Since most animal
experimentation causes pain for the animal, the animal rights movement is
committed to the goal of "the total abolition of the use of animals in
science" (Liberation p89).
Those in favor of animal experimentation argue that " the fact that
animals can suffer, although morally significant because it gives animals
the status of moral patients or recipients, is not by itself a sufficient
ground on which to accord them equal moral status with humans" (M.A.
Fox, The Case for Animal Experimentation p70). And if animals are not
on equal moral status with humans, "We are under no moral obligation to
restrain from using them" (M.A Fox p6). Since anything that is not
morally wrong is morally permissible, then it is morally permissible to
use animals in experimentation.
Most persons supporting the use of animals in experimentation do not feel
this means that we are free to harm or abuse animals whenever we wish or
that we lack grounds for having moral concerns over animal suffering,
especially when caused by humans. "Animals may not be moral agents or
persons, but they may still be moral patients, that is, beings that may
be affected for better or worse by our acts and which we should therefore
treat with care" (M.A Fox p7). But if either a human or animal is
to suffer, then it is better for the animal to suffer, because human
suffering is generally of more concern than that of animals. There are
more types of suffering to which humans are susceptible. "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" (M.A. Fox
p69). For instance, if it was necessary to deform a toe of a being
for important research, it would be better to use an animal because it
would not suffer any type of humiliation from being deformed. In fact, it
might not even realize that its toe is deformed.
Those in defense of experimentation also tend to agree more with
speciesism and not with Singer's views. A question raised by M.A. Fox in
regard to this is "What if plants could suffer?" (p86). He asserts
that we would not be obliged to assert their moral equality, so "the
capacity to suffer does not by itself establish moral equality" (Case
for Animal Experimentation p87). Also, Fox brings up Singer's
statement, "If we must inflict pain or starve, we would then have to
choose the lesser evil. Presumably it would still be true that plants
suffer less than animals, and therefore it would still be better to eat
plants than to eat animals" (p87, referring to Animal Liberation
p263). This shows that the rights of humans to survive is more
important than that of other species.
The issue of using animals for experimentation raises many questions,
many more than can be covered on this web site. There are also levels at
which people agree or disagree with animal experimentation. Most people,
my self included, from what I have experienced, do not condone totally
unnecessary scientific experiments that do not significantly benefit
humans or animals. However, I do support necessary scientific
experiments that will benefit humans or animals, and which are done with
the utmost caution to keep the animal from suffering. I have very
specific reason for this belief.
First, I tend to agree with speciesism. It is true that animals do
experience pain, but in agreement with Fox's idea, this does not make it
wrong to use animals. This does not include exploitation of animals for
unnecessary luxuries such as fur. Humans are not significantly benefited
by wearing animal fur (artificial fur can serve the exact same purpose),
but they are benefited by the animal research that found a vaccine for
polio, and both humans and animals have benefited from scientific
experiments that have helped find a vaccine for rabies. However, I agree
with speciesism because a line has to be drawn somewhere, and it can not
be drawn with regard to the similarities, such as pain, between humans
and animals. As stated earlier, what if plants could feel pain? How would
it be possible to live if we then could not use plants either? One could
say that we wouldn't experiment on plants, so we wouldn't be causing them
to suffer to serve our own ends. But what if we wanted to walk across a
lawn? Wouldn't that inflict pain on the plant? If the argument against
speciesism regarding suffering is to be used to argue against animal
experimentation, it has to include all animals in every situation, not
just scientific experimentation, for animals suffer at the hands of
humans for other purposes. This would mean we could never use any animal
for any purpose. If there is to be no use of animals, at what point does
one draw that line? At fish? At bugs? What about amoebae? Since the line
cannot be drawn in the animal kingdom, it has to be drawn between humans
and animals. And the line has already been drawn by nature itself,
because humans are naturally much different.
Can humans show respect for animals and revere nature while at the same
time using animals for scientific research? I believe so, as long as the
research will better the lives of humans and/or animals in a highly
significant manner, and providing the animals are treated with the
greatest care and humaneness. Again, things such as cosmetics do not
significantly help humans or animals, so animal testing should not be
done for these products. Also the practice of painful experimentation
without anesthetic should not be tolerated. It is in our attitudes and in
the way we treat animals used for experimentation that respect is shown.
Thus, using animals for significant medical research does not mean they
are not respected. Is it better to have thousands of dogs suffer from
rabies because we would not do research on a few hundred for a vaccine,
even if it caused those dogs pain? Should thousands of human lives not be
saved because we can't use animals to find cures for AIDS, cancer, and
Alzheimer's? The benefits humanity has reaped because of these
experiments include our understanding of the human nervous system; the
development of insulin, antibiotics, and vaccines against hepatitis and
polio (New York Jan.15 p30). A mother of a child whose life has
been saved by these discoveries can make a case as poignant as any
animal-rights advocates. But then Singer would call this speciesism, the
assumption that the child's life is worth more than that of an animal.
Yet, is it better to let a child die rather than cause an animal pain
from experimentation? Is the child's life worth less than that of the
Scientific research using animals also does not affect the balance of
nature the way hunting for pleasure does. It is possible to wipe out an
entire species by useless hunting, while most of the animals used in
research are raised in the laboratory and not stripped from their natural
habitat, upsetting the ecosystem. But isn't having an animal in the
laboratory for its whole life cruelly keeping it from its natural
habitat? Again, where does one draw the line? Isn't domesticating a dog,
a cat, or a rabbit preventing it from running freely in its natural
habitat just so a human can own it and experience the pleasure of having
However, the balance of nature can be destroyed if endangered species are
used for scientific experiments, and for this reason they should not be
used unless "we did so under the most stringent conditions and to promote
the species' survival chance" (M.A. Fox p195). Our right to use
nature does not give us the right to destroy it.
It is a shame that animals have to be used for any scientific
experiments, but until another way is found, I can see no other way to
find cures to diseases that affect both humans and animals. No one should
be happy about this necessity, and we should strive to find other
methods. My sentiments have been expressed by Albert Schweitzer in
his essay on Man and Creature.
"The very fact that animals, by the pain they endure in experiments
contributes so much to suffering humanity should forge a new and unique
kind of solidarity between them and us. For that reason alone it is
incumbent upon each and every one of us to do all possible good to
non-human life...Pity for animals, so often smilingly dismissed as
sentimentality, becomes a mandate no thinking person can escape... when
will all the killing that necessity imposes upon us be undertaken with
Fox, Michael Allen. 1986, The Case for Animal Experimentation.
Berkeley and Los Angeles, California, University of California Press.
Rosenberger, Jack. "Whose Life is it, Anyway?" New York (January
15, 1990), p.30.
Singer, Peter. 1975, 1990, Animal Liberation. New York, N.Y.,
Singer, Peter. 1985, In Defense of Animals. New York, N.Y.,
Basil Blackwell Inc.
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