A rational defense of Animal experimentation nathan nobis University of alabama, birmingham



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A RATIONAL Defense of Animal EXPERIMENTATION
nathan nobis

University of alabama, birmingham
Abstract: Many people involved in the life sciences and related fields and industries routinely cause mice, rats, dogs, cats, primates and other non-human animals to experience pain, suffering and an early death, harming these animals greatly and not for their own benefit. Harms, however, require moral justification, reasons that pass critical scrutiny. Animal experimenters and dissectors might suspect that strong moral justification has been given for this kind of treatment of animals. I survey some recent attempts to provide such a justification and show that they do not succeed: they provide no rational defense of animal experimentation and related activities. Thus, the need for a rational defense of animal experimentation remains.

Each hour of each day in the United States, many people involved in the life sciences and related fields kill approximately three to six thousand mice, rats, dogs, cats, primates and other non-human animals.1 These animals are killed for education and training,2 product safety testing and medical and psychological experimentation, among other uses. These animals typically experience at least some significant pain and suffering in the course of such experimentation and procurement. In the unlikely event that they do not, they are still killed. And this killing is a harm: their early deaths are bad for them even if they are killed painlessly: they are deprived of experiencing whatever goods they would have experienced, had they lived. A recent scientific review even suggests that just being in a lab is harmful for animals: the data suggests “significant fear, stress, and possibly distress are predictable consequences of routine laboratory procedures.”3

Thus, lab life and death is bad for animals: it harms them, and harms them greatly in that everything is taken from them and they gain nothing in the process. Harms, however, require moral justification, good reasons for why they are morally permissible. Animal experimentation thus requires moral justification. Most animal experimenters agree. We might suspect that they tend to think that a strong justification has been articulated: after all, we tend to think that scientists think that we should have good reasons for what we believe and good reasons for what we do. So we might suspect that they believe there are such good reasons that explain why animal experimentation is morally justified.

In this paper I survey some recent attempts by both philosophers and scientists to provide such moral justification, i.e., the good reasons that explain why such harms are permissible to inflict. I argue that these defenses do not succeed: they do not show why animal experimentation is morally permissible. Moral and intellectual integrity thereby requires, at least, the development of such a defense. My hope here is to encourage advocates of animal experimentation to accept this challenge and provide some insight into how they might better respond to it.



1. Empirical Motivations, Moral Responses

Before I survey the recent discussion, let me briefly provide some empirical information about what happens to animals and then sketch a common kind of reasoning given in favor of the conclusion that it is morally wrong to treat animals in these harmful ways.

Experimental procedures that animal routinely endure include drowning, suffocating, starving, and burning; blinding animals and destroying their ability to hear; damaging their brains, severing their limbs, crushing their organs; inducing heart attacks, ulcers, paralysis, seizures; forcing them to inhale tobacco smoke, drink alcohol, and ingest various chemicals, poisons and drugs, such as heroine and cocaine.4

For some readers, this list of procedures may seem a bit “pale” as mere words often fail to convey enough of the relevant information. For those for whom this is true, I encourage them to view some of the readily available photos and video documentary footage that documents this treatment; many are now available online. A picture often does speak a thousand words in the sense that more information is conveyed that way. Nobody can responsibly discuss these issues unless they have seen such footage, and a lot of it, including the small amounts of footage made available by industry groups: if they haven’t, they are simply missing essentially relevant information.5

Mere descriptions of these actions do not entail a moral evaluation, however. Are these actions of harming animals morally permissible, or are they wrong? To answer this we need to do some philosophy. A helpful methodology in philosophy is to start with clear cases and see if the insights gained in understanding them can help us understand a not-so-clear case. This methodology is useful here. To discern the morality of treating animals these ways, we might first ask whether it would be wrong to treat us these ways and, if so, why. Our most carefully reasoned and defensible responses about us, i.e., our best hypothesis about which properties we possess that makes it such that it is (or would be) wrong to treat us these ways, might have implications for some animals.

But who is “us”? Who is the “we” or “ourselves” here that we might first think about? This is an important question and the answer is not obvious since there are so many ways ‘we’ can be grouped. Historically, for example, “we” often only included members of our own race, or ethnic group, or religion or sex. But if one considered “us” to be “conscious, sentient beings,” then many animals are like us, certainly the ones mentioned above, mammals, birds and other vertebrates. So if it’s wrong to treat “us” in those ways, then it’s wrong to treat many animals those ways also.

If one thinks “us” is “humans,” problems arise, due to ambiguity in the term “human”: is the suggestion that anything that is biologically human is wrong to treat those ways? If that’s the suggestion (and the method of treatment here we might describe as “destruction”) that would seem to imply that it’s seriously wrong to destroy (living) cells, tissues and organs that are biologically human, and that all abortions – even very early ones – are seriously wrong.

At least some of these implications force us to be more precise in who we are initially referring to when we think about whether it would be wrong to treat “us” these ways. Let us begin by considering those who are hearing or reading this paper: I presume that nobody reading this paper would want to be treated the ways animals are treated in labs. I suppose that you think it would be wrong for one of your colleagues to treat you the way animals are treated, and you think that’s true even if you were killed so called-“humanely,” i.e., painlessly.6

Let’s suppose that’s true, but let’s ask why it’s true: what makes it true? Philosophy is similar to science at least in that they both involve hypotheses or explanations. So what best explains the fact that it would be wrong to treat you these ways? If the explanation is along the lines of “I am rational” or “intelligent’ or “autonomous,” that would suggest a theory about the basis of what I’ll (loosely) call “moral rights” to the effect that a being has moral rights – especially the right to be treated with respect and not harmed, against their will, for the benefit of others – only if that being is rational, or autonomous, or meets some other highly intellectualized condition.

But then we need to think again about who “we” are. Most of us count (some) humans who are not rational, intelligent or autonomous among “us.” Severely mentally challenged individuals, the senile and seriously demented, newborn babies, and even babies that – due to some damage – lack the potential to have sophisticated mental lives; they are all considered to be among the morally significant “us.”

If they are, however, then the “bar” for basic moral rights must be set rather low. It cannot be set at “being biologically human,” however, since, again, human cells and organs alone don’t meet it: they have no rights. The most plausible place seem to be at consciousness, the ability to feel pleasure and pain, and having a perspective on the world that can go better and worse from one’s own point of view. It’s these psychological features that put us in “the moral ballgame,” so to speak.

But since this is the case, since many non-human animals are like that, many animals are in the ballgame as much as comparably-minded humans are. Since like cases should be treated as like cases, unless there is a morally relevant difference that would justify failing to give animals’ interests equal consideration to comparable humans’ interests, it follows that – since it would be wrong to treat any humans these ways – it is wrong to treat comparably minded animals these ways also. What is morally relevant, in itself, is not the species the individual is a member of, but rather the mental life of the individual; comparable mental lives deserve equal respect and equal consideration and thus, nearly all animal experimentation is wrong, since such experimentation on comparably-minded beings that are biologically human is also.

This kind of reasoning has been developed and defended by many philosophers, from a wide range of theoretical perspectives: utilitarianism and other consequentialisms, rights-based deontology, ideal-contractarianisms and golden-rule ethics, virtue ethics, common-sense morality, religious moralities, feminist ethics, among others.7 As a matter of fact, not many professional philosophers have criticized it: most criticisms come from public relations organizations that are well-paid to paint advocates of such reasoning in a bad light. But that is sophistry, not science or good reasoning, and it remains to be explained why so few philosophers – people trained in formal logic and the identification and evaluation of arguments for (and against) moral conclusions – have disagreed with this reasoning. One explanation is this: serious faults have not been found since the reasoning is sound.

Here, however, I wish to consider some recent objections to this kind of reasoning, however, and show how these objections are unsuccessful. I hope to encourage people to take these issues seriously and engage the debate in a more intellectually serious and responsible manner.



2. So Why Does Animal Experimentation Matter?

The first work I wish to discuss is a collection from 2001 entitled Why Animal Experimentation Matters: The Use of Animals in Medical Research. The authors of these eight essays attempt to defend animal research on both moral and scientific grounds. The book flap says that its authors “mount a vigorous and long-overdue defense of animal experimentation,” show “that the case for animal rights—in both its philosophical and activist guises—is deeply flawed” and provide a “much-needed corrective to an extremist cause that has up until now been too rarely challenged.” But advocates of animal experimentation should find the book a serious disappointment. I will explain why; perhaps these explanations will lead to stronger work on these issues, work that avoids the flaws of this book.

Philosopher R.G. Frey’s essay, “Justifying Animal Experimentation: The Starting Point,” should have been at the start of the book. However, his contribution is hidden as the last chapter, perhaps because it is the strongest contribution, philosophically, in that it accepts much of the basic reasoning given in defense of animals above. Frey notes that most supporters of vivisection attempt to justify it by appealing to its benefits for humans. But, he argues, this defense is subject to serious objections, suggested above. He notes:
Whatever benefits animal experimentation is thought to hold in store for us, those very same benefits could be obtained through experimenting on humans instead of animals. Indeed, given that problems exist because scientists must extrapolate from animal models to humans, one might think there are good scientific reasons for preferring human subjects.8
Thus, Frey sees what far too few experimenters seem unable to see, namely, that the premises of their defenses of animal experimentation obviously and straightforwardly imply that experimentation on vulnerable humans is permissible also. Frey thus sets the moral challenge for the other authors: to explain why, morally, no humans can be subject to the kinds of experiments that animals are subject to, and to do this by identifying the morally relevant properties that animals lack and humans have. He also raises the scientific challenge to explain how researchers can reliably use animal models to understand and cure human disease. He thinks that the first challenge has not been met; the second important scientific challenge was, unfortunately, not directly addressed in this book. Important scientific details on exactly how “animal models” are reliably used to gain information applicable to humans, by reliably predicting humans’ responses, are unfortunately not provided.

In responding to philosophers like Frey, Scientist Adrian Morrison states that he “abhors” Frey’s position and those of other philosophers who accept the kind of reasoning developed in favor of animals above. He asserts that all “human beings stand apart in a moral sense from all other species” and that all are worthy of “special consideration.”9 Such a view might be true, but regrettably Morrison does not defend his claims by identifying the morally-relevant characteristics that all humans (even those with less intelligence, sentience and autonomy than animals) possess and all animals lack that might make his claim true. That omission prevents him from rationally criticizing opposing views; he does not provide any plausible reason to think that what animal advocates say is false or their arguments unsound: he merely states his “opinion,” in the worst sense of the term.

To defend animal experimentation, Morrison appeals to “self-preservation,” he explains (quite, oddly), “in the larger sense, of helping the weak and the helpless from those who consider themselves competent to decide the fate of others.”10 Of course, “self preservation” might justify experimenting on humans: he never explains why that would be wrong, i.e., explain what it is about such humans that makes it wrong, what their morally-relevant properties are. But animal advocates partially agree with Morrison as they hold that all who are “weak and helpless” should be protected from those who, like Morrison, deem themselves competent to decide their fate. Morrison divines that animal experimenters have “God’s blessing”; one wonders how he would respond to the many theologians who argue otherwise.

Elsewhere in the book, appeals to evolution are made to attempt to justify a moral view that is poorly disguised as a “biological perspective.” In another essay, biologists Charles Nicholl and Sharon Russell state (falsely) that, “Evolution has endowed us with a need to know as much as we can.”11 This is false because it is simply not true that if we evolved, then we need to know as much as we can. (Interestingly, one never hears attempts to motivate students to do their schoolwork by proclaiming that evolutionary theory implies that they must learn their lessons; furthermore, there is no section on the ‘moral implications of evolution’ to be found in science textbooks: this is because evolution neither suggests nor supports any particular moral principles). So appeals to this false imperative to defend the propriety of learning things by harming animals are a mistake.

Morrison also appeals to evolution. He claims that, “to refrain from exploring nature in every possible way would be an arrogant rejection of evolutionary forces.”12 On his view is it therefore “arrogant” to not perform painful and lethal experiments on humans since that is a possible way to explore nature and satisfy our alleged “need to know”? Obviously not, and, in fact, contrary to Morrison’s suggestion, we are often morally required to resist “evolutionary forces.” And the way things are or have been never entails how things ought to be: no evolutionary facts ever, in themselves, justify any moral views. So appeals to evolution do not settle any moral questions about animal experimentation.

Nicholl and Russell, however, think moral arguments are “beside the point in terms of providing justification for our exploitation of animals” since, they claim, implausibly, this is necessary for our species’ survival: they think, implausibly, that if there were no animal experimentation, humans would likely all go extinct.13 They also claim that, “it is an evolutionary necessity to regard one’s own kind as more important than other species,” but, again, this is false: if anything is an “evolutionary necessity,” it is that one’s own genes get passed down. Nicholl and Russell again are unable to see that no moral imperative follows from that and no moral constraint against using humans follows either.

They cry “double standard”14 when animal advocates criticize human cruelty to animals but are silent on animal’s eating other animals. In effect, they tryi to take moral advice from animals, claiming that since animals act some way, it’s perfectly ok for humans to act that way also. Thankfully, they do not encourage humans imitating any animals by, e.g., eating our offspring or excrement. So their arguments rely on a principle that they even realize is false. They also claim that since animals cannot understand the concept of rights or claim that they have rights animals cannot have rights, but they forget that some humans can do neither. They somehow don’t realize, as Frey pointed out, that their argument against animal rights implies that these kinds of humans lack rights also.

Nicholl and Russell make sociological observations about animal advocates and conclude that they are “adaptively unfit” because they tend to have fewer children then average,15 but this is simply irrelevant to the moral issues: why are the pro-animal philosopher’s arguments unsound because animal advocates have fewer children, if that is true? On their moral theory, unnecessary animal suffering should be avoided, but just sentences before this pronouncement they claim that theorizing about duties to animals is a “pointless enterprise.”16 Thus, their and Morrison’s attempt at doing moral philosophy is a disaster. Stronger and more careful criticisms of philosophers who argue in defense of animals are found elsewhere, but not in this book. That’s unfortunate, give what that the book flap promised that the book would show cases for animals to be flawed.

Scientist Jerrold Tannenbaum worries about what might happen if animal experimenters were required to ensure animals not only “freedom from unnecessary or unjustifiable pain or distress, but to well-being, pleasure, and even happy lives.”17 This is especially worrisome, according to him, because calls for this moral consideration come from within the research community itself. He worries that more scientists will see animals as “friends,” not “research tools,” and then animal research will stop. These worries, of course, provide no reason to think that animal experimentation is morally permissible: these worries are founded on that assumption, but do not defend it.

Scientist Stuart Zola notes that the distinction between “basic” and “applied” animal research is not clear. He expresses worries about restrictions on projects “devoted simply to increasing knowledge” that might have “serendipitous” results.18 However, he provides no calculations of serendipitous results that might result from non-animal research, so we are given no basis on which methods of research should be supported. Again, however, these concerns do not, in themselves, answer the question of whether animal experimentation is morally permissible, even from perspectives where the only moral concern in optimizing human health.

Philosopher Baruch Brody suggests that there are special obligations between humans (e.g., parents to children), and so that there might be are special obligations to humans that require discounting comparable animal interests.19 This analogy is flawed, however: no special obligations to our friends or family allow us to discount strangers' and even enemies' interests so much that, to try to benefit ourselves, we deliberately inflict pain, suffering and death on them and treat them as animals in laboratories are treated. Thus, the analogy is poor. He criticizes impartial moral thinking but, fairly, notes that his partialist approach requires further reflection. To avoid begging the question, i.e., merely assuming that such harmful treatment of animals is permissible, it is clear that much more reflection and argument is needed.

One dissenter, philosopher H. Tristam Engelhardt, defends animal “rights,” of sorts, in a chapter surprisingly entitled “Animals: Their Right to Be Used.” These “rights,” however, include “the right to be skinned” and “transformed into fur coats [and] trimmings on hats,” used in bullfights and cockfights, and “used to produce knowledge of interest to humans, even if it will not have any practical application.”20 Animals even have a “special right to be the object of the culinary arts of Chinese and French chefs.” Furthermore, he claims, “pace Singer” (actually, Henry Spira21) that it is “appropriate to blind rabbits for beauty’s sake.” Sometimes he advocates human enjoyment as a criterion for the rightness of causing animal suffering, other times it is necessity or usefulness. His moral principles are logically inconsistent; given his tone, readers might think he isn’t even addressing the issue seriously.

There is too little discussion of the scientific issues. Remarks are scattered and, typically, underdeveloped. An important series of articles and book, which some authors surely were aware of, is ignored.22 One chapter is primarily a historical presentation of various human benefits allegedly gained from animal experimentation, but as one biologist has argued:
Wind- and steam-powered vessels were certainly vital in the exploration of much of the globe, but this fact in no way indicates that they should continue to be seen as useful even as newer and more efficient technologies develop. In this regard, scientific arguments for and against the use of vivisection are best addressed in the context of modern medical research.23

 

Historical discussion, therefore, may have little to do with contemporary scientific debates. And those who advance modern medicine through clinical and in vitro research, computer and mathematical modeling, epidemiology and other methods will be shocked by Morrison’s false claim that “medicine cannot progress without animal experimentation.”24 Those who make medical progress by simply providing people, especially needy people, with existing medical treatments will be even more astounded.



To better evaluate this book’s defense of animal experimentation, readers should carefully identify the scientific objections to trying to use animals to understand and cure human disease and the case for non-animal-based research methods and see if this book provides an adequate response and an independent, positive case for animal use.25 The book’s value might consist in spurring others to articulate stronger reasons why vivisection matters and is morally justified, despite its high costs for animals and, perhaps, humans as well. There are costs for humans if there are better things that could be done for (more) humans that would yield greater benefits and funds, effort and talent could be diverted from animal experimentation toward meeting those goals.

Thus, while it is admirable that these authors at least attempted to give reasons why animal experimentation is morally permissible, if not morally obligatory, we see that their arguments are very weak. Those who seek a rational defense of animal experimentation need to look elsewhere.



3. Putting Humans First?

A more recent attempt at providing such a defense is found in Tibor Machan’s Putting Humans First: Why We Are Nature’s Favorite.26 Although Machan is a philosopher, his attempt to defend the status quo regarding animal use fairs no better than the authors’ attempts above.

Arguments from moral rights (in a strict, philosophers’ sense of the term) provide one basis for arguments against uses of animals that harm animals. However, they are not the only basis, so it’s a mistake to think that animal experimentation is permissible if animals have no moral rights, strictly speaking. There can be other, non-rights-based reasons why it is impermissible.

However, in his first chapter, “A Case for Animal Rights?,” Machan argues that animals have no moral rights: he argues that the claim that some animals possess moral rights is “a fiction” and “a trick.” This is because, on his view, a being has moral rights, rights that presumably make it is wrong to harm that being for pleasure or even serious benefits, only if that being has a “moral nature,” i.e., a “capacity” to see the difference between right and wrong and choose accordingly (pp. xv, 10). Machan says humans are of humans are of the “kind” of beings that have this capacity, that animals are not of this “kind,” and this is why humans have moral rights and animals have none.

But the premises of this argument are imprecise: true, only humans have this capacity, but only some humans, not all: many humans lack the “capacity” to see the difference between right and wrong and choose accordingly. Machan’s theory of rights therefore seems to provide no protection for vulnerable humans who are not moral agents and so lack the moral nature he describes. They lack what he claims is logically necessary to have any moral rights, and so they have no rights on his view. It would, on Machan’s view, apparently be morally permissible to perform painful, lethal experiments on them, especially if they promise benefits for those with the “moral nature” he describes.

But Machan disagrees with this implication and with this objection to his theory of moral rights: he argues that, contrary to appearances, human babies and severely mentally challenged individuals do not “lack moral agency altogether” (p. 16) and so they have rights on his theory. This is puzzling, because it is not clear what it would be to “lack moral agency altogether”: is this to say that babies can “sort of” or “sometimes” make moral decisions? If this is the concept, then babies do indeed lack moral agency altogether.

In response, Machan claims that to see why such humans are moral agents of sorts we must consider them as they would exist “normally, not abnormally” and focus on the “healthy cases, not the special or exceptional ones” (p. 16; cf. pp. 38, 40). Apparently, Machan thinks that since “normal” human beings are moral agents, abnormal humans are moral agents as well. But this inference is clearly illegitimate: while exceptional humans’ characteristics include some properties they share with normal humans (e.g., being biologically human), it is not true that, in general, all features of normal beings are shared by abnormal beings. For example, quadriplegics and cancer patients are in their unfortunate conditions even though normal, healthy humans – whom they share much with – are not: it is obviously unsound to reason that since normal humans have four limbs, all humans have four limbs, but this claim is parallel to Machan’s defense of why humans who are not moral agents still have moral rights.

So, in the absence of arguments to the contrary, the fact that normal humans are moral agents does not make abnormal humans moral agents. Since it’s just not true that any property “normal” humans have, “abnormal” humans will have also this reasoning seems entirely ad hoc, deemed valid for this occasion but not other. Thus, vulnerable humans do not meet Machan’s necessary condition for rights; his defense of the rights of them does not succeed and thereby so does his argument that animals have no moral rights. Since many advocates of animal experimentation accept an argument like Machan’s, this error is useful to observe and learn from.

Machan’s other main argument against animal rights is surprising. He claims that if animals have the right to not be harmed at the hands of moral agents, then they also have that right against “politically incorrect” animals who, as he repeatedly observes throughout the book, are not moral agents (p. 12). He argues that since they don’t have that latter right (i.e., animals don’t have rights against other animals), they don’t have the former right (i.e., they have no rights against us). Basically he suggests that – when it suits our pleasure – it is morally permissible for us to act like some animals and kill other animals. Thankfully (like Nicholl and Russell, above) Machan also does not endorse our imitating some animals by our eating our offspring (or our excrement), but since chickens, pigs, cows, rats, mice, and most primates are primarily vegetarian, they would surely welcome our imitation in that regard.

In the final chapter, “Putting Humans First,” he objects to those who argue that, in our relations with animals, humans often should not be put first. Rather, on their view, animals’ interests in avoiding harms like pain, suffering and death should come before our interests in eating, wearing and experimenting on them. Machan responds that, “Humans are more important, even better, than animals, and we deserve the benefits that exploiting animals can provide” (p. 116). He calls the kind of altruism that would deny this “insidious” and “perverse” (p. 118). These are interesting assertions, but unfortunately, strong arguments were not given to justify this sense of radical human superiority.

Since most philosophical work in ethics and animals is generally pro-animal (and there are psychological if not philosophical explanations why this is so), it is exciting when any anti-animal work is published. Machan’s case against animals and their philosophical advocates, however, is a philosophical disappointment. Unanswered, merely rhetorical questions (which could be answered) too often take the place of arguments and, when given, arguments are not carefully and precisely developed or defended, as we have seen.

The deepest problem with Machan’s case, however, might be that his position on the use of animals is unclear and, it seems, ambivalent. On the one hand, he recognizes that most uses of animals are merely for sport (i.e., entertainment, presumably including culinary entertainment) and convenience, not necessity (p. 19). And he says, even though he thinks animals don’t have – strictly speaking – moral rights, it is still “quite likely” wrong to use them for “certain nonvital purposes” (p. 21). These insights seem to justify the conclusion that the vast majority of uses of animals – clearly in the food, fashion and product “testing” industries – are quite likely wrong, especially in light of the direct and indirect harms for human health and indirect harms through environmental contamination. This is response is similar to the response that fits those who claim that causing “needless” or “unnecessary” animals harms are wrong: since most of these harms are indeed needless, as we can live healthy lives without these various products, even this “animal welfarist”-type perspective provides strong condemnation to many actual uses of animals. Machan does claim, however, that developing some “human potentials” may justify inflicting suffering on animals, as might other “rational purposes” (pp. 20, 118). What sort of purposes and potentials might justify such harms? We aren’t told, so Machan’s moral verdicts seem rather arbitrary and ad hoc.

Thus, while Machan’s book is one of the few book-length defenses of harming animals, it is very weak. Again, those who seek a rational defense of animal experimentation need to look elsewhere.

4. Conclusions: Utilitarianism and Animal Use

Before concluding, let me make some general remarks about utilitarianism and arguments from it in favor animal use.

While few advocates of animal experimentation actually accept utilitarianism, i.e., indeed, they believe utilitarianism is false, they often they appeal to it to try to justify their actions. However, no one has done anything close to the conceptual and empirical work that would be needed to make a serious attempt as justify any animal research on utilitarian grounds: no advocate of vivisection has provided any method for calculating and comparing (actual) animal harms to (merely possible) human benefits, calculated direct human harms that are consequence of vivisection, calculated indirect harms and opportunity costs that result from funds being directed towards vivisection and not towards producing other benefits (and utilitarianism has no bias for medical benefits), and somehow added it all up to reasonably conclude that the calculation favors using animals.

Even if some benefits were lost were some or all vivisection stopped, that’s not enough to justify it on utilitarian grounds, since one has to show that there is no alternative course of action that would yield greater benefits. Nobody has seriously tried to show that some specified amount of vivisection is (likely) indispensable for bringing about the greatest possible overall medical benefits. Nobody has argued that, despite all the other research methods available (and, more generally, methods of improving people’s health, most of which are just the implementation and distribution of existing medical knowledge anyway, not new research), no other possible use of funds, time and talent could (or likely would) bring about a greater improvement in health for humans than animal research. Perhaps these cases can be made, but until this is done, the most reasonable attitude might be a skeptical one.

In conclusion, I have discussed some recent attempts to defend the status quo regarding animal use, especially in scientific research. There are more attempts that I have not discussed here – in particular, Carl Cohen’s (which I have discussed elsewhere and have argued amusingly misfires because his strategy implies that animals actually have rights and humans have none—since they can be grouped into the same and different “kinds” or groups, which Cohen makes rights dependent on—as well as the inconsistent negations of those conclusions27). I have shown that, in each case, the reasoning given in favor of some anti-animal perspective is faulty because it either depends on false and/or rationally indefensible premises (some of which are not explicit) or is of a pattern that is exceedingly ad hoc, with nothing in general to recommend its cogency.

Given this is the case, and especially given the clear harms for animals who are victims here, it is imperative that those who harm them develop a plausible justification for doing so. If they cannot do so, moral and intellectual integrity requires simply that they stop. Given the unlikelihood that such a defense can be developed, it is likely morally obligatory that those who use animals in harmful manners simply stop doing so. We should think that anything less is rationally indefensible, unless and until good reasons show otherwise.



1 Based on a variety of sources of information, Tom Regan estimates that between 25 and 50 million animals are killed in US laboratories each year. See Tom Regan, The Animal Rights Debate (Rowman & Littlefield 2001), p. 144.

2 For discussion of the ethics and science of using animals in education, see my “In Defense of ‘How We Treat Our Relatives’,” American Biology Teacher, November / December 2004, pp. 599-600, and “Animal Dissection and Evidence-Based Life-Science & Health-Professions Education,” Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 2002, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 155-159. Text available online at www.NathanNobis.com.

3 Balcombe JP, Barnard ND, Sandusky C, “Laboratory routines cause animal stress,” Contemporary Topics in Laboratory Animal Science, 2004, Nov, 43 (6):42-51. Here is the article’s abstract (emphasis mine):

Eighty published studies were appraised to document the potential stress associated with three routine laboratory procedures commonly performed on animals: handling, blood collection, and orogastric gavage. We defined handling as any non-invasive manipulation occurring as part of routine husbandry, including lifting an animal and cleaning or moving an animal's cage. Significant changes in physiologic parameters correlated with stress (e.g., serum or plasma concentrations of corticosterone, glucose, growth hormone or prolactin, heart rate, blood pressure, and behavior) were associated with all three procedures in multiple species in the studies we examined. The results of these studies demonstrated that animals responded with rapid, pronounced, and statistically significant elevations in stress-related responses for each of the procedures, although handling elicited variable alterations in immune system responses. Changes from baseline or control measures typically ranged from 20% to 100% or more and lasted at least 30 min or longer. We interpret these findings to indicate that laboratory routines are associated with stress, and that animals do not readily habituate to them. The data suggest that significant fear, stress, and possibly distress are predictable consequences of routine laboratory procedures, and that these phenomena have substantial scientific and humane implications for the use of animals in laboratory research.

4 For details, see Tom Regan’s Empty Cages: Facing the Challenge of Animal Rights (Landham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004).

5 For further discussion, see Kathie Jennie’s “The Power of the Visual: The Role of Images in Moral Motivation” (unpublished).

6 In public talks on these issues, I have heard more than one animal experimenter ask the audience if they would like to be “the guinea pig” to be the first one to undergo some surgery or some treatment. Audiences respond, no, and the experimenter somehow takes this to show that animal experimentation is permissible. This is a perverse reversal of any “golden rule” type reasoning, as the suggested false principle is that since we wouldn’t want to be harmed these ways, it is therefore permissible to harm others!

7 For representatives of these various perspectives, see, among others, Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation, 3rd Edition (Ecco, NY, 2002), Tom Regan’s The Case for Animal Rights, 2nd Edition (University of California, Los Angeles, 2004), Mark Rowlands’ Animals Like Us (Verso, London, 2002), Rosalind Hursthouse’s Ethics, Humans and Other Animals (Routledge, New York, 2000), David DeGrazia’s Taking Animals Seriously: Mental Life and Moral Status (Cambridge University Press, New York, 1996), and Andrew Linzey and Tom Regan’s Animals and Christianity : A Book of Readings (Crossroads, New York, 1988).

8 R.G. Frey, “Justifying Animal Experimentation: The Starting Point,” in E.F. Paul and J. Paul (eds.) Why Animal Experimentation Matters: The Use of Animals in Medical Research (Transaction Publishers, NJ, 2001), p. 200.

9 Adrian Morrison, “Making Choices in the Laboratory,” in E.F. Paul and J. Paul (eds.) Why Animal Experimentation Matters: The Use of Animals in Medical Research (Transaction Publishers, NJ, 2001), p. 50, p. 51.

10 Ibid., p. 51.

11 Charles Nicholl and Sharon Russell , “A Darwinian View of the Issues Associated with the Use of Animals in Biomedical Research,” in E.F. Paul and J. Paul (eds.) Why Animal Experimentation Matters: The Use of Animals in Medical Research (Transaction Publishers, NJ, 2001), p. 164.

12 Morrison, “Making Choices in the Laboratory,” p. 56.

13 Charles Nicholl and Sharon Russell , “A Darwinian View of the Issues Associated with the Use of Animals in Biomedical Research,” p. 150.

14 Ibid., p. 62.

15 Ibid., p. 166.

16 Ibid., p. 168.

17 Jerrold Tannenbaum, “The Paradigm Shift toward Animal Happiness,” in E.F. Paul and J. Paul (eds.) Why Animal Experimentation Matters: The Use of Animals in Medical Research (Transaction Publishers, NJ, 2001), p. 93.

18 Stuart Zola, “Basic Research, Applied Research, Animal Ethics and an Animal Model of Human Amnesia,” in E.F. Paul and J. Paul (eds.) Why Animal Experimentation Matters: The Use of Animals in Medical Research (Transaction Publishers, NJ, 2001), p. 90.

19 Baruch Brody, “Defending Animal Research: An International Perspective,” in E.F. Paul and J. Paul (eds.) Why Animal Experimentation Matters: The Use of Animals in Medical Research (Transaction Publishers, NJ, 2001).

20 H. Tristam Engelhardt, “Animals: Their Right to Be Used,” in E.F. Paul and J. Paul (eds.) Why Animal Experimentation Matters: The Use of Animals in Medical Research (Transaction Publishers, NJ, 2001), p. 178.

21 See Peter Singer, Ethics Into Action : Henry Spira and the Animal Rights Movement (Rowman & Littlefield: Lanham, MD, 2000).

22 See, e.g., LaFollette H. and Shanks N., Brute Science: Dilemmas of Animal Experimentation (New York: Routledge, 1996); LaFollette H. and Shanks N., “The Intact Systems Argument: Problems with the Standard Defense of Animal Experimentation,” The Southern Journal of Philosophy, 1993, 31(3): 323-333; LaFollette H. and Shanks N., “Animal Models in Biomedical Research: Some Epistemological Worries,” Public Affairs Quarterly, 1993, 7(2): 113-130; LaFollette H. and Shanks N, “Chaos Theory: Analogical Reasoning in Biomedical Research” Idealistic Studies, 1994 (24) 3: 241-254; LaFollette H. and Shanks N., “Two Models of Models in Biomedical Research.” Philosophical Quarterly, 1995, 45(179): 141-160.

23 Gregory, T.R., “The failure of traditional arguments in the vivisection debate,” Public Affairs Quarterly, 2000, 14(2): 159-182.

24 Morrison, “Making Choices in the Laboratory,” p. 58.

25 See, e.g., Greek C.R. and Greek J. Sacred Cows and Golden Geese: The Human Cost of Experiments on Animals (New York: Continuum, 2000.), Specious Science: How Genetics and Evolution Reveal Why Medical Research on Animals Harms Humans (New York: Continuum, 2002), What Will We Do If We Don't Experiment on Animals: Medical Research for the Twenty-First Century (Victoria, BC: Trafford, 2004).

26 Tibor Machan’s Putting Humans First: Why We Are Nature’s Favorite (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004). References to this work will be in the main body of the text.

27 Nobis, Nathan, "Carl Cohen's 'Kind' Argument For Animal Rights and Against Human Rights", Journal of Applied Philosophy, March 2004, vol. 21, no. 1, pp. 43-59. Text available online at www.NathanNobis.com.






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