Royal Veterinary College, UK
Ethics can be defined as a framework in which moral decisions (what is right or wrong) can be made. There are two main schools of thought: Consequential (utilitarian) or Deontological (intrinsic).
Within the animal rights movement two of the best-known philosophers are examples of these different schools of thought. Peter Singer is a utilitarian ethicist who argues that there is no valid reason for separating man from all the other animals, which he calls a speciesist view with close similarities to racism and sexism. Consequently animals have rights in a similar way to man. His seminal book, Animal Liberation, was published in 1975 (1) and he is regarded by many as the founding father of the animal rights movement. However, while animals have similar rights to man, the rights of the individual can in some cases be subsumed for the greater good, although this requires a very clear cost–benefit analysis. In contrast, Tom Reagan is a deontological ethicist who argues animals have intrinsic worth and rejects the concept that the ends can justify the means. Consequently animals have intrinsic value as do humans: for example, this argument is presented in (2). Thus, in this school of thought, the use of animals in research can never be justified.
Interestingly, the earliest clear statement on the ethics of animal experimentation occurred at the time of the debate about the rights of man. In his 1789 Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (3), the utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham queried the use and abuse of animals. He wrote: “The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”. It should be noted that Bentham had no fundamental objection to animal experiments provided that the goal was of benefit to humanity and that there was a reasonable prospect of achieving that goal.
In Animal Liberation (1), Singer codified the concept of animal rights in the context of human rights as: “Animal rights means that animals deserve certain kinds of consideration – consideration of what is in their own best interests regardless of whether they are cute, useful to humans, or an endangered species and regardless of whether any human cares about them at all (just as a mentally-challenged human has rights even if he or she is not cute or useful or even if everyone dislikes him or her). It means recognizing that animals are not ours to use – for food, clothing, entertainment, or experimentation”.
How do we relate these ethical views to the use of animals in research? Our attitude to ethical questions in animal research stems from the relationship of human society with all animals. Animals are used for food, transport and entertainment as well as research. In many societies ill-treatment of animals is not accepted, although this is by no means universal. Thus, in general we take a modified utilitarian attitude – ‘the end can justify the means’ or ‘the greatest good of the greatest number’, but crucially with humans given a greater worth than any other species – the speciesist view disparaged by Singer.
We seek to minimise the cost of the means to justify the end by minimising pain, suffering, distress and lasting harm in experimental animals. Thus, we aim to reduce the number of animals used in experiments to a minimum. We strive to refine the way experiments are carried out, to make sure animals suffer as little as possible. And we replace animal experiments with non-animal techniques wherever possible. These key tenets of humane experimental use of animals, often referred to as the 3Rs, were developed by Russell and Burch in their highly influential 1959 publication The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique.
The current Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (4) relies on this modified utilitarian ethical judgement. The revised version that will come into force in January 2013, which incorporates changes associated with Directive 2010/63/EU, will continue the same approach. Each project must be assessed on a cost–benefit basis, by asking the question of whether the ends justify the means. Experimental design should aim to reduce the costs (by application of the 3Rs) and critically evaluate the likely benefits. A strong case needs to be made that the studies are necessary and that the experimental aims are well defined and are likely to yield clear answers. The benefits may be for humans and/or other animals but there is a clear hierarchy, with no protection for invertebrate animals other than octopus and with cats, dogs, horses and primates being given special status of greater protection compared with other non-human mammals.
Genetically modified (GM) mice raise additional ethical questions. GM animals are the most rapidly growing element of animal use with more than 1.6 million GM animals and harmful mutants bred in the UK without other manipulations in 2011 (5) and this trend appears likely to continue to increase. It has been argued that GM violates the integrity of the organism’s genome. This is of course unacceptable in the deontological and questionable from the strict utilitarian view. However, the modified utilitarian view would argue that, in the absence of a harmful phenotype, there is no difference from wild-type in terms of the welfare of the animals, i.e. the animal is unaware that its genome has been modified.
Other human uses of animal
It is reasonable to ask why there is so much focus on animal experiments. Much of this may be due to the lack of public understanding of other uses of animals. The use of shock tactics of antivivisectionists and the ‘Yuk factor’ of some of the images used are partly responsible for the exaggerated emphasis on animal experimentation. There are many non-experimental uses of animals, for example, as food, clothing, transport, pets, sport and exhibition. The numbers used in non-experimental activities are huge. The UK uses 3.6 million animals in research annually (78% rodents, 15% fish) but UK meat and fish eaters consume 2.5 billion animals every year (6). This is nearly 700 times the numbers used in research yet it could be argued that consumption of fish and meat is not essential for human wellbeing, whereas at least some of the animal research is essential. Both utilitarian and intrinsic ethical arguments would suggest this use of animals for meat is the more important problem that should be tackled ahead of the use of animals in research. This disparity between animals used for food and research is even greater when considered on a world-wide basis. It has been estimated that 140 billion animals are killed for food every year (3000 times the number estimated for use in research worldwide). While the slaughter of domestic mammals and birds may in many cases be reasonably humane, that cannot be said of most of the 90 billion fish killed worldwide each year, where suffocation is the most common cause of death.
Recreational uses of animals should also be considered in comparison with the use of animals in research. Fishing for game or coarse fish is a very popular pastime in the UK but, although it gives pleasure to many, it does not have major consequences in terms of human health. There is little doubt that fish feel pain and respond to it and so recreational fishing is less ethically justified than the use of fish in research. Sport involving animals often has a high attrition rate. As mentioned previously, horses receive special protection under ASPA legislation yet almost 50% of thoroughbred foals do not reach flat race training in the UK (7), as many suffer tendon injuries and fractures that impair their ability to perform. Again, the utilitarian argument would suggest that horse racing was ethically less acceptable than the use of horses in experimental research. Very large numbers of animals are kept as pets and this is not without ethical consequences. For example, based on a survey of over 600 cat owners (7) it can be estimated that cats kill over 220 million vertebrate wild animals per year in the UK, the majority of them being small mammals. This is 60 times the number used in research. So decreasing the cat population, or keeping them indoors on a permanent basis, would have a greater impact on the loss of life than reducing the numbers of animals used in research, but is keeping a cat indoors for life infringing its rights?
What is the ethical way forward? Both Singer and Regan argue that we should not eat meat or fish or use animals in any way that cause them harm. So we should all be vegetarian and limit our harmful interactions with animals. That is philosophically an entirely reasonable approach. However, given our current modified utilitarian (speciesist) use of animals in non-research areas, much of the ethical debate about the use of animals in research is redundant.
- Peter Singer (2001). Animal Liberation, 1975. 3rd edition. Harper Collins.
- Tom Regan (2004). The Case for Animal Rights, 1983. 3rd Edition. University of California Press, Berkley, Los Angeles.
- Jeremy Bentham (1789). Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, 1789. Reprinted by General Books LLC, 2010.
- Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. Available online at: http://www.archive.official-documents.co.uk/document/hoc/321/321-xa.htm
- Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals, Great Britain 2011. Available online from: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/science-research-statistics/research-statisticsother-science-research/spanimals11/
- Wilsher S, Allen WR & Wood JL (2006). Factors associated with failure of thoroughbred horses to train and race. Equine Vet J 38(2), 113–118.
- Woods M, McDonald RA & Harris S (2003). Predation of wildlife by domestic cats Felis catus in Great Britain. Mammal Rev 33, 174–188.
- Respect for animals' dignity.
- Responsibility for considering options (Replace)
- The principle of proportionality: responsibility for considering and balancing suffering and benefit.
- Responsibility for considering reducing the number of animals (Reduce)
- Animal Studies Do Not Reliably Predict Human Outcomes. ...
- Nine Out of Ten Drugs That Appear Promising in Animal Studies Go on to Fail in Human Clinical Trials. ...
- Reliance On Animal Experimentation Can Impede and Delay Discovery. ...
- Animal Studies are Flawed by Design. ...
In conclusion, RDS considers that the use of animals in research can be ethically and morally justified. The benefits of animal research have been enormous and it would have severe consequences for public health and medical research if it were abandoned.Is animal testing morally wrong? ›
The harm that is committed against animals should not be minimized because they are not considered to be "human." In conclusion, animal testing should be eliminated because it violates animals' rights, it causes pain and suffering to the experimental animals, and other means of testing product toxicity are available.What are some ethical issues in animal testing? ›
The basic arithmetic
- the moral value of a human being.
- the number of human beings who would have benefited.
- the value of the benefit that each human being won't get.
The use of nonpredictive animal experiments can cause human suffering in at least two ways: (1) by producing misleading safety and efficacy data and (2) by causing potential abandonment of useful medical treatments and misdirecting resources away from more effective testing methods.How do animal research ethics differ from human ethics? ›
Human ethics takes humans as the centre of our enquiry. It is an anthropocentric ethics which gives only humans moral consideration. Animal ethics has the non-human animal ( usually vertebrates) as the aim of our questioning taking animals as the object of the moral realm and moral consideration.What ethical theory is against animal testing? ›
Despite their many differences, the most widely accepted ethical theories all support a defense of the moral consideration of nonhuman animals and the rejection of speciesism (discrimination against nonhuman animals).Why animal testing is cruel and inhumane? ›
Each year, it is estimated that more than 50 million dogs, cats, monkeys, rabbits, rats and other animals are forced to endure painful experiments in the U.S. Animals are deliberately sickened with toxic chemicals or infected with diseases, live in barren cages and are typically killed when the experiment ends.How many animals survive from animal testing? ›
Only 3 Percent of Animals Survive Lab Experiments.
Soil contamination and runoff of animal waste and other debris related to drug and chemical testing may result in ground water contamination. Animal waste containing drugs and chemicals that may have unknown toxicities due to their experimental nature exacerbates the growing problem of drugs in public water supplies.Can animal testing be justified? ›
Animal research is frequently considered justifiable based on a consequentialist calculus that invokes cost-benefit or harm-benefit analysis .What are the ethical theories in animal experiments? ›
In animal ethics there are some ethical theories that are widely discussed. Two of the most well known are animal rights (also called deontology) and utilitarianism. Another theory which is often raised in the context of veterinary ethics is contractarianism.What is ethical animal choice? ›
The Moral Considerability of Animals. To say that a being deserves moral consideration is to say that there is a moral claim that this being can make on those who can recognize such claims. A morally considerable being is a being who can be wronged.How are animals abused in animal testing? ›
Animals endure chemicals being dripped into their eyes, injected into their bodies, forced up their nostrils or forced down their throats. They are addicted to drugs, forced to inhale/ingest toxic substances, subjected to maternal deprivation, deafened, blinded, burned, stapled, and infected with disease viruses.Do animals suffer during animal testing? ›
A small fraction of animals do experience acute or prolonged pain during experiments. But the researchers who conduct these experiments and the institutional committees that oversee them believe that this pain is justified by the magnitude of the problem the experiments are designed to solve.What happens to animals after animal testing? ›
What happens to animals after the experiment? While some animals may be used again, or sometimes even adopted out, most animals are humanely euthanized. This is usually because certain information, such as organ samples, can only be taken after the animal is euthanized and the body subjected to further analysis.How many animals are killed each year due to animal testing? ›
Each year, more than 110 million animals—including mice, frogs, dogs, rabbits, monkeys, fish, and birds—are killed in U.S. laboratories.What are alternatives to animal testing? ›
These alternatives to animal testing include sophisticated tests using human cells and tissues (also known as in vitro methods), advanced computer-modeling techniques (often referred to as in silico models), and studies with human volunteers.Do animals benefit from animal testing? ›
Animal research has also been integral to the preservation of many endangered species. The ability to eliminate parasitism, treat illnesses, use anesthetic devices, and promote breeding has improved the health and survival of many species.
What is the issue with using animals in psychological research and trying to apply the findings to human beings? ›
The principle disadvantage with animal experiments is the problem of generalisability. Even if we accept evolutionary psychology, humans have evolved to be very different from most other animals, perhaps all other animals.What are the disadvantages of animal testing? ›
- Animal tests often miss the most important signs of toxicity in humans. ...
- Animals are not simply small humans. ...
- Animal tests are time-consuming and expensive, limiting the number of chemicals that can be tested. ...
- Objections to animal testing.
The advantage of animal research is that it puts no human lives at risk. Experiments can take place to determine if a product or idea will work as intended. If it does, then it can be tested on humans with a lower risk of a negative outcome. The disadvantage of animal research is that it lessens the value of life.What are the disadvantages of animal studies psychology? ›
A main weakness of animal studies is that animals have a different physiology to humans. This means that any studies on animals cannot be accurately related to humans, making them invalid. For example, humans do not express immediate imprinting on the first person they see, unlike animals such as ducks and dogs.Why animal testing is cruel and inhumane? ›
Each year, it is estimated that more than 50 million dogs, cats, monkeys, rabbits, rats and other animals are forced to endure painful experiments in the U.S. Animals are deliberately sickened with toxic chemicals or infected with diseases, live in barren cages and are typically killed when the experiment ends.What is a limitation of using animals to study attachment in humans? ›
Psychologists argue that humans and animals are too different of a species, therefore they cannot be used to explain behaviours in each other. This then means that Lorenz study lacks external validity. Therefore, we cannot use animal studies to explain attachment in humans.How does animal testing affect the environment? ›
Soil contamination and runoff of animal waste and other debris related to drug and chemical testing may result in ground water contamination. Animal waste containing drugs and chemicals that may have unknown toxicities due to their experimental nature exacerbates the growing problem of drugs in public water supplies.How many animals are killed each year because of animal testing? ›
Each year, more than 110 million animals—including mice, frogs, dogs, rabbits, monkeys, fish, and birds—are killed in U.S. laboratories.Why is animal experimentation wrong? ›
Animal experiments prolong the suffering of humans waiting for effective cures because the results mislead experimenters and squander precious money, time, and other resources that could be spent on human-relevant research. Animal experiments are so worthless that up to half of them are never even published.How many animals survive from animal testing? ›
Only 3 Percent of Animals Survive Lab Experiments.
PETA's vivid demonstrations and undercover investigations alert the public to wasteful, cruel, and useless experiments on animals, often ones occurring right under their noses. We actively campaign to get animals out of laboratories—and win. Check out a list of our latest victories.What would happen if animal testing was banned? ›
Eventually, we'd start growing actual organs to study diseases and test experimental medicines. This would be a much more humane way for the cosmetic, pharmaceutical, medical and household cleaning industries to test products. And millions of animals would no longer have to suffer experimentation for human gain.What are alternatives to animal testing? ›
These alternatives to animal testing include sophisticated tests using human cells and tissues (also known as in vitro methods), advanced computer-modeling techniques (often referred to as in silico models), and studies with human volunteers.