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Ethics of Animal Experimentation: Is it Justified?

Updated on January 27, 2013

Experimenting on Animals

This lens discusses the fundamentals of whether it is ethical to use animals in experiments, to advance human knowledge. It is crucial to know if animals are really beneficial for this, or could scientists make do with cells and organs grown in laboratories, without harming the animals?

Just because animals cannot communicate the same way humans do, does not mean that they do not communicate in another form. It is believed that most animals have a conscience - the ability to choose right from wrong - and this means they can feel pain as much as humans do.

Image Credit: Renee Shearer

A Lab Animal's Life

Imagine living inside a tiny locked cage, with no control over your future or any aspect of your life. No control over whether you will have a partner or children, who your partner is, what you eat or where you will live, or when you sleep. Could you spend your whole life living this way? This is the life animals in laboratories get given. A life spent in misery, isolation and being deprived of happiness and a normal life. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals report that often, these animals endure terrifying and painful procedures then are usually dumped into their cages without painkillers.

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Knowledge Advances: Are They Worth It?

For many years, scientists have used animals as a way of advancing their knowledge of cell processes, but some abuse this power. There are scientists that perform unnecessary tests on animals and purposely inflict pain on them. Ethical issues surround both, but mostly fall on the latter. The question is: do animals have morals?

According to PETA, every year hundreds of thousands of animals are being killed, poisoned or blinded in product tests that are unnecessary and out-dated. These products range from house-cleaning items, personal-care, cosmetics and even fruit juices. Though most companies have banned all testing on animals forever, some corporations remain to do so.

How Animals Come to the Labs

There are many different ways animals come into a lab; through city pounds, zoos, circuses, and breeders. Sometimes pets do not even last a day at shelters before they are sold to labs for a very small price, without being given a chance to find a good home. Also, many chimpanzees are caught in the wild or bred in laboratories.

These animals spend the rest of their lives in captivity, knowing only pain and suffering. It does not have to be this way.

Moral Choice or Beneficial Research?

Bernard Föex asked, "How does one quantify harms and benefits, especially in dealing with animal research?". While the procedure of cardiopulmonary bypass was being developed, it involved numerous animal experimentations - but eventually, it has resulted in open heart surgery which is a huge benefit. This has been declared justifiable.

However, Tom Regan argues, "An animal's life has inherent value to that animal and confers moral status to that individual."

Humans do not have rights to exploit other beings, to have possible benefits for humans. It is understandable that humans are fascinated with learning about medicine and biology, but there are alternative ways to sacrificing animals for science, such as cells, organs and tissues that are grown in a culture.

The obvious advantages include; minimising suffering and pain of the animals, and eliminating sacrifice.

In fact, if it wasn't for the increase in advancing technologies such as genome sequencing, there wouldn't be a need to test on animals and the decline in mid 1970's would have continued.

Types of Tests Performed on Animals

Animals brought into research laboratories, are put through undeniable pain, just to advance our knowledge of how things work. Animals are suffering unnecessarily, with tests that are not legally required.

PETA suggests, "Rats, mice, guinea pigs, rabbits, and other animals are forced to swallow or inhale massive quantities of a test substance or endure the pain of having caustic chemicals applied to their sensitive eyes and skin" even when these results are usually unreliable and not of any use to humans.

It is also said that; Monkeys have tubes forced down their throats and are given drugs then become addicted. Pigs and sheep have their skin burned off. Rats have their spinal cords crushed and undergo seizures. Mice grow tumours the same size as their bodies. Kittens are blinded by chemicals.

In toxicology studies, dogs are the favoured species, where large doses of the test substance is pumped into their bodies. These substances include pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals. Sadly, being dubbed as 'man's best friend' does not protect them from being locked inside a cage or studied for heart and hormonal diseases.

Furthermore, fish are not protected by the Animal Welfare Act - even though they do not fit into the cognitive criteria, fish still have the ability to feel pain like every other animal.

If The Cruelty to Animals Act of 1879 states that "no experimental animal is allowed to suffer severe pain which is likely to endure", why are there so many reports of suffering?

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Ethical Issues

Tom Beauchamp suggests that humans need to have all the cognitive criteria for status as a person. These include; rationality, capacity for self-consciousness, purposive action, ability to make moral judgements and to communicate in a language.

But should the same criteria be used for animals?

It is questionable. Scientists would be forced to change their treatment of animals if the animals have the mental capability to be self-conscious, rational, and have the ability to be communicative.

Jeremy Bentham once alleged; it's not a case of moral standing, but whether the animal has the capacity to feel pain.

This prompted Bentham's famous words, "The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?".

Carl Cohen reasons, to have a moral right, one must validly claim it. Hence, rights are human and their possessors are persons. He believes that animals cannot have rights since they do not possess the ability for moral judgement or to claim their morals. Therefore, testing on animals doesn't violate their rights because they do not have any.

Though, this does not make sense. Animals are living, breathing entities. They feel pain. How can they not have rights, whether they can communicate or not?

Is It Justified?

People in communities have the ability to stop this, but most just turn a blind eye, forgetting that the products they buy have caused excruciating pain for the animals tested on.

While unnecessarily testing on animals is controversial, it is important to understand the reasoning behind crucial medial research. However, it is in my belief that there are alternative avenues that would work just as well, that are also cheaper, without any sacrificing or harming of animals.

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What Do You Think About Experimenting on Animals? - Do Animals Have Rights?

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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      A very difficult issue. I do not agree with using animals to test cosmetic products and agree there should be a global ban on this. However, for tests on new drugs to combat killer disease, I am more ambivalent on this issue, having watched relatives die in pain and distress. In Britain, there are Home Office regulations for the protection and humane handling of animals in pharmaceutical laboratories and universities. But of course the situation can be uncontrolled elsewhere in the world, causing unnecessary suffering to animals.

      I'm pleased that a Squidoo lens is being used to raise important moral issues like this for discussion though, instead of the usual ephemera and fluff 'stuff'' that fills it up.

    • ViolaSuSi profile image


      5 years ago


    • Valerie Bloom profile image

      Valerie Bloom 

      5 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      This is a very difficult issue. Ideally, I think experimenting on animals should be banned. It is my understanding that experimenting on animals is almost always unnecessary as far as the advancement of knowledge -- there are other ways of gaining the same understanding. It is not ethical to inflict pain on other beings, and animals do not exist for us to exploit.


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