Concern over the indiscriminate use of animals by humans has gained prominence since the latter half of the twentieth century, with the increase in the insensitive use of animals for scientific research and the increased availability of literature raising moral concerns over this insensitive use of animals.
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The issue of animal rights is a part of the broader vision on the rights of every living being to a more equitable existence on planet earth. This broader vision calls for a better appreciation of the limits of human growth and the need to stop the misuse of other life forms and life sustaining resources of mother earth.
There is no denying that the fact that the issue of animal rights is a complex issue, but it is essential that greater wisdom prevails for the greater good of humans and animals as a component of other life forms on earth.
There is hardly any logic in the arguments for the use of animals for scientific research based on their similarity to humans, but at the same time denies these same animals basic rights that humans enjoy by stressing the differences that exist with humans.
In essence the issue of providing rights to animals is a question of righting the balance that has tilted further away in favor of humans with particular emphasis on their misuse for scientific research purposes. (1)
Use of Animals for Scientific Research Purposes
The extent of use of animals in scientific research around the world can be gauged from the understanding that in the United Kingdom more than 2.6 million rodents, rabbits, cats, dogs, ferrets, pigs, sheep, primates, and birds were utilized in 2002 for some form or other of scientific research. At the end of the research these animals are destroyed. This means that approximately four animals are being destroyed for every human child born. (2). The situation does not get any better in the United States of America. According to estimates of the Humane Society almost 25 million animals are used every year for research, testing and educational purposes in the United States of America, with almost all the animals used for testing and research eventually put to death. (3).
The issue is not just in the number of animals used for scientific research, but also in the pain and suffering that these animals undergo, all in the name of improving the quality of life of humans, or in attempting to develop life-saving products for humans.
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In such scientific research, invasive and non-invasive means of testing is employed that put the animals under severe suffering and stress. Examples of this abound.
For the study of impact of long-term misuse of drugs like methamphetamine, animals like mice are made to ingest methamphetamine for a period of time and suffer the debilitating effects of the drug, so that an understanding of the neurological impact can be ascertained by studying the brain of the animal after it has been killed.
Again in research for drugs used to fight cancer, tumors are introduced into the animals and then the drugs given to study potency and toxicity, while the animal suffers the intense pain that these tumors can produce. Such painful research is justified in the name of the requirement for enhancing the quality of treatment for several human diseases and conditions.
Yet, it is a well established fact that translating the evidence found in animals into treatment value for humans is seldom easy given the inherent structural and functional differences. According to Dr. Richard Klausner, the Director of the National cancer Institute “The history of cancer research has been a history of curing cancer in the mouse…
We have cured mice of cancer for decades- and it simply didn’t work in humans”. (4). In essence the benefits that humans derive from the indiscriminate use of animals for scientific purposes are marginal. The issue is further compounded when the morality of this indiscriminate use of animals is taken into consideration.
Moral Issues in the Use of Animals for Scientific Research
Humans and animals are among the life forms found on earth, with animals the more developed animal form. Development needs to be based not just on the better ability to think, but on the ability to reason and act in a just manner that is considered to be the characteristic of a well developed human society.
Such just and consistent thinking requires that humans treat animals in a more respectable manner, which gives the means and the right to flourish and not be tortured or treated in a cruel manner that is degrading to their very existence, as is seen in methods employed in scientific testing. (5).
The primary moral issue in the issue use of animals for scientific research lies in the principal of justice to treat all cases alike, which in this case are humans and non-human animals. It is considered wrong to use humans for scientific research without their consent. Humans and animals are considered to have comparable physiological and psychological capacities.
Given this dimension then it should be wrong to use animals in scientific research without their consent. Their inability to give consent coupled with their dependence on the kindness and compassion of humans for their very welfare makes it even more morally demanding on humans to avoid the indiscriminate use of animals, as in scientific research, for the intended benefit of humans. (6).
Animals are sentient in that they have the capacity to suffer, or experience joy and happiness. Yet humans subject animals to suffering, denying experiences of joy and happiness, which they would not subject their fellow beings to. This is being discriminatory or ‘speciesist’, which is morally irrespective of any benefits that may accrue to humans through the use of animals in scientific research. (7).
The moral theme behind this equal treatment necessity stems from the saga of that has seen racial and gender discrimination among humans being gradually removed, as it was considered morally wrong to have unequal segments of human society and the full understanding and creation of equal human rights. It is the natural extension of this that is the moral basis for the claim of removal of discrimination in the treatment of animals. The history of racial discrimination and ill treatment makes for suitable comparison to the ill treatment of animals.
Early in the twentieth century eugenics the illegitimate progeny of evolutionary genetics found sway in Europe and America, because of the already prevalent racist attitudes in the upper echelons of society. Eugenics called for the breeding to be permitted only among the best stock, which would gradually see the extinction of the weaker races to give way for the nobler varieties of humans.
This view was not a just a figment of creation of a few of the aristocratic class, but had a host of well known individuals including Winston Churchill as believers in the removal of feeble minded ands insane classes of people. An entry in the diary of Virginia Woolf in 1915 reads as, “On the towpath we met and had to pass a long line of imbeciles.
It was perfectly horrible. They should certainly be killed”. (8). Again from H. G. Wells, who supported eugenics, “those swarms of blacks, brown, and dirty-white, and yellow people …. will have to go”. (8). It was such beliefs that led to the enforced sterilization and forced research on fellow humans in Germany under the rule of Adolf Hitler.
The scientific findings of some of this forced and cruel research still remain valid to science, but the cruel treatment humans brought about moral revulsion, which saw the demise of eugenics. This is despite emerging controversial evidence that there may be a genetic link to intelligence, creativity, sexuality and criminality. (8). So much for the much flaunted superior intelligence of all humans over animals.
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Within the human species there exists the possibility of different levels of intelligence and yet our morals of justice and equality do not allow us to discriminate against them. Animals occupy a lower rung in the evolutionary ladder, but demand our attention to prevent their indiscriminate use in scientific research.
It is less than a century since the belief in eugenics existed and now leads to moral revulsion. Remaining blinded to the indiscriminate use of animals in scientific research could lead to moral revulsion of our times.
Racial and gender discrimination is no longer morally acceptable in human society. The moral philosophy of egalitarian society does not emanate from the fact that all races equal in all capabilities and so too with the gender.
The principal of equality does not describe the actual equality of every human being rather it is a prescription for the manner in which all humans should be treated. The moral equality of Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian system of ethics is based on the formula “each to count for one and none for more than one”. (9).
In other words the interests of every being are equal to the interests of every other being and the interests of no being supersedes the other. Such thinking is reflected in the later utilitarian Henry Sidgwick words “the good of any one individual is of no more importance, from the point of view (if I may say so) of the Universe, than the good of any other”. (9).
Hence it is not the actual equality that matters in human rights, but the underlying principle that all humans are to be treated equally. It is this underlying principle that needs to be extended to animals as a group. There is no claim that this group be given all the rights that were received by the earlier discriminated groups of races and gender, like voting rights.
These rights are even acceptably denied to children as they do not need such a right and will not be able to make proper just such a right. Without equating animals to children, animals as a group do not require such rights as voting, but the do require basic right to live with dignity, as is required by the different kinds of animals that make up the animal kingdom.
The right to live a life that allows them to enjoy the joys, happiness, and sorrows that is linked to a natural existence, and not to suffer a caged and tortured life that is put to an end, when their utility is believed to be over, as is the case with animals that become part of scientific research.
Bentham brings into relevance another aspect that calls for providing animals rights and that is the aspect of suffering that animals are subjected too. He points out the issue is not that they cannot reason, nor can they talk, “but can they suffer?”(9). It is this vital characteristic that animals can suffer that gives animals the right to equal consideration.
They cannot express themselves and are totally dominated by humans. This makes them wholly depended on the compassion of humans for equal consideration. The moral basis for the argument against abortion is that the nascent life in the womb is capable of feeling the pain and suffering associated with abortion. In addition the fetus is incapable expressing itself and hence is dependent on external voices to express its rights.
It is the same analogy here with animals used for scientific research. They suffer but cannot express themselves and need outside expression of their rights. Since the animal suffers there is no moral justification for refusing to consider the suffering that is occurring. If the animal were not capable of suffering there would be no moral basis for animal rights. Sentience is thus the defensible boundary that is breached by researchers using animals.
The racist breaches the principle of equality by providing greater consideration for the members of the same race, while the use of animals in research stems from “speciesism”, wherein the interests of the human species to which the researcher belongs is given superiority to the needs of any other member of the animal kingdom. Racism has gradually died out or is in its deathbed. “Speciesism “needs to follow racism in a similar manner. (9).
Animals are used in huge numbers for scientific research. Such animals go through a painful existence and early death as a result of being subjects to scientific research. By subjecting them to such cruelty, animals are being denied the basic rights that are due to them as fellow being on this planet.
This discrimination against their sentience and as a result of speciesism demonstrated by humans needs to come to an end and will happen, when the rights of animals are recognized to and their indiscriminate use in scientific research comes to an end.
- Ulrich, E. Roger. “ANIMAL RIGHTS, ANIMAL WRONGS AND THE QUESTION OF BALANCE”. Psychological Science, 2.3 (1991): 197-201.
- Bowring, Finn. “Animal Wrongs”. New Humanist.
- Miller, Talia. “Scientific Research Targeted by Anti-Animal Testing Activists”. 2006. NEWS HOUR EXTRA.
- “Torture of animals in research & bull flipping, tail breaking rodeo”. 2002.
- Geoghegan, Tom. “Should apes have human rights?” 2007. BBC News Magazine.
- Hadley, John. “Why (some philosophers think) using animals in scientific research is seriously wrong”. ANZCART NEWS, 18.1 (2005): 1-6.
- France, Malcolm. “So what exactly is ‘Animal Rights’?” ANZCART NEWS, 18.1 (2005): 11-12.
- McFadden, John. “The shameful history at the heart of genetics”. Science & Technology. THE HINDU, 2007, p. 17.
- Singer, Peter. “All Animals Are Equal”. 2007.