This paper discusses the controversial topic of using animals in cruel scientific experiments. Three ethical approaches are considered, namely the consequentialist perspective, the Kantian deontological view, and Donna Yarri’s Christian character-based perception. Strengths and weaknesses of each approach are discussed.
The consequentialist perspective is used to show that the cruelty towards animals should not be practiced. It is argued that the consequentialist view shows the reasonableness of limiting cruelty towards animals, and is the most universal one. It is also shown that this method can be applied to the issue in a different way, and the method’s limitations are pointed out.
The use of animals in medical research, testing, and experiments is a highly controversial issue due to the cruel nature of treating animals for these purposes. Indeed, people traditionally use animals to satisfy their basic needs, and the research conducted for the purpose of science can help a great number of people not only today but also in the future. On the other hand, animals are also living creatures; and the today’s consequences for them cannot be bluntly ignored for the sake of future benefits to people.
We believe that it is possible to use animals in medical experimentation, but cruelty in this process should not be allowed. We will not use the Kantian deontological approach, for it does not completely apply to non-conscious actors like animals, and we will not utilize the Christian character-based perspective, for it weighs little to non-Christians.
Adopting the consequentialist approach, the crux of which is that actions are to be judged in accordance with consequences they lead to, we will argue that: 1) animals should be used in medical research because it brings profound benefits to people and science; 2) cruel treatment of animals should not be practiced, for it causes terrible suffering, death, and other dire consequences for the animals; 3) cruel tests can be effectively substituted by alternative procedures. We will use this approach because it shows that it is reasonable not to use animals for cruel experiments, and, because it is reasonable, the results of consequentialist approach hold for everybody.
Summary of Findings
In our previous papers, we considered three different ethical approaches to the issue of using animals in medical and scientific research. These are consequentialist, deontological, and character-based perspectives.
The deontological approach judges a person’s choice of actions from the point of view of a certain given principle. If the actions are done in accordance with this principle, then the action is considered moral; otherwise, they are considered immoral. We have chosen Kantian deontological ethics and have shown that, according to Kant, violence against non-humans indicates immorality, and thus, an individual cannot be objectively viewed as good (Kant, 2013; Oliver, 2010, p. 269).
On the other hand, this theory has a nuance; namely, Kant distinguishes conscious and non-conscious actors. Humans are conscious, therefore, their dignity and rights should be respected; animals, on the contrary, are non-conscious, and there is a question about their rights. This nuance makes the application of this theory to the given issue debatable.
Donna Yarri’s Christian character-based perspective claims that because animals’ physical, mental, and sensitive characteristics are comparable to human ones, animals have the same moral rights as humans. This proposal offers to use the “pet” modality, i.e. view the animal as a pet in order to decide whether an experiment is acceptable. Moreover, it is stated that “animal existence predates human existence”, so “we have to be careful about assuming… that animals exist only or primarily for human use” (Yarri, 2005, p. 115).
Hence, putting human above animals is ethically wrong, and if humans can sacrifice their beloved pets for the medical experiment like God sacrificed his Son, this kind of medical research is considered to be ethical. On the other hand, Yarri’s claims are based on Christianity, which makes many of these arguments be of little use when it comes to persuading non-Christians.
Therefore, we will use the third, consequentialist approach, which judges the actions by their outcomes. We will argue that using animals in experiments is possible, for this brings numerous benefits to people; but this usage should be limited and not cruel, for consequences for animals should not be ignored, and, moreover, such experiments can be effectively replaced by tests of other kind, which will allow scientists to obtain similar results.
The Three Arguments for the Opinion
According to the consequentialist approach, actions should be evaluated by their results. We believe that animals should be used in scientific experiments, but in a way that is not cruel towards them. Utilizing this approach to discuss the issue, we can present three main arguments for our opinion.
The first argument is concerned with the need to use animals in scientific studies. Indeed, medical research can bring numerous benefits not only to a limited group of people, but for the whole humanity. This type of studies can possibly save the lives or alleviate the sufferings of a great number of people.
It is also important to point out that the outcomes of such research can be used not only today but also in all the future that is to come, for the data obtained from such studies (and, in fact, any other studies in natural sciences) can be stored and used both at the moment and in further research; it has no expiry date.
On the other hand, cruel treatment of animals should not be practiced. Hare’s preference utilitarianism is a strong ethical theory to explain why the cruelty towards animals in laboratory experiments cannot be viewed as moral (Hare, 2000). It is hard to underestimate the nastiness of experiments conducted nowadays: “we cut the ears of the animals … to mark them, we cut their tails for genetic analysis, we induce burns, we make them subject experimental infections or to the action of chemicals and, in the end, we kill them” (Marinescu & Coman, 2010, p. 198).
Therefore, the consequences of such experimentation are grave for the animals that not only suffer from pain but also experience real terror; all these procedures lead to animals’ death in excruciating agony. Animals are living creatures; and the today’s consequences for them cannot be bluntly ignored for the sake of future benefits of people, much in the same fashion as experimentation conducted according to the methods of Josef Mengele (see Skloot (n.d.)) cannot be allowed even despite benefits it could theoretically bring to somebody.
Nowadays, such methods of research can be effectively replaced with more ethical ones, and scientists can use a variety of alternative ways instead of using animals in their experiments (Joffe, Bara, Anton, & Nobis, 2014, p. 21). In spite of the fact that these methods are quite expensive, they are rather ethical and do not result in animal suffering while still allowing to improve the quality of human life.
Therefore, the usage of animals in research is acceptable, as long as their needs are satisfied (e.g. they do not suffer from severe restrictions of freedom, are well-fed and looked after) and they do not suffer from cruelty, do not experience pain and fear. Utilizing the consequentialist approach, we have argued that, if we take into account not only the benefits for humans but also the needs of animals, it is possible to reconcile them and use animals in a way that is both equally advantageous for people and not harmful to animals.
It should be admitted that the consequentialist approach also allows for argumentation for the opposite point of view, namely, that it is okay to use animals in cruel experiments. To do that, one needs to accept the statement that people matter more than animals.
Consequentialism on its own does not seem to be sufficient to prove the latter statement, or the statement that we used (that animals should also be taken into account), for it only considers the consequences for a certain set of identities, but leaves us freedom to define that set. Therefore, we can only accept one of the mentioned statements as an axiom if we adopt the consequentialist approach; but, obviously, we will need some metatheory to prove the statement we have adopted as an axiom.
The character-based ethics of Yarri (2005), as we already mentioned, is based on Christianity; the foundations of such an approach do not weigh much for agnostics, atheists, or followers of other religions. On the other hand, despite this limitation, Yarri’s perspective could serve for some as the metatheory which is needed to provide grounds for the axiom used in the consequentialist approach.
Kant’s deontological approach could also be used as a metatheory to prove that animals should be treated equally; but it could as well be used for the opposite statement, for it is possible to make a stress on the fact that, in this theory, animals are considered to be non-conscious actors.
Therefore, no approach among the ones considered in our papers can be used universally to argue against cruelty in animal experimentation. We have chosen the consequentialist approach: 1) because it shows that an alternative to this cruelty is possible and reasonable, unlike the deontological approach, which is dependent on the animals’ being non-conscious; and because 2) it is more universal than the approach based on Christianity, for it also can be used by those who do not profess this religion.
It should be noted that the process of considering these three approaches to the issue has shown us that, in fact, at least in some cases an ethical method could be used to both prove and disprove a given statement, depending on the set of axioms we adopt before using this method. Still, we were able to understand that using animals in cruel experiments is replaceable and plainly unnecessary, and, therefore, it is reasonable to dispose of such experiments if we possess at least the slightest bit of empathy.
We suppose that the consequentialist perspective is an extremely useful one, but its usage is also limited, for in many cases we have to choose the set of entities for which to consider the consequences, and such choice can also sometimes be unjust or simply arbitrary. It is also always possible to miscalculate the consequences of some actions, which also limits the usage of the consequentialist approach.
Hare, R. M. (2000). Objective prescriptions, and other essays. New York, NY: Clarendon Press.
Joffe, A., Bara, M., Anton, N., & Nobis, N. (2014). The ethics of animal research: A survey of pediatric health care workers. Philosophy, Ethics and Humanities in Medicine, 9(1), 20-30.
Kant, I. (2013). On the metaphysics of morals and ethics. New York, NY: Start Publishing.
Marinescu, B., & Coman, C. (2010). The ethics of animals testing. Romanian Journal of Bioethics, 8(3), 197-204.
Oliver, K. (2010). Animal ethics: Toward an ethics of responsiveness. Research in Phenomenology, 40(1), 267-280.
Skloot, R. (n.d.). Joseph Mengele.
Yarri, D. (2005). Ethics of animal experimentation: A critical analysis and constructive Christian proposal. Cary, NC: Oxford University Press.