With roots stemming from the days of Aristotle and Erasistratus, animal testing has been a controversial subject that has become increasingly prevalent within scientific research and medicinal development. This prevalence has played a crucial role in virtually every medical breakthrough of the last century.
Imagine you are a scientist at the University of Sheffield (UoS) deliberating whether to conduct tests on animals to help develop a potentially lifesaving drug. Would it be ethically acceptable to inflict suffering on animals to improve the quality of human life?
“No, it is never acceptable to exploit animals for human benefit”
Animal rights activists, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have long fought to stop the use of animals in scientific experimentation. They believe that the use of animals during testing to benefit humans is not only cruel, but purports the unjustified notion that the value of a human life is greater than that of an animal. The University of Sheffield (UoS) plays a crucial role in conducting research and animal testing to develop novel biotherapeutics. After the UoS revealed their animal testing figures in 2015, a wave of protest sparked. Despite meeting governmental standards and abiding to an internal ethical policy, these statistics revealed that 2447 animals that were used as test subjects fell under either the ‘severe’ or ‘non-recovery’ categories, which describe the degree of suffering an animal has been subject to. Should you as the scientist make animals endure such thresholds of pain, given that cannot consent or object? When contacted regarding this matter, a representative from PETA stated “These animals are much more than that, they can feel pain and suffer just like us. No animal deserves to spend their life in a laboratory.”
So long as there is animal testing, there will be some level of suffering
All research conducted at the UoS involving animal experimentation is underpinned by the guiding principles of the three R’s – reduction in the number of animals used, refinement of the experiments to minimise animal suffering and the replacement of animals for testing through alternative techniques. Whilst the UoS ensures that animals are only used for experimentation when there are no reasonable alternatives currently available, there was a massive 22.7% rise in the number of animals used for testing between 2014 and 2015. To counteract this rise, more stringent government regulations could result in a reduction in the total number of animals tested, accelerating the development of alternative techniques.
Are the scientists at the UoS conducting animal experimentation doing so ethically?
From a preference utilitarian perspective, where maximising interests of those affected is of utmost importance, testing on animals cannot be justified as pain should be avoided wherever possible. Peter Singer, an act utilitarian, believes that by subscribing to concepts arising from speciesism, humans have failed to consider the adverse effects arising from their actions on the welfare of animals – they intrinsically seek pleasure and avoid pain. From a Kantian perspective, it is argued that doing what is right is not related to the consequences of the action, but is about having the proper intention in performing the action. Hence, as the scientist performing animal experimentation, YOU are responsible for the animal suffering caused by YOUR actions, regardless of the results of those actions. Thus, if alternative techniques were to completely eradicate the need for animal testing, both ethical perspectives would be fulfilled as animals would no longer be suffering.
“Yes, millions of lives could be saved”
It is the responsibility of scientists to be effective and efficient, to pursue technological advancement and to protect the welfare of the people and the surrounding environment. Years of research in this field has made scientists aware that animal testing is crucial in investigating the development and consequent prevention of diseases and their associated side-effects. This is supported by the fact that 39 of the last 40 Nobel Prizes in Physiology and Medicine were granted to research involving animal experimentation. In addition, human trials without appropriate animal testing have shown evidence of being catastrophic.
What is the moral status of animals?
It has long been debated that humans are superior compared to animals. Humans have a sense of morality, complex communication skills and the capacity for inventing social constructs such as religions, nations and currency. Immanuel Kant argued that humans are self-aware and are on opposing sides of the intellectual spectrum when compared to sentient beings. Hence, the betterment of mankind should be prioritised above the welfare of animals. This is supported by John Stuart Mill’s statement, “better be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.” Humans have a higher moral status, making animal experimentation ethically justifiable.
Balancing of the scales
Experiments conducted at the UoS implementing animal experimentation have led to major breakthroughs in the development of cures for asthma, epilepsy and Alzheimer’s. Without such advancements, humans affected by such conditions would have suffered significantly more. In addition, great care has been taken to ensure that the welfare of the animals is preserved: the UoS is subject to the Ethical Review Process implemented by the government for research institutions. The UoS only use animals when there are no other alternatives available. The UoS mainly use zebrafish as they have the lowest neurophysiological sensitivity in comparison to other animals commonly used for testing. Thus, from a utilitarian perspective, it can be argued that the overall benefits gained for human health from animal testing are far more significant than the suffering of the animals involved.
Animal testing harms fewer animals per year than those killed by household cats every week
The arguments above highlight the clear benefits of animal testing and the measures taken in order to ensure minimal pain is inflicted on the animals. In addition, alternatives to animal testing are not fully developed and their premature implementation could put humans at very high risk. For these reasons, YOU as the scientist are abiding by YOUR active and passive responsibilities of foreseeability, maintaining freedom of action and minimising the occurrence of wrong doing. You are within the ethical and legal bounds to conduct animal testing. If anything, we must ensure that the exaggerated marketing of ill effects of animal testing must be minimised to protect the researchers trying to work towards the betterment of the human race.
In light of what you have read, would you proceed to conduct animal testing?
Group 33: Amish Patel, William Busbt, Ayan Ahmed, Thomas Alexander Wallenius Johansen