Comment Writer Jonny Isaacs reflects on mental health and race in the wake of recent mass shootingsWritten by Jonny Isaacs on 22nd November 2017
Animal Experimentation: Right or Wrong?
Comment Writer Rhi Storer debates the ethics of Animal Testing
As a recently-converted vegetarian, I was horrified to learn that our university last year has killed more than 54,000 animals in scientific testing. If we quantified this as humans, it would translate to the same population as Canterbury.
Initially, I was outraged at the universities practices. Is it really necessary to kill animals for medical research in 2017? As philosopher Carl Cohen writes: “If animals have any rights, they must have the right not to be killed to advance the interest of others.” Simply put, we as citizens and consumers should actively abstain all products that requires an animal to die. This includes clothes, medicine, and food.
“I was horrified to learn that our university last year has killed more than 54,000 animals in scientific testing
Our understanding of not killing animals derives from morality. While the statement “killing animals is wrong” is not a truth-apt, there is some truth-related essence in that statement because we believe it to have moral authority.
Of course, when we consider morality as a code for showing humans the ‘ideal way of living’, there are many systems which cater to the ‘ideal way of life’. Since there are an array of systems that claim to have successfully tested an ‘ideal way of life’, it must be plausible then that the statement “killing animals is wrong” must have some quality of truth in it. This can be seen as more and more people are advocating for animal welfare.
The question then is, should our society (and by society I mean a society in which members have subscribed to a system of agreed norms) have a moral code that includes clear rules regarding the treatment of animals, and if so what kind? Or whether these principles regarding the treatment of animals are derivative?
“The question then is, should our society have a moral code that includes clear rules regarding the treatment of animals, and if so what kind?
As Kant says, “he who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men.” If a certain behaviour would contribute to society’s ability to meet the needs of its populous, then our moral code should reflect that. For example, compassion is often a net benefit for society. Of course compassion can be suppressed to some degree by a certain culture, that actively narrows their compassion to only those that fit a certain category. Despite this, a person who responds with compassion to some of those they see in need will often respond to any being they see to be in similar need. Compassion is elicited by needs. Humans from outside our society can have these needs, as well as non-humans i.e animals. This is because they are sentient beings and experience pain and suffering just like we humans do.
And what about the duty not to kill? When creating a society, we ought to choose a moral code that prohibits killing others with very few exceptions, except as self-defense. This is because a rational and peaceful society is the best in conducting ‘the ideal way of life’. Yet there is an exception, when there is a choice between an animal and a human. If we accept that an animal has the same equal feeling of pain and sentiency, then we are failing our core duty not to kill - the very essence of what makes us human.
“Animals and humans don't necessarily share the same gene pool
On the other hand, with the advent of cruelty-free items, and more public awareness of companies’ attitudes to animals, we can have an ethically carnivorous life so long as we ensure the animals we consume have lived and died without unnecessary suffering. However, this is assuming that our consumption of animals is optional. Eating meat is an option. You don’t need to eat meat in order to live. Could we say the same about medical research?
Some would argue it is necessary to research on animals, because either A) information regarding a vaccine or drug cannot be learned in any other way. Or B) society would deem it unethical to use that medicinal product on a human if there is a possibility it can cause harm.
There appears to be a fundamental flaw with this argument though: animals and humans don't necessarily share the same gene pool. This means that trialling medicinal products on animals is futile if there is an inability to recreate human diseases in animals. To place them in the same biological, than moral, category is a fundamental flaw of animal testing.
Even then animal experimentation to human medicine is speculative and exaggerated, when considering that 9/10 animal experiments often fail.
The problem with these sort of arguments is that they are circular. When innovation is made as a result of animal experimentation, they become a necessity. If there was a fault, then scientists would explore other paths. If an alternative does exist, why not try it out? Perhaps a solution to this would be for government to step in a regulate what sort of tests should be conducted, and what sorts of should be tests are banned for cruelty without sufficient benefit.
“Even then animal experimentation to human medicine is speculative and exaggerated, when considering that 9/10 animal experiments often fail
There are many philosophical arguments to be had about this debate, more than enough for a small opinion piece. But I would be a hypocrite to ban all animal research when I rely on it for my medication. Perhaps instead of directing their hate towards animal experimentation, we should focus on supporting research that aims at developing new techniques that may help us rely less and less on animal models in the future.