The ethics of animal experimentation.
Many medical research institutions make use of non-human animals as test subjects. Animals may be subject to experimentation or modified into conditions useful for gaining knowledge about human disease or for testing potential human treatments. Because animals as distant from humans as mice and rats share many physiological and genetic similarities with humans, animal experimentation can be tremendously helpful for furthering medical science.
However, there is an ongoing debate about the ethics of animal experimentation. Some people argue that all animal experimentation should end because it is wrong to treat animals merely as tools for furthering knowledge. According to this point of view, an animal should have as much right as a human being to live out a full life, free of pain and suffering. Others argue that while it is wrong to unnecessarily abuse animals, animal experimentation must continue because of the enormous scientific resource that animal models provide. Proponents of continued animal experimentation often also point out that progress can still be made to improve the conditions of laboratory animals and they fully support efforts to improve living conditions in laboratories, to use anesthesia appropriately, and to require trained personnel to handle animals.
On closer scrutiny, there exists a wide range of positions on the debate over the ethics of animal testing. The two views mentioned above represent two common positions at the opposing ends of the spectrum. Others endorse a view closer to the middle of the spectrum. Usually, this middle view accepts experimentation on some, but not all, animals and aims to avoid unnecessary use of animals in scientific research by pursuing alternatives to animal testing.
The following sections briefly outline a few of the arguments for and against animal experimentation. They do not represent every possible argument, or even necessarily the best arguments. They also do not necessarily reflect the views of the HOPES team. They are simply our effort to review and raise awareness of the underlying issues.
- The Case Against Animal Experimentation
- The Case For Animal Experimentation
- A Middle Ground
The Case Against Animal Experimentation ^
An important part of the debate over animal rights centers on the question of the moral status of an animal. Most people agree that animals have at least some moral status – that is why it is wrong to abuse pets or needlessly hurt other animals. This alone represents a shift from a past view where animals had no moral status and treating an animal well was more about maintaining human standards of dignity than respecting any innate rights of the animal. In modern times, the question has shifted from whether animals have moral status to how much moral status they have and what rights come with that status.
The strongest pro animal rights answer to this question would be that non-human animals have exactly the same moral status as humans and are entitled to equal treatment. The ethicists who endorse this position do not mean that animals are entitled to the very same treatment as humans; arguing that animals should have the right to vote or hold office is clearly absurd. The claim is that animals should be afforded the same level of respectful treatment as humans; in short, we should not have the right to kill animals, force them into our service, or otherwise treat them merely as means to further our own goals.
One common form of this argument claims that moral status comes from the capacity to suffer or to enjoy life. In respect to his capacity, many animals are no different than humans. They can feel pain and experience pleasure. Therefore, they should have the same moral status and deserve equal treatment.
Supporters of this type of argument frequently claim that granting animals less moral status than humans is just a form of prejudice called “speciesism.” We have an innate tendency, they say, to consider the human species more morally relevant merely because it is the group to which we belong. However, we look upon past examples of this behavior as morally condemnable. Being of a particular race or gender does not give one any grounds for declaring outsiders to be of a lower moral status. Many animal rights advocates argue similarly—that just because we are human is not sufficient grounds to declare animals less morally significant.
The Case For Animal Experimentation ^
Defenders of animal experimentation usually argue that animals cannot be considered morally equal to humans. They generally use this claim as the cornerstone of an argument that the benefits to humans from animal experimentation outweigh or “make up for” the harm done to animals. The first step in making that argument is to show that humans are more important than animals. Below, I will outline one of the more common arguments used to reach this conclusion.
Some philosophers advocate the idea of a moral community. Roughly speaking, this is a group of individuals who all share certain traits in common. By sharing these traits, they belong to a particular moral community and thus take on certain responsibilities toward each other and assume specific rights. For example, in most human moral communities all individuals have the right to make independent decisions and live autonomous lives – and with that right comes the responsibility to respect others’ independence.
Although a moral community could theoretically include animals, it frequently does not. The human moral community, for instance, is often characterized by a capacity to manipulate abstract concepts and by personal autonomy. Since most animals do not have the cognitive capabilities of humans and also do not seem to possess full autonomy (animals do not rationally choose to pursue specific life goals), they are not included in the moral community. Once animals have been excluded from the moral community, humans have only a limited obligation towards them; on this argument, we certainly would not need to grant animals all normal human rights.
If animals do not have the same rights as humans, it becomes permissible to use them for research purposes. Under this view, the ways in which experimentation might harm the animal are less morally significant than the potential human benefits from the research.
One problem with this type of argument is that many humans themselves do not actually fulfill the criteria for belonging to the human moral community. Both infants and the mentally handicapped frequently lack complex cognitive capacities, full autonomy, or even both of these traits. Are those individuals outside the human moral community? Do they lack fundamental human rights and should we use them for experimentation? One philosophical position actually accepts those consequences and argues that those humans have the exact same rights (or lack of rights) as non-human animals. However, most people are uncomfortable with that scenario and some philosophers have put forth a variety of reasons to include all humans in the human moral community. A common way to “return” excluded individuals to the human moral community is to note how close these individuals come to meeting the criteria. In fact, some of them (the infants) will surely meet all of the criteria in the future. With that in mind, the argument runs, it is best practice to act charitably and treat all humans as part of the moral community.
In summary, defenders of animal experimentation argue that humans have higher moral status than animals and fundamental rights that animals lack. Accordingly, potential animal rights violations are outweighed by the greater human benefits of animal research.
A Middle Ground ^
There is a middle ground for those who feel uncomfortable with animal experimentation, but believe that in some circumstances the good arising out of experimentation does outweigh harm to the animal. Proponents of the middle ground position usually advocate a few basic principals that they believe should always be followed in animal research.
One principle calls for the preferential research use of less complex organisms whenever possible. For example bacteria , fruit flies, and plants would be preferred over mammals. This reflects a belief in a hierarchy of moral standing with more complex animals at the top and microorganisms and plants at the bottom. A philosophical grounding for this sort of hierarchy is the “moral worth as richness of life” model. This point of view suggests that more complicated organisms have richer, more fulfilling lives and that it is the richness of the life that actually correlates with moral worth.
Another principle is to reduce animal use as far as possible in any given study. Extensive literature searches, for instance, can ensure that experiments are not unnecessarily replicated and can ensure that animal models are only used to obtain information not already available in the scientific community. Another way to reduce animal use is to ensure that studies are conducted according to the highest standards and that all information collected will be useable. Providing high quality, disease-free environments for the animals will help ensure that every animal counts. Additionally, well designed studies and appropriate statistical analysis of data can minimize the number of animals required for statistically significant results.
A third principle is to ensure the best possible treatment of the animals used in a study. This means reducing pain and suffering as much as possible. When appropriate, anesthesia should be used; additionally, studies should have the earliest possible endpoints after which animals who will subsequently experience disease or suffering can be euthanized. Also, anyone who handles the animals should be properly trained.
The “bottom line” for the middle ground position is that animal experimentation should be avoided whenever possible in favor of alternative research strategies.
For further reading:
- Singer, Peter. “All Animals are Equal.” Ethics in Practice . LaFollette, Hugh ed. Blackwell Publishing. 2007. Peter Singer is one of the best publicly known advocates of animal rights and animal equality. This philosophical essay briefly presents his views.
- Fox, Michael Allen. “The Moral Community.” Ethics in Practice. LaFollette, Hugh ed. Blackwell Publishing. 2007. This essay defends animal experimentation.
- Frey, R.G. “Animals and Their Medical Use.” Contemporary Debates in Applied Ethics. Cohen, Andrew and Wellman, Christopher eds. Blackwell Publishing. 2005 In this essay Frey puts forth a view where animals do matter, but human welfare is considered more important.
- Regan, Tom. “Empty Cages: Animals Rights and Vivisection.” Contemporary Debates in Applied Ethics. Cohen, Andrew and Wellman, Christopher eds. Blackwell Publishing. 2005. This essay supports animal rights.
- “Ethics and Alternatives”. Research Animal Resources. University of Minnesota. 2003. Ethics and Alternatives for Animal Use in Research and Teaching . A great resource describing some ways to minimize the use of animals in research and to practice the best standards when using animals.
– Adam Hepworth, 11-26-08
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L Grayson. The British Library, 2000, £35, pp 300. ISBN 071230858X
The use of animals for the purpose of scientific research is an emotive subject. The moral arguments often exhibit polarised positions: the scientific demand for absolute freedom of research, and the abolitionist demand for a total ban on all animal experiments. At one extreme are those who argue that research on animals is essential in the battle against disease, and on the other extreme it is argued that the cost in terms of animal suffering is too high and that if experiments were prohibited medical researchers would find some other means of ensuring scientific progress. The rhetoric employed is also suggestive of a polarity: experimenters are accused of cruelty and indifference, whereas campaigners on behalf of animals are accused of irresponsibility and insensitivity towards the wellbeing of humans. Yet to ask which side is right is to betray a misunderstanding of the complex nature of the debate, in which a plethora of interrelated ethical and scientific issues find expression in a wide spectrum of viewpoints.
One of the strengths of Animals in Research is that Grayson recognises the complexity of this issue, and in the opening chapter, which surveys the moral and philosophical debate over animal research, there is an appeal for constructive listening. Avoiding either extreme, Grayson opens with a comprehensive survey of the many different standpoints that have found expression in the animal research debate. The second and third chapters focus on public perspectives on animal research and the development of legislation and regulations since the Victorian period. The fourth chapter investigates issues that have drawn the attention of scientists and animal rights and welfare groups since the 1886 act which dealt with research on animals.
As in most ethical debates neither side offers support for needless suffering, and the way forward lies in the consideration of ways to minimise any necessary suffering both in general and individually. Chapters five and six therefore address the three Rs (replacement, reduction, and refinement) which have emerged as objectives on which otherwise disparate parties can agree. Replacement and reduction seek to minimise the number of animals used in research and refinement is bound up with the minimisation of pain, distress and lasting harm inflicted upon animals. This discussion is the most significant part of the book, as it indicates the possibility of dialogue and consensus among medical scientists, animal welfare campaigners, government bodies, teachers, and regulatory agencies. Grayson recognises that medical scientists are ethical and shows how the research community have demonstrated that scientists are taking legitimate concerns about animal welfare seriously. She refers to the British Association for the Advancement of Science which maintains that continued research involving animals is essential for the conquest of many unsolved medical problems, but recognises that those involved must respect animal life, using animals only when essential, and should adopt alternative methods when available. Grayson also refers to a survey of British doctors in 1993, which indicated 94% agreement that animal research was important to medical advance, while 92% favoured more investment in the development of non-animal alternatives ( 36 ).
The final two chapters look to the future. Grayson argues that the debate on animal research is likely to intensify, with concern over transgenic animals and the use of animals as organ transplant sources. For those who are interested in the ongoing debate over animal research the final chapter provides comprehensive details of relevant organisations and web sites.
This is an excellent introduction to the animal experiment debate. Each chapter is carefully balanced and is free from the emotive rhetoric which so often clouds the arguments. Moreover, there are summaries, lists of publications, and information about interest groups which are relevant to each standpoint covered in the book. Animals in Research is an essential source for teachers and researchers in the veterinary sciences, and it will be of considerable value to the ethicist who is concerned with the broader moral issues related to medical research and human wellbeing.
Read the full text or download the PDF:
Other content recommended for you.
- Animal research nexus: a new approach to the connections between science, health and animal welfare Gail Davies et al., Medical Humanities, 2020
- Reforming the politics of animal research Lisa Hara Levin et al., Journal of Medical Ethics, 2015
- Is there a place for animal experiments? Kevin Dolan, British Journal of Ophthalmology, 2002
- Different views on ethics: how animal ethics is situated in a committee culture M Ideland, Journal of Medical Ethics, 2009
- Is it acceptable to use animals to model obese humans? A critical discussion of two arguments against the use of animals in obesity research Thomas Bøker Lund et al., Journal of Medical Ethics, 2013
- Trends in animal use at US research facilities Justin Goodman et al., Journal of Medical Ethics, 2015
- Knowledge and opinions of veterinary students in Italy toward animal welfare science and law D. Magnani et al., Veterinary Record, 2017
- One Health and paradigms of public biobanking Benjamin Capps et al., Journal of Medical Ethics, 2014
- Support for use of animals in research , Veterinary Record, 2005
- Researchers commit to greater openness on research involving animals in the UK Ingrid Torjesen, BMJ: British Medical Journal, 2014
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We won't always have to use animals for medical research: Here's what we can do instead
by Greg Williams and Laura Anne Thomas, The Conversation
Animals have been used for medical research for thousands of years, dating back to ancient Greece where the first dissections were performed.
These days, one of the main uses of animals is to ensure the safety of medical products before they're trialed in humans.
But in addition to the important ethical reasons for minimizing animal use, the reality is sometimes animals just aren't that good at predicting human responses. No animal model, for example, has captured all the human characteristics of complex illnesses like Alzheimer's disease or chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (a neuromuscular disease). This makes is hard to develop effective treatments and cures.
Thankfully, researchers are making progress in developing a collection of alternative approaches, called "non-animal models." A new report from our team at CSIRO Futures examines the potential of non-animal models and the actions Australia will need to take to pursue their use.
What are non-animal models?
Non-animal models are an alternative set of models that use human cells, tissues and data.
These have the potential to better mimic human responses. In doing so, this can more accurately predict if a medical product is likely to fail, allowing reinvestment in products that are more likely to succeed.
Computer simulations or "in silico models" are one example. These can be used across the medical product development process to complement—and in time potentially replace—other model types. They can be used in drug studies to model a drug's behavior within the body, from cellular interactions to processes that involve multiple organs.
Complex three-dimensional biological models are also maturing quickly. Examples include:
organoids —organ "buds" that can be propagated from stem cells or taken from biopsies
organs-on-chips —cells cultured in a miniature engineered chip. These attempt to replicate the physical environment of human organs.
What can we use non-animal models for?
In theory, we can use non-animal models for everything we use animal models for—and more.
Simple non-animal models ( human cells cultured over a flat surface) are already used to help identify drug targets due to their ability to test a large number of compounds and experimental conditions.
In the future, non-animal models will reduce—and eventually replace—animal use across a range of applications:
- screening potential drugs to see how well they work
- toxicology (safety) testing
- helping to screen, select and stratify shortlisted participants for clinical trials. This might include an assessment of their unique response to a potential drug.
- using patient cells to identify the treatment most likely to help that individual.
Outside of medical products designed for humans, non-animal models can also support innovation in veterinary and agricultural medicines, cosmetic testing and eco-toxicology.
An export opportunity for Australia
Non-animal models present an economic opportunity for Australia, where the models, their components, and surrounding services could be exported to the world.
Our novel economic analysis sized the potential Australian market for two non-animal models: organoids and organs-on-chips. Other models were unable to be sized due to a lack of global market data.
We estimate the Australian organoid market could be worth A$1.3 billion annually by 2040 and create 4,200 new jobs.
The organs-on-chips market could be worth A$300 million annually by 2040 and create 1,000 new jobs. This estimate is lower as this technology is currently less advanced but holds the potential to grow significantly beyond 2040.
Several Australian entities are already contributing to these opportunities. The Murdoch Children's Research Institute, for example, provides stem cell and modeling expertise as part of reNEW , a €300 million international collaboration .
Another example is from Schott Minifab , an international biotech and medical device company with Australian roots, which has successfully established scaled production of non-animal model components in Australia for domestic and export markets.
Making it a reality
Non-animal models have already begun to complement and replace animal use in some areas, such as identifying drug targets.
However, accelerating their development and adoption across a wider range of applications will require further technical advances to lower cost and validate their performance as superior models.
Australia has several research strengths in this field but we need a concentrated effort to help our research make it through to real world impact.
Our report makes ten recommendations for supporting Australia's pursuit of these opportunities. Critical activities over the next five years include:
- coordinating local capabilities
- investing in upgraded infrastructure
- creating and collating data that compares animal and non- animal model performance.
Governments, industry and research must collaborate to deliver against these actions. Success will only come from collective efforts.
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Non-human animals are used in medical and other scientific research at academic institutions, hospitals, and in industries such pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Scientific research on animals helps develop antibiotics and other medications, as well as immunizations and surgical procedures. Animals are used in the testing of consumer products such as perfumes and shampoos. Animals are also used to educate students in biology, medicine, and related fields. We will call all such efforts “animal research.”
Rats and mice are the main animals used, but also used are birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and other mammals. In the course of animal research many animals suffer discomfort, fear, and pain, and some animals die. Of course, many animals in the wild suffer and die also, hence the famous expression:
“nature red in tooth and claw.”
Animal research is morally controversial. Many scientists just assume that it is morally permissible, but animal rights advocates claim that it is not.
Arguments For Animal Research
Humans use animals for their purposes and do so for the most part without thinking the practice needs moral justification. People have used and continue to use animals for transportation, farming, recreation, companionship, sport, and food.
Likewise the use of animals in research has occurred largely without researchers thinking they needed to morally justify this practice. But if a justification is thought to be needed, the main one given by supporters is that such research brings great benefit to humans, enough benefit to outweigh any possible animal suffering or sacrifice involved.
Furthermore, those who support animal research usually hold that most scientific results obtained through animal research are not available in any other way or that the use of animals in research is more effective than other possible methods that might be used to obtain this scientific knowledge.
Here is a sketch of some important claims assumed or given in support of animal research:
- It is morally permissible for humans to use animals, that is, to raise them and keep them for our purposes, to do things with them and to them, and to make things out of them. For example, we may eat them, use them for clothing, use them for farm work, put them in service as guard animals and guide animals, use them as pets, do research on them, etc.
- Animals have no right to life, no right to live their own lives, and no right not to be used for human purposes.
- Any suffering endured by animals in research contexts is justified by the benefits to humans from such research.
- Computer modeling and other study methods not involving animals would not be able to fully replace the use of animals in research because we would not gain as much knowledge by these other techniques.
In recent years there has been some discussion among ethicists about animal rights and how we should treat animals, and as a result we can add a few modifications or qualifications that those who support animal research usually now will concede:
- Animals may have no right to life, but they deserve some sort of moral consideration that disallows some kinds of treatment of animals. For example, it would be wrong to torture animals for fun. If possible, they should be treated humanely and not made to suffer unnecessarily.
- Controls should be in place to protect research animals from unnecessary harm (pain and suffering).
This modern qualified version of support for animal research grants animals some sort of moral consideration or moral status; some animal research advocates may go so far as to allow that animals have some limited moral rights. Most people grant that it would be wrong to make or allow an animal to suffer or torture an animal just to provide us with amusement or entertainment. This could be stated in terms of human moral obligations – we have a moral obligation not to torture animals – or in terms of animal rights – animals have the right not to be tortured. Also, there have been concerns during the last few decades that animals in zoos should be provided with better, more realistic habitats so that they have more of a life. None of this is taken to preclude scientific research, though it might complicate it, but it is now commonly recognized that steps should be taken by researchers, sometimes at significant cost to the research project, to treat research animals humanely and limit any suffering.
An example of a defender of a more or less traditional view supporting animal research is Carl Cohen. Cohen thinks that the tremendous benefit to humans from animal research outweighs any possible suffering on their part. Efforts are and should be made to prevent mistreatment of research animals. Cohen does not believe it makes sense to speak in terms of animals having moral rights, even limited rights not to be tortured, though Cohen would think it is wrong to torture animals. Cohen’s view is that to have moral rights, a creature must have the capacity to have their own moral duties or engage in moral reflection or deliberation. While humans can do this, non-human animals cannot. Research animals therefore are not part of the moral community and can have no moral rights.
Animal Rights Advocacy
A position against traditional and more modern views supporting animal research is represented by diverse opponents we will group together as “animal rights advocates.” Animal rights advocates often concede animal research has benefitted humans, though some advocates believe the benefit has been overblown and could have been provided in other ways. But on their view no benefit from animal research could make such research morally permissible.
A number of distinct views are held by animal rights advocates:
- Animals are not on this earth to be used for human purposes. They have their own lives.
- Animals have moral rights which are violated by using them for research or killing them for food or clothing.
- Animals used in research are often mistreated, despite the presence of controls meant to prevent this.
- Any human benefits through animal research are outweighed by the suffering of those animals.
- Benefits from animal research are greatly exaggerated: many research results are insignificant or useless (because animals are not like humans, results are often inconclusive) or could have been obtained in other ways.
Utilitarianism and Animals
Probably the most important theoretical perspectives from animal rights advocates come from Peter Singer and Tom Regan.
One tradition in ethics is that when faced with several alternative courses of action, one should choose the course of action that will result in the greatest good or happiness for the greatest number. Versions of this tradition are called “utilitarianism.”
One interpretation of utilitarianism interprets the “greatest number” to mean the greatest number of human beings. A different view of “greatest number,” one represented by Singer, claims we should take into account not just human beings but any creature who can have conscious experience, feel happiness, and experience pain and suffering. In judging the rightness or wrongness of a practice, everyone’s interests, happiness, pain, and suffering, including those of research animals, need to be taken into account.
What of the claim that research benefits to humans outweigh any possible suffering of research animals? According to Singer, the suffering of research animals is on par with that of humans, so for such research to be justified by future benefits, those future benefits would have to be able to justify it if the research were carried out on human infants. Only if the pain, suffering, and other harm to human infant research subjects were considered justified by future benefits would it be justified to use animals instead of infants. If one objects that human infants have greater potential than animals, and so should count for more or count in a more significant way, Singer suggests we consider whether we would do such research on brain-damaged infants who have no more intellectual potential than animals.
Singer and those who agree with him are not advocating we test new drugs on normal infants or brain-damaged infants instead of on non-human animals. They merely want to make us see that we have no real grounds to consider only the interests of humans and treat animal interests, happiness, and suffering as if they don’t really matter. Singer considers the view that human lives and interests are preferable to animal lives and interests to be a prejudice, a prejudice of “speciesism” that he considers analogous to racism. Singer thinks we should consider speciesism wrong just as we consider racism wrong.
Singer at times speaks of animals as having rights. His view that animals have interests and can experience happiness, pain, and suffering is consistent with them having moral rights, but note that, traditionally, utilitarians think of moral rights as akin to “useful fictions” rather than ultimate “metaphysical” possessions of conscious beings.
Regan’s Defense of Animal Rights
For Tom Regan, to say human beings have moral rights to life and liberty means others are not free to harm individuals or ordinarily interfere with their free choices. Why do humans have moral rights to life and liberty? Regan thinks it is because humans are subjects whose lives matter to them; a human being is (in his terms) a “subject-of-a-life.”
But then, Regan notes, nonhuman animals are likewise subjects-of-a-life. Nonhuman animals are aware of what happens to them and what happens to them matters to them. Their lives can go “better or worse for them.” They are subjects, not just objects, and one can say in the case of a nonhuman animal there is “somebody there.” So, according to Regan, like humans, nonhuman animals have moral rights to life and liberty.
Regan holds that the use of animals in research violates their moral rights. Subjecting an animal to suffering and death as part of scientific research violates the animal’s rights to life and to live that life in a way meaningful to the animal. Their rights “trump” any purported justification of animal research as benefitting humans.
Regan is suspicious of the common claim that human benefits justify animal suffering anyway. No one has ever worked out any kind of intelligible methodology that would enable one to compare benefits to one species with the harm to another species so as to show the former outweighed the latter. The usual assumption seems to be that the suffering of an animal counts for less than the suffering of a human, but Regan questions this.
Issues in the Dispute
The controversy between the views supporting animal research and the view of animal rights advocates involves disputes about both factual (empirical) and moral issues. Disputed factual issues include:
- whether scientific results obtained through animal research are significant
- whether the same or similar results could have been obtained through other means, and
- whether effective controls are in place to protect research animals from mistreatment.
Moral issues include:
- the moral status and moral rights, if any, possessed by nonhuman animals, and
- whether research animal suffering is justified in light of the benefits of such research to humans.
This latter issue has empirical aspects too, because it involves answering factual questions of how much suffering occurs to research animals and how much humans really benefit from animal research.
A thorough discussion of all these issues is too much for this introduction, but the following comments on some of the issues may help you decide on your position on the morality of animal research.
Factual issues : It seems beyond argument that the use of animals in medical research has benefitted humans in many ways, for example in developing immunizations for measles and polio, in the development of antibiotics, and in the development of surgical techniques such as organ transplants and joint replacements. Developed through animal research, vaccines for rabies and distemper have benefitted family pets as well. It’s hard to imagine all this being done by computer modeling, and in fact much of this was done before computers were commonly available. But it is worth considering whether, going forward, for some kinds of research more use of testing by means other than on animals might be just as effective.
In the context of research in the United States, controls are in place or being put into place to try to minimize animal suffering. Whether or not these controls are fully effective and optimal is open to debate. In this regard research seems to have come a long way from practices of decades ago, but we may need to police current policies better or put in place more stringent ones.
Moral issues : The moral issue of whether human benefit justifies animal suffering and sacrifice itself has both moral and factual aspects:
- what constitutes human benefit (moral) and how to quantify that (factual)
- how to value the life of a research animal (moral)
- what constitutes animal suffering and sacrifice (moral) and how to quantify that (factual), and
- how to compare benefits and sacrifices across species (moral and factual).
Regan is correct that the math of any “justification equation” is rarely even discussed, much less spelled out in any noncontroversial fashion. In other words, there is no clear way to precisely quantify the suffering of research animals and compare this amount to a calculated quantity of human benefit to see if one outweighs the other.
In another respect, some people might seem confused about the issue of justification itself, sometimes assuming no justification is needed and yet at other times thinking animal research is justified by human benefit, as if justification were needed.
Obviously a key moral issue in the dispute is the precise moral status of nonhuman animals. The moral status of something is whether the thing is a moral agent and/or a moral patient, whether it has moral rights, and if not whether it deserves some other sort of moral consideration. For most people the sense of moral patiency possessed by such animals is very limited and gives them limited rights. They may have the right not to be harmed for fun. (But not everyone who believes this would be comfortable talking of such animals as possessing rights. They might be more comfortable saying such animals deserve some moral consideration.)
Animal rights advocates of course would be comfortable with the view that animals are full-blown moral patients; Regan claims they have a right to life. Animal right advocates just disagree here with Cohen that animals are not part of the moral community. They are not moral agents, but they are moral patients.
Why do some things have a different moral status than do other things? It might be that we implicitly base the moral status of something on some physical or metaphysical feature of that thing. So for instance human beings are thought to have moral rights to life and liberty while trees do not because humans are conscious, rational, can express wishes and desires, have their lives matter to them, have an interest in their futures, etc. (physical features in the broad sense - including mental), while the same cannot be said of trees. Or human persons have immaterial souls (metaphysical features) while trees do not. Or animals are considered to be subjects (a metaphysical category), just as humans are.
Regan thinks the moral status of a thing depends on it being the subject of a life, having a future that matters to it. Regan’s type of view tends to see things as black or white. If it is the subject of a life, it has the moral right to life, otherwise not.
To be consistent we should grant the same moral status to creatures that are relevantly similar physically or metaphysically, depending on what it is we think that grounds moral status. Aliens from another planet who acted like human beings in certain essential ways might be given a similar moral status, though they were not human. However, one could argue that moral status comes in degrees and is not absolute in the way Regan thinks.
Another consideration is whether the moral status of a being could be overridden by other factors. So, for example, one might claim that nonhuman animals deserve a certain kind of moral treatment but in the case of crucially important research trying to save human lives that status can be overridden.
Carl Cohen and Tom Regan, The Animal Rights Debate Peter Singer, Animal Liberation Tom Regan, Empty Cages
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Research using animals: an overview
Around half the diseases in the world have no treatment. Understanding how the body works and how diseases progress, and finding cures, vaccines or treatments, can take many years of painstaking work using a wide range of research techniques. There is overwhelming scientific consensus worldwide that some research using animals is still essential for medical progress.
Animal research in the UK is strictly regulated. For more details on the regulations governing research using animals, go to the UK regulations page .
Why is animal research necessary?
There is overwhelming scientific consensus worldwide that some animals are still needed in order to make medical progress.
Where animals are used in research projects, they are used as part of a range of scientific techniques. These might include human trials, computer modelling, cell culture, statistical techniques, and others. Animals are only used for parts of research where no other techniques can deliver the answer.
A living body is an extraordinarily complex system. You cannot reproduce a beating heart in a test tube or a stroke on a computer. While we know a lot about how a living body works, there is an enormous amount we simply don’t know: the interaction between all the different parts of a living system, from molecules to cells to systems like respiration and circulation, is incredibly complex. Even if we knew how every element worked and interacted with every other element, which we are a long way from understanding, a computer hasn’t been invented that has the power to reproduce all of those complex interactions - while clearly you cannot reproduce them all in a test tube.
While humans are used extensively in Oxford research, there are some things which it is ethically unacceptable to use humans for. There are also variables which you can control in a mouse (like diet, housing, clean air, humidity, temperature, and genetic makeup) that you could not control in human subjects.
Is it morally right to use animals for research?
Most people believe that in order to achieve medical progress that will save and improve lives, perhaps millions of lives, limited and very strictly regulated animal use is justified. That belief is reflected in the law, which allows for animal research only under specific circumstances, and which sets out strict regulations on the use and care of animals. It is right that this continues to be something society discusses and debates, but there has to be an understanding that without animals we can only make very limited progress against diseases like cancer, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and HIV.
It’s worth noting that animal research benefits animals too: more than half the drugs used by vets were developed originally for human medicine.
Aren’t animals too different from humans to tell us anything useful?
No. Just by being very complex living, moving organisms they share a huge amount of similarities with humans. Humans and other animals have much more in common than they have differences. Mice share over 90% of their genes with humans. A mouse has the same organs as a human, in the same places, doing the same things. Most of their basic chemistry, cell structure and bodily organisation are the same as ours. Fish and tadpoles share enough characteristics with humans to make them very useful in research. Even flies and worms are used in research extensively and have led to research breakthroughs (though these species are not regulated by the Home Office and are not in the Biomedical Sciences Building).
What does research using animals actually involve?
The sorts of procedures research animals undergo vary, depending on the research. Breeding a genetically modified mouse counts as a procedure and this represents a large proportion of all procedures carried out. So does having an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan, something which is painless and which humans undergo for health checks. In some circumstances, being trained to go through a maze or being trained at a computer game also counts as a procedure. Taking blood or receiving medication are minor procedures that many species of animal can be trained to do voluntarily for a food reward. Surgery accounts for only a small minority of procedures. All of these are examples of procedures that go on in Oxford's Biomedical Sciences Building.
How many animals are used?
Figures for 2023 show numbers of animals that completed procedures, as declared to the Home Office using their five categories for the severity of the procedure.
# NHPs - Non Human Primates
Oxford also maintains breeding colonies to provide animals for use in experiments, reducing the need for unnecessary transportation of animals.
Figures for 2017 show numbers of animals bred for procedures that were killed or died without being used in procedures:
Why must primates be used?
Primates account for under half of one per cent (0.5%) of all animals housed in the Biomedical Sciences Building. They are only used where no other species can deliver the research answer, and we continually seek ways to replace primates with lower orders of animal, to reduce numbers used, and to refine their housing conditions and research procedures to maximise welfare.
However, there are elements of research that can only be carried out using primates because their brains are closer to human brains than mice or rats. They are used at Oxford in vital research into brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Some are used in studies to develop vaccines for HIV and other major infections.
What is done to primates?
The primates at Oxford spend most of their time in their housing. They are housed in groups with access to play areas where they can groom, forage for food, climb and swing.
Primates at Oxford involved in neuroscience studies would typically spend a couple of hours a day doing behavioural work. This is sitting in front of a computer screen doing learning and memory games for food rewards. No suffering is involved and indeed many of the primates appear to find the games stimulating. They come into the transport cage that takes them to the computer room entirely voluntarily.
After some time (a period of months) demonstrating normal learning and memory through the games, a primate would have surgery to remove a very small amount of brain tissue under anaesthetic. A full course of painkillers is given under veterinary guidance in the same way as any human surgical procedure, and the animals are up and about again within hours, and back with their group within a day. The brain damage is minor and unnoticeable in normal behaviour: the animal interacts normally with its group and exhibits the usual natural behaviours. In order to find out about how a disease affects the brain it is not necessary to induce the equivalent of full-blown disease. Indeed, the more specific and minor the brain area affected, the more focussed and valuable the research findings are.
The primate goes back to behavioural testing with the computers and differences in performance, which become apparent through these carefully designed games, are monitored.
At the end of its life the animal is humanely killed and its brain is studied and compared directly with the brains of deceased human patients.
Primates at Oxford involved in vaccine studies would simply have a vaccination and then have monthly blood samples taken.
How many primates does Oxford hold?
* From 2014 the Home Office changed the way in which animals/ procedures were counted. Figures up to and including 2013 were recorded when procedures began. Figures from 2014 are recorded when procedures end.
What’s the difference between ‘total held’ and ‘on procedure’?
Primates (macaques) at Oxford would typically spend a couple of hours a day doing behavioural work, sitting in front of a computer screen doing learning and memory games for food rewards. This is non-invasive and done voluntarily for food rewards and does not count as a procedure. After some time (a period of months) demonstrating normal learning and memory through the games, a primate would have surgery under anaesthetic to remove a very small amount of brain tissue. The primate quickly returns to behavioural testing with the computers, and differences in performance, which become apparent through these carefully designed puzzles, are monitored. A primate which has had this surgery is counted as ‘on procedure’. Both stages are essential for research into understanding brain function which is necessary to develop treatments for conditions including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and schizophrenia.
Why has the overall number held gone down?
Numbers vary year on year depending on the research that is currently undertaken. In general, the University is committed to reducing, replacing and refining animal research.
You say primates account for under 0.5% of animals, so that means you have at least 16,000 animals in the Biomedical Sciences Building in total - is that right?
Numbers change daily so we cannot give a fixed figure, but it is in that order.
Aren’t there alternative research methods?
There are very many non-animal research methods, all of which are used at the University of Oxford and many of which were pioneered here. These include research using humans; computer models and simulations; cell cultures and other in vitro work; statistical modelling; and large-scale epidemiology. Every research project which uses animals will also use other research methods in addition. Wherever possible non-animal research methods are used. For many projects, of course, this will mean no animals are needed at all. For others, there will be an element of the research which is essential for medical progress and for which there is no alternative means of getting the relevant information.
How have humans benefited from research using animals?
As the Department of Health states, research on animals has contributed to almost every medical advance of the last century.
Without animal research, medicine as we know it today wouldn't exist. It has enabled us to find treatments for cancer, antibiotics for infections (which were developed in Oxford laboratories), vaccines to prevent some of the most deadly and debilitating viruses, and surgery for injuries, illnesses and deformities.
Life expectancy in this country has increased, on average, by almost three months for every year of the past century. Within the living memory of many people diseases such as polio, tuberculosis, leukaemia and diphtheria killed or crippled thousands every year. But now, doctors are able to prevent or treat many more diseases or carry out life-saving operations - all thanks to research which at some stage involved animals.
Each year, millions of people in the UK benefit from treatments that have been developed and tested on animals. Animals have been used for the development of blood transfusions, insulin for diabetes, anaesthetics, anticoagulants, antibiotics, heart and lung machines for open heart surgery, hip replacement surgery, transplantation, high blood pressure medication, replacement heart valves, chemotherapy for leukaemia and life support systems for premature babies. More than 50 million prescriptions are written annually for antibiotics.
We may have used animals in the past to develop medical treatments, but are they really needed in the 21st century?
Yes. While we are committed to reducing, replacing and refining animal research as new techniques make it possible to reduce the number of animals needed, there is overwhelming scientific consensus worldwide that some research using animals is still essential for medical progress. It only forms one element of a whole research programme which will use a range of other techniques to find out whatever possible without animals. Animals would be used for a specific element of the research that cannot be conducted in any alternative way.
How will humans benefit in future?
The development of drugs and medical technologies that help to reduce suffering among humans and animals depends on the carefully regulated use of animals for research. In the 21st century scientists are continuing to work on treatments for cancer, stroke, heart disease, HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s, and very many more diseases that cause suffering and death. Genetically modified mice play a crucial role in future medical progress as understanding of how genes are involved in illness is constantly increasing.
Should Animals be Used in Research: Argumentative Essay
Should animals be used in research? This argumentative essay aims to answer the question. It focuses on pros and cons of animal testing for scientific and medical goals.
- The Arguments
All over the world, animal activists and institutions have argued whether or not research should be used on animals or should be outlawed. Philosophers believe that experiments on animals are not morally justified because they cause pain or harm the animals. A group of these philosophers believe that other alternatives are available, thus they claim that because we have other alternatives, the use of animals in research should be outlawed.
Should Animals Be Used in Research? The Arguments
In my opinion, I support the line of argument that animals should not be used in research. Since the discovery of knowing through science (research), the use of animals in research has elicited mixed reactions among different scholars. Philosophers are against the idea citing the availability of other options for toxicological tests on animals and the harsh treatments the scientists have accorded these animals in the medical tests. Unless scientists discover other ways of testing medicines, I think tests on animals are unethical.
Scientists use these creatures to validate a theory and then revise or change their theories depending on the new facts or information gained from every test performed. Animal rights lobby groups believe that animals are used for no reasons in these experiments as the animals endure pain inflicted on them during these tests (Singer 2). They tend to overlook the fact that animals have moral existence, social and religious values. Thousands of animals on this planet contribute largely to the aesthetic appeal of the land.
On the other hand, scientists only see the positive contributions of animal tests to the medical field and ignore the side effects of the tests on the animals’ lives. They overlook the idea that animals are hurt and thus suffer tremendously.
To them the impact of the research on the lives of their families and friends by coming up with vaccines and drugs is the inspiration. Research on animals should be banned because it inflicts pain, harms the culprits and morally it is unjustified. Has man ever wondered whether or not animals feel similar pain that humans feel? (Singer 2).
Human beings know very well that they themselves feel pain. For example, you will know that a metal rod is hot by touching it with bare hands. It is believed that pain is mental; in other words it cannot be seen. We feel pain and we realize that other creatures also feel pain from observations like jerking away from an event or even yelling.
Since the reactions are the same as those of man, philosophers say that animals feel similar pain just like humans. Animal activists reaffirm that the major undoing of tests involving animals is the manner in which the animals are treated arguing that anesthesia for suppressing the pain is never used.
However, as many people are opposed to the use of animals in research, many lives have been saved every year due to their death. I think that instead of refuting that taking away the life of a rat is unethical, harms the animal; I believe it is a bold step in improving the welfare of millions of people for thousands of years to come. Tests on animals are the most common toxicological tests used by scientists; the findings help to better lives for hundreds of people across the universe (Fox 12).
Fox, Michael A. The Case for Animal Experimentation. California: University of California Press, 1986.
Singer, Peter. Animal Liberation. New York: Random House, 1975.
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Should Animals Be Used for Research: an Argumentative Perspective
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Using animals for scientific research is still indispensable for society as we know it
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Kenya’s national airline – Kenya Airways – made headlines when it announced it would stop transporting monkeys for animal research. This followed an accidental highway crash in Pennsylvania , in the US, which involved a truck transporting monkeys that had been bred in Mauritius for laboratory experiments in the US.
Following the accident, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) US, an animal rights group, contacted Kenya Airways urging them to reconsider transporting the animals, putting forward their view that animal experimentation is a cruel industry.
Read more: The macaque monkeys of Mauritius: an invasive alien species, and a major export for research
Such an incident is indeed tragic. But if we consider the number of people who would have died without the existence of medication and novel medical technologies developed thanks to animal research, then ending animal research could lead to a more tragic outcome in the longer term.
Most countries do animal research, perhaps not very tiny countries or very poor countries. There is a nationwide ban on animal testing for cosmetics throughout the European Union, Israel, Norway, as well as in India. But animal testing for other reasons is still widely accepted.
Most of the animals used come from commercial breeders – one is Jackson Laboratory in the US. Other sources include specialist breeders and large breeding centres which can provide genetically modified animals for specific research. The animal testing facilities themselves may also rear animals.
In general, all over the world, policymakers do aim to move towards animal-free methods of scientific research and have introduced very strict regulations for animal research.
Scientists and policymakers share the long-term goal of reducing animal use in scientific research and where possible eventually even stopping it. It’s an ambitious goal. For this to happen, animal-free methods need to be developed and validated before they can become a new standard.
Animal-free innovations have been developed for some areas of biomedical research, such as toxicology . However, most parties recognise that at present, not all research questions can be answered using only animal-free methods.
Based on decades of doing research on the human brain, which involves using animals, to us it’s clear that – for the foreseeable future – there remains a crucial need for animal models to understand health and disease and to develop medicines.
It is animal research that provides researchers with unique knowledge about how humans and animals function. Perhaps more than in any other field of biomedical research, complete living animals are needed to understand brain function, behaviour and cognition.
Behaviour and cognition, the final outputs of a brain organ, cannot be mimicked using any existing animal-free technologies. We currently simply do not understand the brain well enough to make animal-free solutions.
Another striking, very recent example that showed the current need for animal research is the COVID-19 pandemic . The way out of the pandemic required the development of a functioning vaccine. Researchers amazed the world when they made targeted vaccines available within one year. This, however, has relied greatly on the use of animals for testing the efficacy and safety of the vaccine.
A key fact that remains often invisible is that the rules and regulations for conducting animal research are, in comparison, perhaps even stricter and more regulated, by for example the Animal Welfare act in the US and the European Convention for the Protection of Vertebrate Animals used for Experimental and other Scientific Purposes in Europe. Than, for example, in the food and entertainment industry, although regulations are in place here too such as governmental rules for the treatment of animals in order to protect their health and wellbeing.
Should it be banned?
In the world as we know it today, animal research is still generally accepted as part of society. There are many important reasons why laboratory animal research is still needed:
To learn about biological processes in animals and humans.
To learn about the cause of diseases.
To develop new treatments and vaccines and evaluate their effects.
To develop methods that can prevent disease both in animals and humans.
To develop methods for the management of animals such as pests but also for the conservation of endangered species.
Of course many, animal researchers included, are hopeful that one day animal experiments will no longer be necessary to achieve the much needed scientific outcomes. However, the situation is that for many research questions related to human and animal health we still need animals.
As long as we cannot replace animals, there should be more focus on transparency and animal welfare, to benefit the animals as well as science. Awareness and financial support of this at the governmental level is key to enable animal researchers to always strive for the highest level of animal welfare possible.
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Argumentative Essay ICSE 2003
Animals should not be used for drug development or medical research. Express your views either for or against this statement. This Argumentative Essay was asked in ICSE 2003 board exam. You can find Previous Year Argumentative Essay Topics asked in ICSE board exams.
Animals should not be used for drug development or medical research. Express your views either for or against this statement. (ICSE 2003)
Introduction: Using animals for drug development or medical research is unjustifiable on moral, ethical and social grounds.
- Man has no right to destroy, what he cannot create.
- Colossal wastage of precious life by students.
- Callous attitude towards life reflected in the growing incidents of violence in the society.
- Many species of animals have become extinct, endangering the ecological Balance of nature.
Conclusion: We should ban the use of animals for drug development and medical research.
‘The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated’, said Mahatma Gandhi. Indeed the way we treat our animal resource reflects our moral and ethical progress. This is because animals too enjoy basic rights and therefore we must show compassion and benevolence to them, as we do to fellow human beings. This is because animals like us also experience pain and suffering. They too are as much God’s creation, as man himself. Hence to use them for experiments, for drug development or medical research, is totally unethical.
Man has from times immemorial, exploited animals to serve his own selfish ends. They have made his life comfortable by catering to his various needs like transportation and food. It is therefore against the basic tenets of morality, to perpetuate pain and suffering on these poor creatures such as pigs, dogs, frogs, etc., on the pretext of facilitating medical research. We have no right to destroy, what we cannot create. The life of an animal is also precious and invaluable, as the life of a human. Destroying them in this manner is trampling on their basic right to live and hence morally wrong and unacceptable.
Some people advocate their use for medical research, on the grounds of expedience, for the larger benefit of mankind. However, this is an absurd logic, which cannot justify the daily extermination of millions of frogs, birds, etc, by school and college students, to make them aware of the basic metabolic system. We all know, that only a miniscule number of students, actually pursue a career in medicine or pharmacology. The majority migrate to other fields like commerce and arts. It is indeed a colossal waste of precious life sacrificed at the altar of the above premise, with no benefit accruing to mankind.
Such senseless killing of animals is socially unacceptable, for it shows our complete insensitivity towards them. Killing them in such a wanton manner, makes us cruel and uncaring even towards our own fellow human beings. This callous attitude to life is reflected in the growing incidence of violence in the society, especially among the youth.
We have over the centuries used animals for our own betterment. This, however, does not give us the right to sacrifice their lives. Our senseless actions have already made many species of animals extinct, endangering the ecological balance of nature. We can only advocate the above to our own peril.
Instead of using animals for drug development and medical research, there is need to develop advanced technology to simulate the various life processes. We should only, in special cases, use animals for the above. This would minimise our interference with Nature. It would also make the universe a better place to live in with less pain and suffering, to all living beings, be it man or beast.
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- J Med Ethics Hist Med
Bioethics: a look at animal testing in medicine and cosmetics in the UK
Using animals for cosmetics and medical tests has contributed towards a debate based on conflicting interests. Despite the efforts in justifying the value of animals in conducting analyses, this study seeks to elaborate whether or not it is rational to use animals as test subjects in medical and cosmetics fields. The value of animal life is at the core of the emotional conflicts that arise when animals become experimental subjects in medical and cosmetics fields. The aim of this study is to determine if there are ethical differences in the use of animal testing in medicine versus cosmetics. The research, through review and content analysis of the existing literature, compares and provides the outcomes of using animals in medical and cosmetics tests by examining studies conducted in the UK. The findings of this research indicated that animal testing is considered acceptable in the medical field only if there are no other alternatives, but is completely unacceptable in the cosmetics field. The study also provides recommendations in the form of alternatives that protect animals from cruelty and may benefit the different stakeholders and the society at large.
Throughout history, animals have been the subject of experimentation to improve our understanding of anatomy and pathology ( 1 ). However, animal testing only became significant in the twentieth century ( 2 ).
Animal experiments are used extensively when developing new medicines and for testing the safety of certain products. Recently, the use of animals for biomedical research has been severely criticized by animal rights and protection groups. Similarly, many nations have established laws to make the practice of animal testing more humane. There are two positions in animal testing. One is that animal testing is acceptable if suffering is minimized and there are human benefits that could not have been achieved using any other means ( 3 ). The second position considers animal testing unacceptable because it causes suffering, and the benefits to human beings are either not proven or could be obtained using other methods.
As such, animal testing is a highly controversial subject that often elicits conflicting emotions from supporters and critics alike. It is also a divisive subject as some people support animal testing only in certain cases and oppose its use in other areas. For example, scientists note that significant medical breakthroughs have only been made possible through drug testing on animals. To them and other like-minded people, such achievements are reason enough to keep using animals in the lab ( 4 ). Animal tests determine if experimental drugs are effective or ineffective on human beings. Eventually, the medicine is tried out on a small group of humans through clinical trials before declaring the medicine safe to use.
Badyal and DesaI ( 5 ) note that these treatments are as beneficial to humans as they are to animals, since some human diseases are found in animals too. Therefore, some who support animal testing only advocate its use for medical (but not cosmetics) purposes, arguing that the advancement in human medicine may lead to advancement in animal medicine.
While a significant population completely disapproves of animal testing, a faction of people only disagrees with the use of animals for cosmetics testing, arguing that it is despicable and cruel to use animal life merely so that humans can advance their beauty technology. The concern extends to animals used for science, and people want animal suffering to be minimized ( 6 ). The discovery of new drugs has for a long time been based on a number of interactions among aspects such as data collected from patients, tissues, organs or cell culture and varied animal species ( 7 ). Those who oppose the use of animal testing for cosmetics believe it is outrageous and cruel to use animal life for the simple reason of making humans look better, and that the benefits to human beings do not validate the harms done to animals ( 7 ).
For such reasons, the use of animals for testing cosmetics products has been banned in the UK and all other member states of the European Union since 2013 ( 8 ). However, other countries like China and the United States of America still continue with the practice ( 9 ). Linzey adds that about 50 - 100 million animals are used for experiments every year, and that over 1.37 million animals were used for drug experimentation in America in the year 2010 ( 9 ). In the meantime, the number of experiments conducted on animals has declined in Britain but is increasing in other countries. While experiments involving vertebrates are regulated in most countries, experiments on invertebrates are not ( 5 ).
The aim of this study is to examine whether or not animal testing is still useful and necessary in the present time, and whether there are ethical differences between animal testing in medical and cosmetics fields. We use the UK as our case study and provide alternatives that can be recommended in place of animal testing.
This review was based on a cross-sectional survey by Clemence and Leaman ( 11 ) that analysed the importance of animal testing from two different aspects: medicine and cosmetics. The population consisted of individuals residing in the UK, and the sample size was 987 (= 0.03). The research included 496 men and 491 women. The report compared public views with the responses from a similar study in 2014 that had 969 participants (477 men and 492 women). The inclusion criteria were based on numerous strata such as gender, social grade definitions (i.e., professionals such as doctors and architects, people with responsible jobs such as professors, middle rank public servants such as nurses and clerics, skilled manual workers, etc.), respondents’ working status (fulltime, part-time, not working), ethnicity (white, non-white), and educational background. This report measured public perception on whether it is ethical to use animal testing for medical or cosmetics purposes. Participants were required to state whether they found it acceptable, mostly unacceptable, unacceptable, or were undecided. Consequently, the same participants were also tasked to indicate whether they saw conducting animal testing for scientific experimentation as completely necessary, somewhat necessary, not very necessary, completely unnecessary, or they did not know.
The study also utilized data from the UK Home Office ( 12 ) to determine which animals were most frequently used for medical and cosmetics research around the world. This report also provided crucial information as to the purposes of animal testing, for instance for medical research, biological testing, regulatory testing, etc.
According to the UK Home Office ( 12 ), in the year 2016, 48.6% of the animal tests in medical research were conducted for genetically oriented studies. Moreover, 28.5% of the medical research involving animal testing was for basic biological research, 13.5% was for regulatory
testing, 8.6% was for translating research from animals to humans, and 0.8% for other trainings. This is summarized in Figure 1 below.
Purposes of Animal Testing in Medicine
Data from the UK Home Office ( 10 ) indicates that the most commonly used animals for medical and cosmetics research are mice and rabbits (72.8%), fish (13.6%), rats (6.3%), birds (3.9%) and other animal species representing 3.4% of the total test animal population, as indicated in Figure 2 below.
Types of Animals Used in Testing
A published report ( 12 ) indicated that 17% of the sampled group viewed animal testing for medical research as ‘mostly unacceptable’ if there were no alternative, 17% as ‘not acceptable’, and 65% as ‘acceptable’. This was in stark contrast with testing for cosmetics purposes, to which an overwhelming 80% of the participants responded as ‘unacceptable’. The summary of the results is provided in Figure 3 and Figure 4 below.
Animal Testing for Medical Research
Animal Testing for Cosmetics Research
In the same study ( 12 ), the participants were asked about the necessity of conducting scientific experiments on animals, which 38% of the respondents viewed as ‘completely necessary’, 23% as ‘somewhat necessary’, 20% as ‘not very necessary’, and 16% as ‘completely unnecessary’. The results are summarized in Figure 5 below.
Necessity of Conducting Scientific Experiments on Animals
The application of these methods to evaluate the safety of cosmetics was the most detested as stated by about 80% of the people who were interviewed during the investigation. The sensitivity to human life, on the other hand, reduces the strictness towards utilization of animals to find anti-viruses and antibiotics for various diseases.
The outcome portrays the essentiality of using animals to determine materials that would help the population to live healthily ( 13 ). However, in the past few decades, the number of animals used for testing drugs has been steadily decreasing ( 14 ).
The data indicates that most of the medical research processes involving animal testing emanate from genetically oriented studies, which constitute 48.6% of the medical research animal testing. Experimentation on human genetics presents various legal and ethical challenges to medical and biological researchers, alongside problems in creating experimental procedures using human test subjects. These problems occur partially due to the fact that the experimentation processes involved in these types of studies often lead to extensive gene and physiological damages to the test subjects. Such experiments typically involve deliberate presentation of diseases and other gene modifications to the test subjects, usually requiring the euthanizing of the involved subjects ( 15 ). The animal testing experimentations involving genetic processes include studies in gene modification and examine diseases believed to hold genetic components, such as cancer and diabetes ( 16 ). These experimentation processes typically involve some sort of gene modification that can simulate the presentation of genetically based disorders manifested in human beings to allow researchers to better understand those disorders.
The data also indicate that another major application of animal testing in the medical field is in basic research in biological systems and processes, which accounts for 28.5% of the testing categories. This application of animal testing in medical research involves studies in how biological systems function, and the nature and manner of disease transmission in living organisms. The findings accrued through these kinds of studies translate to advancements in the scientific knowledge of human pathology and present opportunities for the derivation and testing of cures, as noted by Festing and Wilkinson ( 17 ).
The findings further present that regulatory testing (13.5%) and animal to human translation research (8.6%) account for significant portions of the application of animal testing in the medical field. The use of animal testing for regulatory testing purposes involves applying new medical findings, procedures and products to animals to see if they meet the thresholds mandated by the medical regulatory bodies. Translation of research findings from animals to humans involves conducting research into the possibility of animal pathogens becoming infectious to humans, and identifying potential ways of applying non-human physiology to the improvement of human health. Other forms of medical and biological trainings and studies that also engage the use of animals in experimentation in the medical field include elements such as basic physiology and pathogen studies, typically conducted in educational institutions.
Animal testing in the field of cosmetics generally involves the use of animal subjects in testing new cosmetics products and ingredients. The practice essentially involves the application or forced ingestion or injection of these substances to various parts of test animals to examine their toxicity, irritation of the eyes and/or skin, ultraviolet light-triggered toxicity, and their potential for causing unwanted gene mutations ( 18 ).
The use of animal testing in the field of cosmetics research and production presents an unethical viewpoint since the findings do not advance human health, and the practice leads to the torture and killing of animals. The Humane Society ( 18 ) also notes that at the conclusion of the experimentation, the animals are usually killed through methods such as decapitation, neck twisting and asphyxiation, often without pain relief.
With regard to the ethical principles of animal testing in both fields, a convincing argument should first be presented to the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). This is to justify the need for a researcher to conduct animal studies, and to ensure that the research is conducted using the smallest possible number of animals and with minimal suffering. Additionally, Naderi et al. ( 19 ) noted an increased level of legislation on the matter of animal testing, with researchers being required to submit comprehensive proposals to the IACUC to demonstrate procedural compliance with the guiding principles of the organization before conducting animal tests. Furthermore, Holden ( 20 ) highlighted the fact that researchers need to justify to review and ethics committees the use of mice rather than other alternatives in experiments. These issues indicate that researchers should look for alternatives to animal testing before proceeding with animal trials.
The issue then remains on the nature and availability of alternatives to animal testing in the medical research field. Researchers have undertaken measures to introduce some levels of such alternatives in medical studies. The accrued data indicate that a significant number of people agree with animal testing for medical research, especially when compared to those who agree with animal testing for cosmetics purposes. The data obtained from the studies indicate a slow but perceptible shift in the public opinions regarding animal testing for medical research purposes. People are increasingly finding it unacceptable to use animal test subjects even in medical research. However, the majority of the sampled people believed that medical testing procedures should use animal test subjects, but only when there is no other alternative. This indicates that people view animal testing for medical research as ethical, but under certain conditions.
The use of animals in research is still relevant because the process is useful in veterinary medicine as it helps the students understand the physiology and anatomy and improves surgical skills ( 21 ). The study by Badyal and Desai ( 5 ) supports this perception by highlighting the fact that animal use in laboratory investigation will make new discoveries possible. However, researchers should apply ethical concepts to reduce the amount of pain and unnecessary procedures for the animals. Moreover, animal testing to develop new drugs will continue to protect the future existence of humanity. Cheluvappa, et al. ( 22 ) reiterate that animal experimentation will remain essential to testing future medicine because it helps scientists understand the changes of behaviour, embryology and genetics through dissections that are conducted on the genetically produced animals.
Animals play an important role in testing human drugs as they have a large number of medical reactions similar to those of human beings. Specifically, animals such as dogs, mice and rabbits have an identical DNA that cannot be replicated through artificial models. Public concern for the increasing use of animals in terms of ethics and safety provokes anxiety among the population. Conversely, these uncertainties and unavailability of trustable alternatives show the importance of using animals in medical research as the scientists aim to protect the human race ( 23 ).
However, the use of animals to test cosmetics is highly limited due to the availability of alternative sources. For instance, The Laboratory Animals Veterinary Association (LAVA) claims that the UK government prohibits any individual from using animals to determine the suitability of cosmetics to the human body ( 13 , 24 ). In its circular, The European Union states that they have succeeded in developing alternative measures that cosmetics firms can apply to test their products without using laboratory animals ( 25 ).
Recommendations: Alternatives to Animal Testing
To improve business ethics in cosmetics companies, it is necessary for alternatives to be integrated instead of animals. Companies can employ assessment of scientific barriers to find replacements for animal test subjects and to procure the knowledge of correctly using animals for medical and cosmetics tests. Sophisticated tests on human cells or tissues, computer-modelling techniques, and experiments on people who volunteer are some measures that can limit acts of animal cruelty by cosmetics companies. Companies need to integrate tests that minimize involvement of animals in order to limit the possibility of animal cruelty, and consequently improve their business ethics. Some of the recommended alternatives are listed here.
The concept was developed by Denis Noble, and the system is currently enrolled in clinical settings. These simulations are used to test heart replacements, and are also applied to explore human behavior. Various scholars provide that this model is more accurate than animal experiments because it uses human data to analyse diseases and make predictions ( 26 ).
Stem cells are proper alternatives to the in vitro systems of disease testing and toxin evaluations ( 27 ). The experiments involve evaluation of embryonic stem cells that can be grown in Petri dishes. The Petri dishes can be placed in the cells, and after that the resulting components are placed under evaluation to help in the discovery of new medications. Stem cells are essential because they can differentiate into human tissues and make it possible to screen the suspected diseases ( 26 ).
These materials are majorly utilized in the cosmetics industry to minimize the number of animals used to test the level of toxicity in a product. Significantly, investigations showed that human tissues developed in laboratories can be used to assess the allergic responses to the available chemicals ( 28 ). These results can then be analysed by comparing reactions, and a bio signature of genes is used to make appropriate interventions.
Notably, scientists can take high-resolution pictures of human tissues, which are then analyzed with the help of various computer systems. The advantage of this model is characterized by its ability to customize the parts of the organism under consideration. Moreover, 3D images also develop prototype designs and materials that can be used to investigate the existing and future ailments ( 29 ).
This study indicates that it is justifiable to use animals in experimentations only when there are no alternatives, and the tests have significant benefits to humans. Many researchers are working towards finding options that will help eliminate the use of animals for medical and cosmetics tests. The different natures of tests conducted on animals in the fields of medicine and cosmetics tend to have clear negative implications. For such reasons, it is imperative for organizations to develop practices that endorse business ethics. Although animal tests are ideal in establishing whether drugs can be effective in treating humans for various ailments, entities that conduct these tests need to be educated about the gravity of the situation. Animals have been extremely useful in conducting genetic studies and for biological systems investigations. However, a comparison between animal tests in medicine and cosmetics reveals that their benefits in the field of medicine outweigh those in cosmetics. Therefore, animals are essential contributors to scientific experiments that are affiliated with the medical industry. The effects that medical products may have on humans make it ethical to carry out the tests on animals first.
After analysing the arguments of both the supporters and opponents involved in the controversial subject of animal testing, it is difficult to determine which direction is right or wrong. However, the agreement is that animal suffering be minimized at all costs. This research concludes that cosmetics companies should adhere to the established laws and principles against the use and abuse of animals in tests and should seek alternative methods to test their products.
Citation to this article:
Kabene S, Baadel S. Bioethics: a look at animal testing in medicine and cosmetics in the UK. J Med Ethics Hist Med. 2019; 12: 15.
Conflict of Interests
Authors declare having no conflict of interest.