Animal Testing: Humane or Beastly?

Group 13

In its 12,000 years of existence smallpox killed as many as half a billion people. In 1980 a vaccine was developed that wiped the disease out [1], in part due to animal testing. We humans have a lot to be grateful for when it comes to animal testing. This is true even now, with Covid-19 showing the vital importance of safe vaccines and the Covid-19 vaccine once again showing the importance of animal testing. However, there is another side to the story.

In recent years the medical industry and animal rights groups have called into question whether it is morally right to use animals for testing. Alternatives are being found again and again. The question becomes: is it still necessary to cause millions of animals such pain and suffering?

Arguments for animal testing:

Utilitarianism:

A utilitarian approach can be taken to argue in favour of animal testing. If the overall amount of pleasure created is greater than the pain caused then an event can be seen as ethical according to utilitarianism. If the pain caused to the laboratory animals is outweighed by the pain avoided in the human species then the animal testing is justified. 7.4 million Americans [2] take insulin to treat diabetes every year. Without this medication diabetes can be fatal. In 1921 experiments performed on a dog were instrumental in the first medical application of insulin, just the following year that saved the life of a 14-year-old boy [3] dying of diabetes. The insulin used was extracted from an ox. Many would argue that these animals’ suffering was justified for saving the life of this boy alone, let alone the millions of people it saves each year across the globe.

Kantian Theory/Duty Ethics:

According to Kantian theory/duty ethics an act is ethical if it adheres to a certain moral principle. Professional codes of conduct and oaths are industry examples of this. The American Veterinarian’s Oath [4] reads: “…I solemnly swear to use my medical knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal[s] … and the advancement of medical knowledge.” Even though this oath mentions protecting animals where possible it states advancing medical knowledge too. In fact, both must be done first and foremost for the benefit of our human society. Therefore, animal testing is ethical according to duty ethics, even for a veterinarian.

Animal life vs Human life:

If animal testing were to stop, research speed would significantly slow down. Many companies’ efficiency in research is dependent on the fact they have the technology, knowledge and resources which support a research system based around animal testing. If there is no suitable alternative, companies would have to learn to adapt without it, which inevitably is going to slow down vital research towards cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease [5] and many more.

This then poses the question of which is more valuable, human life or animal life. By quantifying the amount of deaths caused from slower research and animals saved from not using animal testing, it is possible to value a human’s life with a specific number of animals. This means it is a conscious decision that we accept when saving “X” amount of animal lives, we are also going to kill “Y” number of people when we stop animal testing.

When we also consider 95% of all animals used in animal testing are rodents, rats and mice [6], it then becomes a question of: Is it fair to sacrifice a person’s life to save a few dozen rodents?

Reasons against animal testing:

Alternatives:

Way back in 1876 an act preventing abuse of animals was formed in the UK [7]. Nowadays, the animal welfare issue has been attracting more and more discussions. As harm to animals is considered to be ethically unaccepted in many cases, animals being treated as tools to obtain data in testing is believed to be cruel and unnecessary by many people, especially the animal-rights groups. Although the principle of 3Rs: Reduction, Refinement and Replacement [7]has been applied in modern scientific research, test animals still have to feel pain, meet various states of poor welfare and even be killed through experiments. Over 70% of animals are not given pain-relieving drugs despite the procedures likely being painful, due to the high standard of experiment requirements. In 2018, 3.52 million procedures were placed on testing animals in the UK [8].

If animal testing were banned, alternative methods could be introduced. To a certain extent, traditional animal testing might have set the medical industry in its ways and slowed down the research on alternative testing methods. Indeed many alternative methods have been invented and validated. For example, the tissue engineering-based in vitro cell testing method, computer simulations, medical imaging, biomembrane and chemical detection systems and alternative organism methods [9]. These methods would lead to much lower involvement of animals, and could be cheaper, faster and more accurate than animal tests.

Animal Lives Matter:

Studies [10] from over 10 years ago have examined the effectiveness of animal testing and found unsupportive results of the practice. Most of the testing data is not useful for developing potent drugs or medicine for humans which has several ethical implications from different viewpoints. Even from a viewpoint of a belief that animal exploitation is justified because other species suffering has less negative value than human suffering (e.g. speciesism) the practice can be deemed wasteful and misguided towards efforts to develop effective medicine. This argument further strengthens the view from the opposing camp.

Finally, let’s discuss the implications if the controversial claim that animal suffering and wellbeing is as valuable as humans’ is true. There are numerous studies [11] to support the claim that animals can even feel pain. Because of this it could be argued that testing on human volunteers would be a more ethical alternative since they can consent and understand the risk involved in trials.

Conclusion:

To conclude, from the arguments above we are for animal testing.

References:

[1] Mrc.ukri.org. 2021. Impact of animal research in the COVID-19 response – Research – Medical Research Council. [online] Available at: <https://mrc.ukri.org/research/research-involving-animals/impact-of-animal-research-in-the-covid-19-response/> [Accessed 22 March 2021].

[2]W. Cefalu et al., “Insulin Access and Affordability Working Group: Conclusions and Recommendations”, 2021. .

[3]”First use of insulin in treatment of diabetes on this day in 1922″, Diabetes UK, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/about_us/news_landing_page/first-use-of-insulin-in-treatment-of-diabetes-88-years-ago-today#:~:text=Insulin%20was%20discovered%20by%20Sir,than%20a%20year%20or%20two. [Accessed: 22- Mar- 2021].

[4]”Veterinarian’s Oath”, American Veterinary Medical Association, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/avma-policies/veterinarians-oath. [Accessed: 22- Mar- 2021].

[5]”Animal Research Achievements”, Foundation for Biomedical Research, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://fbresearch.org/medical-advances/animal-research-achievements/. [Accessed: 22- Mar- 2021].

[6]”Why Animal Research?”, Animal Research at Stanford, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://med.stanford.edu/animalresearch/why-animal-research.html#:~:text=There%20are%20several%20reasons%20why,is%20critical%20for%20biomedical%20research%3A&text=Animals%20are%20biologically%20very%20similar,than%2098%25%20DNA%20with%20us!&text=Animals%20are%20susceptible%20to%20many,diabetes%2C%20heart%20disease%2C%20etc. [Accessed: 22- Mar- 2021].

[7]S. Doke and S. Dhawale, “Alternatives to animal testing: A review”, Saudi Pharmaceutical Journal, vol. 23, no. 3, pp. 223-229, 2015. Available: 10.1016/j.jsps.2013.11.002 [Accessed 22 March 2021].

[8]Assets.publishing.service.gov.uk, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/835935/annual-statistics-scientific-procedures-living-animals-2018.pdf. [Accessed: 22- Mar- 2021].

[9]”Alternatives to Testing – American Anti-Vivisection Society”, American Anti-Vivisection Society, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://aavs.org/alternatives/testing/. [Accessed: 22- Mar- 2021].

[10]N. Shanks, R. Greek and J. Greek, “Are animal models predictive for humans?”, Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine, vol. 4, no. 1, p. 2, 2009. Available: 10.1186/1747-5341-4-2 [Accessed 22 March 2021].

[11]”Pain in Research Animals: General Principles and Considerations”, Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK32655/. [Accessed: 22- Mar- 2021].

3 thoughts on “Animal Testing: Humane or Beastly?

  1. It’s interesting to think how the COVID-19 vaccine would have developed if it wasn’t for animal testing. Without it, we may not have a vaccine which would reduce the overall quality of life of the global population, a utilitarian drawback.

  2. Great article which gave a diverse number of perspectives. Also really difficult to navigate so I appreciate you guys picking the topic.

    It’s interesting how this debate always look at things from a Human vs Animal perspective. For me, protecting our own health comes first and foremost, thereafter we have a responsibility of care or sustenance to the outside world. The extent of our duty of care to the outside world is dependent on our capacity, but if we die our capacity is diminished to zero. This would then justify the use of Animal testing if was the only means in which drugs can be made. You mention this isn’t the case, and industries are working towards a culture of reducing the amount of animal testing (the 3R’s) or creating alternatives (tissue testing). However this still does not replace the efficacy achieved when testing directly on animals, which presents the dilemma of when to stop animal testing or to what extent do we continue with animal testing. I think there are arguments to be made for the intentions of the individual taking the drugs too, like what is there life purpose after causing harm to that animal, but this is so difficult to judge on a macro scale.

    Lots to think about.

  3. A great topic.
    Opening statement. The problem is clearly stated, and there is a clear dilemma.
    In your argument for, you make an excellent use of ethical theories. For Assignment Two, have a look at the other two theories and see if they apply, and have a quick search for theories such as animal ethics and bioethics.

    However, in the argument against, your use of ethical theories is poor. You present a good case BUT there is no ethical justification. You must focus on improving this for Assignment Two – especially if you are going to argue against animal testing.

    It’s good that you mention the pandemic and the great acceleration in the vaccination that has been obtained. Similarly, many of us have spent much of the year isolated with only our animal companion/s for company. There is a disconnect between the millions who think of a pet as capable of having feelings (experiencing joy and pain) and animal testing. Perhaps virtue ethics can be used as an argument against. I doubt any of us would view someone beating an animal as virtuous.

    Advice for Assignment Two:
    What stakeholders can be identified? Clearly, animals should be included as a stakeholder too.
    What Options for action are there? Maybe a win-win where animal testing is phased out as computer modelling and tissue engineering become more reliable. Much as we have employed with nuclear testing.

    Try and drum up more comments. I’m perfectly OK with you striking deals – whereby you comment on other articles and they comment on yours.

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