Is the use of animal testing for medical purposes considered ethical?

Group 72

The development of new medical treatments for both infectious and non-infectious diseases within the United States relies heavily on the usage of animal testing. The main purpose of these studies focuses on drug testing and toxicological screening. In 2016, the USDA reported a 7% rise in the usage of animal testing, reaching over 800,000 animals being tested annually [16]. Within the US, toxicity programmes are often funded by U.S. taxpayers and research conducted by PETA suggests the adoption of crude, painful methods.  The debate stands on whether animal testing is ethically appropriate for the medical industry.

Theories such as egalitarianism which base their objectives on the fact that the total amount of happiness in a particular situation should be distributed equally, rejects the use of animals for testing. This can be interpreted to imply that defending animals instead should be the main concern for humans, considering the current world (intensive farming, climate change), animals suffer significantly for human usage. Therefore, it is imperative that the circumstances for animals are improved and protection of their lives should be a priority [1] [2].

Negative consequentialism bases its theories on being able to reduce suffering in situations regardless of anything else, this however can be interpreted both for and against animal testing. Arguments could be said that animal suffering should not take place at all, whilst others argue that in fact if the suffering of animals does not take place due to testing, then more humans will suffer as a result. As negative consequentialism aims to reduce suffering by the highest amount, animal testing would be a way to lower the overall larger suffering by humans confined to that situation [3][4].

Theories that have impartial motivations such as ‘Care Ethics’ which base moral actions upon the significance of the relationship between two individuals, supports the use of certain animals, excluding domestic pets. This theory states that certain animals used for testing, such as wild rodents, with no special connections to humans, can be used for animal testing and that their interests are of less concern than humans [3]. Many people subconsciously support this notion of using animals that are not considered to be one of their ‘loving household pets’, which is a strong argument in the case of using animals for testing [5][6].

Thoughts on the moral status of animals in the writings of ancient philosophers, Aristotle and Descartes argue that animals do not have the capacity for creating individual ethical judgement [7]. Aristotle argues that animals have a sense of perception but lack reason, therefore fall below humans in a natural hierarchy and lack rational souls. Descartes goes on to say that although animals have cognitive functions, they do not possess the same feelings as humans, thus do not feel the effects of mistreatment. This view suggests animal testing is morally more acceptable than human volunteer testing, as animal wellbeing is below that of humans. Moral philosopher, Peter Singer supports the utilitarian view that animals feel mistreatment during biological testing. [8]

According to a recent study carried out in 2009, evidence suggests animals are sentient although their ethical judgement is not understood from research [9]. However, there have been occasions where animals display acts of ethical judgement beyond our understanding, indicating animals should have the right to consent to testing [10]. Philosopher Immanuel Kant suggested that animals only have a relative worth to human interest. This implies a moral justification to treat animals inhumanely for human benefits and opposes the principle of equality extended to all human or non-human. Kant’s arguments in defence of ‘speciesism’ [11], assumes human superiority, supporting the inapplicability of duty ethics towards other species.

The utilitarianism view to achieve the greatest happiness stated previously suggests animal testing is acceptable to reduce human suffering. This further highlights the importance of animal welfare to produce the greatest amount of happiness for both humans and animals alike. In 2010, the US government invested $16 billion in animal testing for the National Institute of Health [12], and at least 320,000 animals were involved. Although this has benefited humans, the utilitarianism view suggests the number of animals involved should be reduced. This could be done through disclosing research results to other nations, minimising the amount of animal testing conducted.

To share knowledge supports the act of equality, referring to the relation between people’s identity and the social reproduction with regards to resources of the environment. [13]. Allowing international access to research reduces the amount of animal testing globally and so minimizes the suffering of animals. Management theorist, Morten T Hansen explains how this promotes reciprocity, as sharing is an act of humanity for mutual benefit of both parties [14]. This implies the US government should get rid of their selfishness by sharing information as a way to learn and gain knowledge. However, philosopher T. Butler argues that humans are socially and evolutionarily programmed to do things for their own benefit [15], therefore sharing of data is unlikely.

Overall, alternative methods e.g. computer models or micro-organisms cannot produce the realistic biological reactions needed for medical testing. Using humans for testing is viewed largely as unethical in comparison to animals as their lives are viewed with less importance. However, ethically to achieve the most happiness, animal testing should be reduced, so sharing research should be encouraged. This also serves to encourage good fortune in humans and more happiness for animals.


[1] Horta, O. (2016) “Egalitarianism and animals”, Between the Species, 19, pp. 109-145 [accessed on 20 August 2016].

[2] Faria, C. (2014) “Equality, priority and nonhuman animals”, DILEMATA, 14, pp. 225-236 [accessed on 16 April 2014].

[3] Contestable, B. (2013 [2005]) “Negative utilitarianism and justice”, Philosophy as Therapy [accessed on 11 June 2016].

[4] Acton, H. B. & Watkins, J. W. N. (1963) “Symposium: Negative utilitarianism”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes, 37, pp. 83-114.

[5] Noddings, N. (1984) Caring: A feminine approach to ethics and moral education, Berkeley: University of California Press.

[6] Anscombe, G. E. M. (1958) “Modern moral philosophy”, Philosophy, 33, pp. 1-19.


[8]: Singer, Peter (1974) “All Animals Are Equal,” Philosophic Exchange: Vol. 5: No.1, Article 6.

[9]: National Research Council (US) Committee on Recognition and Alleviation of Pain in Laboratory Animals. Recognition and Alleviation of Pain in Laboratory Animals. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2009. 1, Pain in Research Animals

[10]: University of Bristol. (2010, August 4). Emotions help animals to make choices, research suggests. Science Daily. Retrieved March 13, 2019 from

[11]: Kant, I. (2002). Groundwork of the metaphysics of morals. Yale. Retrieved March 16, 2019, from – groundwork for the metaphysics of morals with essays

[12] Mooney, H. Scientific testing on animals grew again last year, Home Office says. BMJ, 339(jul22 1), pp.b2989-b2989, 2009

[13]: Thomas Widlok, Wolde Gossa Tadesse, Property and Equality, Volume 2, 2005

[14]: Serge-Christophe Kolm, Part 2 Motives, 6. Balance Reciprocity: An Economic of Social Relations, 105-106

[15] Butler, T. and Murphy, C. “Understanding the design of information technologies for knowledge management in organizations: a pragmatic perspective”, Information Systems Journal, Vol. 17 No. 2, pp. 143‐63, 2007.


1 thought on “Is the use of animal testing for medical purposes considered ethical?

  1. This is a good article. I like the fact that you brought in a range of theories beyond what were introduced in the lectures.

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