Animal ethics committees (AECs) appeal to utilitarian principles in their justification of animal experiments. Although AECs do not grant rights to animals, they do accept that animals have moral standing and should not be unnecessarily harmed. Although many appeal to utilitarian arguments in the justification of animal experiments, I argue that AECs routinely fall short of the requirements needed for such justification in a variety of ways. I argue that taking the moral status of animals seriously--even if this falls short of granting rights to animals--should lead to a thorough revision or complete elimination of many of the current practices in animal experimentation. KEY WORDS: animal research, animal research ethics, animal welfare, animal rights, 3RS, animal ethics committee, institutional animal care and use committee
There appears to be something of an impasse in the current climate regarding animal experimentation: Animal researchers claim that experiments on animals are necessary for advancements in the treatment of human illness and disease, while opponents--especially those who believe that animals have intrinsic rights--argue that animal research is morally unjustifiable. In this article, I shall try to avoid the impasse by looking at the ethical justification given by animal researchers and animal ethics committees (AECs) themselves in defense of such experiments. Thus, for the sake of the argument, I shall concede to the researchers and AECs that although animals may have moral status--and this is something that AECs do not deny--this moral status falls short of ascribing rights to animals in the sense in which they are ascribed to humans. My aim in this article is to examine the justification for animal research within the current framework outlined by the research community--a framework that guides whether and, if so, how animal experimental protocols are to be approved by ethics committees--and to argue that, even within this framework, much, if not most, animal experimentation is still unjustified. If my arguments are cogent, they will provide a way of avoiding the existing impasse, which often makes dialogue between animal researchers and those opposed to such research impossible. I aim to show that, if AECs take their own avowed ethical and scientific commitments seriously, then much of the current experimentation on animals should not be taking place.
As noted previously, animal researchers and AECs do not claim that animals have no moral status. AECs acknowledge that animals are deserving of moral consideration and should not be unnecessarily harmed. Nevertheless, experiments on animals are routinely justified on the grounds that the harms inflicted on animals are necessary for advances in the medical sciences, which benefit human health. Indeed, unlike many other practices where animals are exploited for human ends (e.g., eating meat, hunting, entertainment, and testing on cosmetic products, to name a few), if the use of animals in research benefits to a significant degree the health and well-being of humans, this would not be trivial, whether or not one thinks using animals in research is morally defensible. (By this statement, I am not claiming that, since the killing of...
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