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Animal testing is described as a procedure involving vivisection and/or In vivo testing of animals for experimentation or research. In the pursuit of what is known as scientific progress, animals have fallen victims of distress in the process.
Throughout history, human has employed animals in carrying out various activities as beasts of burden, for companionship and food. However, animal testing was particularly developed along with medical inventions. It dates back during the ancient Greece, applied by Hippocrates and Aristotle, who established the structural and functional component of human body through animal dissections (Athanasiou & Darzi 208).
During the Cartesian philosophy at around seventeenth century, animal testing was employed with hardly any ethical issue arising as a result. Rene Descartes for instance, maintained that man possessed a mind and could feel pain while animals had none and therefore, could not feel pain. However, these perceptions were later opposed by Jeremy Bentham (Office of Technology Assessment, Congress 75).
The topic of animal testing has continued to trigger several ethical and legal issues in pursuit of questioning its legitimacy. Following the fulfillment of the procedures on animals, they are euthanized in efforts to reduce their suffering. Animals, like human can feel physical, psychological and emotional pain, and therefore, it is morally incorrect to facilitate their suffering due to continued experimentation with them.
Even with advocacy of humane way of treating these animals by animal rights groups, it is never enough since these experiments always causes them to suffer, which infringe on their rights. The purpose of this paper is to define animal testing within a historical context, establish ethical and legal issues surrounding the acts, discuss animal liberation movements, arguments in support and against the act of animal testing as part of the debate on animal rights and most importantly, alternatives to animal testing.
Generally, this paper shall try to question the legitimacy of animal testing and give a recommendation of alternative non-animal approaches.
Factors Attributed to the Rise in Animal Experimentation
Animal experimentation heightened when anesthetics were introduced in the medical field. Besides, the Darwinian Origin of Species defended the biological resemblances between animals and human hence resulting to a rise in animal experiments. Today, there has been a rise in demand for sophisticated animal models as well as rising controversial debates regarding animal experimentation.
These aspects contributed to the establishment of Laboratory Animal Science during the nineteen fifties, guided by 3R principles (Baumans pr.1). This is a multidisciplinary approach in the field, which has enhanced the animal testing standards and their welfare. There has been a rising concern in relation to animal welfare that has resulted to various legislations in various nations, with the UK approving the initial legislation on animal experimentation dubbed, the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1876 (Athanasiou & Darzi 209).
Progress in the biomedical sciences resulted to a rise in animal testing in the twentieth century. However, this decreased in 1980s when the public became aware, strict laws were introduced and there was a rise in animal rights groups.
All the same, animal experimentation has risen in the twenty-first century attributed to the progress made in genetic engineering of animals. Currently, seventy-five to a hundred million vertebrates are used annually for scientific research as well as testing of drugs, vaccines, cancer research, diagnostics, among others (Baumans pr. 2).
According to Baumans, “Averagely, 50% of the laboratory animals experience minor discomfort (e.g., single blood sampling), 30% moderate (e.g., recovery from anesthesia) and 20% severe (e.g., toxicity tests)” (pr. 2). Animal tests have been criticized by questioning the right of man to use them for his benefits even when they have been proven unreliable.
Animal Rights Debate
Animal rights activists have opposed the act on the grounds that it is immoral and violates the rights of these animals. However, the morality of the procedure is downplayed since it is outweighed by the fact that these procedures are ethically approached through carrying out a self-analysis of the motives involved, either personally or scientifically.
The process incorporates recognizing that animals suffer and therefore, this should be minimized as much as possible in relation to ethical values employed. Animals have their own rights and if a procedure infringes on these rights, it forms the ground to criticize its morality. The case of morality should not examine the benefits incurred by humans since a violation of rights is by its own an independent concept to rule out the procedure on moral basis.
This is where the supporters of animal testing fail since they don’t base their morality argument on violation of rights but on its consequences. This implies that the benefits incurred by humans are a justification of animals to suffer. They insist that the benefits to humans outweigh the detrimental effects caused to animals, which is a consequentialist argument since it emphasizes on the impacts of the action under the question.
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However, some procedures are so inhumane such that the benefits incurred by human cannot justify the harms caused to the animal research subjects. Consider the following argument; if a procedure is more harmful when conducted, it is morally incorrect to conduct it.
More so, Singer maintains that “whenever experimenters claim that their experiments are important enough to justify the use of animals, we should ask them whether they would be prepared to use a brain-damaged human being at a similar mental level to the animals they are planning to use” (76). In the recent past, ethical debates regarding animal testing are common regarding the principles to impose on different animal species.
However, many have agreed that animal testing in medical as well as scientific research is beneficial to man when animal suffering is minimized. On this note, peter singer maintains that there lacks basis to employ animals for them to suffer, which is a utilitarian perspective. Researchers have pointed out that the biological differences that exist between human and animals results to unreliability of such tests. Animal tests have a lower quality and must be conducted hand in hand with clinical trials on human (Athanasiou & Darzi 210).
On the other hand, those in support of animal experiments claim that almost all medical accomplishment and breakthrough in the recent past, is based on animal testing. In addition, some have gone ahead to argue that computer simulations cannot define the association amid different cells and environment, which calls for animal experimentations since they are able to achieve this.
However, critiques of the procedure points out that these results could be misleading even in animal tests and this impedes scientific progress. Similarly, imposing regulations against animal testing would imply that animals would no longer be used for toxicological experimentation of new drugs.
It could also imply the application of human to determine their safety. Animal tests are agued to assist in determining if a certain drug should be tested on humans and not the efficacy of the drug. If the drug proves lethal to animals, it means it cannot be used on humans. If it proves otherwise, clinical trials can be initiated on humans. These are some of the reasons that those who support the idea of animal experimentation put forward to justify the act, often triggering a conflict of interests.
It is generally agreed that animal’s life is valuable and should not be mishandled. This aspect has led to regulations being imposed to regulate the issue. It has thus, been a controversial issue for policymakers, some of who states that animal suffering is inhumane and therefore, they put forward euthanasia as mean to minimize animal suffering.
It is clear that most, during the scientific experiments and studies, animal suffering is inevitable and in turn ends up dying. Therefore, euthanizing these animals has been seen as a means of reducing depression, pain and infections that may result since some of these animals can neither respond to medication nor feed or breed, which makes them useless.
Euthanizing these animals is meant to trigger a swift unconsciousness, followed by death with little or no agony or suffering. These methods include use of gases like carbon monoxide, decapitation, cervical dislocation, maceration, irradiation, electrocution, captive bolts, pithing, quick freezing and air embolism with or without anesthesia (Athanasiou & Darzi 212).
Animal liberation or animal rights regards to the notion that animals have to be considered similar to human with respect to their interests. The issue has been approached from contrasting philosophical stances. The protectionist Peter Singer emphasizes a utilitarian aspect of suffering and its effects and not on the idea of rights.
Conversely, the abolitionist Gary Francione maintains that animals require just a single right i.e. a right to property. All the same, animal liberation advocates come to an agreement that animals have to be considered as non-human individuals belonging to a certain moral setup and not as foodstuff, research subjects, source of entertainment or even for clothes. Peter Singer initiated the animal liberation movement in which he overlooked the theoretical explanations of rights with regard to animals (Office of Technology Assessment, Congress 76).
In his book, Singer maintains that animals’ interests have to be prioritized since they can feel pain and distress, arguing that the impression of rights is meant to express the importance to put animals into consideration. Singer made popular the application of the concept of speciesism in his description of oppressive handling of animals.
Speciesism is described as “unjustified bias that favors one’s own species over the other” (Singer 287). The utilitarian approach; ‘the greatest good for the greatest number,’ can only be the sole way to quantify ethical behavior. He maintains that there lacks any justification as to why this should not be applicable to animals.
Singer disregards rights as an ethical idea, which is not dependent on the utilitarian idea founded on interests. He embraces rights as a derivative of utilitarian principles, especially that of decreasing suffering in animals. According to him, animal rights currently differ from those of human in his view in Animal Liberation (1975).
Here, he insists on speciesism in that there is discrimination of animals as a result of their having to be associated with a different species. He ascertains that any being, which can suffer should be considered equally (Office of Technology Assessment, Congress 83). Failing to do so can be likened to racism and gender justice (Singer 85).
According to his arguments, animals should possess rights since they have a potential of feeling pain more in comparison to their intelligence. This is to say that animals depict a much less intelligence as compared to an average man, while individuals who have a severe intellectual challenge likewise portray a reduced mental capacity.
It is even possible that particular animals such as primates portray intelligence in learning symbolic languages almost similar to infants. As a result, intelligence is not justifiable on the grounds of awarding animals a lower thought than the mentally challenged persons. Singer also rejects the notion of taking animals as the source of food and advocates for a vegetarian diet.
More so, he disregards vivisection, particularly when the benefits incurred are less than the harm inflicted on the animal subject. Singer ascertains that there lacks moral basis for failure to award equal consideration with regard to animal and human interests of having a potential to suffer. Animal’s research has shown that animals are capable of feeling pain and suffering, but they lack a language to express their distress, unlike human (Singer 286).
However, these aspects are criticized by Carl Cohen, who rules out the concept of personalizing animals. He maintains that holders of rights have to be in a position to understand rule of duty governing them. They have to comprehend probable conflicts amid their own interest and justice during application of such regulations. It is solely on the society of ‘beings’ with potential to self-restrict ethical judgments, when the notion of rights is properly invoked (Cohen & Regan 27).
He, therefore, opposes Singer’s argument, which implies that mentally retarded persons cannot come up with moral judgments. Then, it should not be applied as the distinctive trait to determine whether animals should be given rights. Cohen argues that to examine an ethical judgment, it should not be applied to each person but rather, to a potential of all members of the overall species (Cohen & Regan 41).
Animal experimentation has composed a huge industry, which comprises of the chemical, pharmaceutical, learning institutions as well as other scientific oriented industries. Animals used in these experiments are subjected to physical pain and psychological trauma during different procedures such as toxicological testing.
Moreover, in learning institutions, veterinary practice and medical research incorporate use of animals for educational purposes. Computer programming, In vitro approach, statistical approaches, application of cell cultures in research, or even clinical research using humans are some of the alternatives to use in experimentation. However, these alternatives have proven futile due to reluctance in embracing them, inadequate funding or simply being against change.
These alternatives, when embraced in this scientific research as well as for education purposes, animal rights are safeguarded. May be, the most important question to ask is if these animal experiments are really reliable. This is because they could give different responses to that of human body.
It is, therefore, important to note that their suffering during the testing could even compromise the results. Consequently, the essence of having to make animals suffer to benefit human is questionable if there are other alternatives that could be used instead, and give even more accurate results.
Food Drug Admiration enacted FD&C Act, which was a promulgation of other interrelated laws. The Act allowed cosmetic manufacturers to do everything within their power to guarantee the safety of the product for human before they are put in the market.
These companies have employed animal testing to achieve this aim of ensuring safe ingredients in their products. FDA however, advocates that the benefits extracted in the animal tests should be optimized by using the least number of animals, which should be handled humanely in whatever way possible.
The agency has collaborated with others to draft alternative means of toxicological tests within the American nation thus advocating for Refinement, Reduction as well as Replacement of animal experimentation (Athanasiou & Darzi 210). Reduction means using the least number of animals possible to reach the desired results by researchers, enhancing experimentation procedures and analysis as well as sharing the results with different researchers.
Refinement involves minimizing animal suffering by refining procedures involved, through less invasive procedures, improved medical attention, and living conditions. Replacement entails the use of alternative techniques, which includes testing on cell cultures, clinical tests on human volunteers, computer programming and epidemiological research studies when similar results can be achieved if animal subjects were used (Baumans pr.3).
Although beneficial, animal tests are not always accurate since they might give a different response in humans to that of animals (Athanasiou & Darzi 210). Therefore, an ethics committee should be established in every nation to determine the ethical aspects of animal testing in relation to research proposals put forward.
From this perspective, animal tests should only be embraced when the benefits incurred outweighs their suffering. Moral review of the procedures of animal testing is important in enhancing the standards of animal experiments since their welfare is crucial to attaining a reliable outcome.
It is often assumed that animal experiments are integral to scientific and medical progress. As a result, the current debate over animal testing is characterized by cacophony of views. However, there appears to be an agreement that animals should be treated humanely.
They have been awarded the same stance as human by Singer while critiques like Cohen refute the stance. In my opinion, animals should possess similar rights as humans and if they are capable of suffering like human, then it is an obvious call that the cause of suffering should be withdrawn.
However, unlike humans, animals can neither assume duties nor possess discretion, which awards rights an idiosyncratic role in ethics. On this note, consistency maintains that animals should be awarded rights once they are awarded to infants or mentally retarded individuals who have no discretion, a concept asserted by Cohen.
Singer, however, disregards the idea of man alleviating himself over other species and therefore, condemns his exploitation to animals. Besides, animals have a potential to suffer, and therefore, they should be relieved their suffering just as humans, which comprise of a utilitarian approach to the issue.
Considering human suffering, while neglecting that of animals is a violation of the canon of equality. This is a simple concept of humane treatment of animals as their moral authorization, which has continued to raise a conflict of interest all over the world (Office of Technology Assessment, Congress 83).
Athanasiou, Thanos & Darzi, Ara. Key Topics in Surgical Research and Methodology. Heidelberg: Springer, 2010. Print. Baumans, Van. Use of animals in experimental research: an ethical dilemma. Gene Therapy, 11, S64–S66. doi:10.1038/sj.gt.3302371. Nature Publishing Group, 2004.
Cohen, Carl & Regan, Tom. The Animal Rights Debate. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001. Print.
Office of Technology Assessment, Congress. Alternatives To Animal Use in Research, Testing, and Education. Washington, D.C: DIANE Publishing, 1986. Print.
Singer, Peter. Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals. New York: Random House, 1975. Print.