AR-FAQ - #77

#77 What is wrong with experimentation on animals?

The claimed large gains from using animals in research makes the practice the most significant challenge to AR philosophy. While it is easy to dismiss meat production as a trivial indulgence of the taste buds, such a dismissal is not so easily accomplished for animal research. First, a definition. We refer to as "vivisection" any use of animals in science or research that exploits and harms them. This definition acknowledges that there is some research using animals that is morally acceptable under AR philosophy (see question #80). The case against vivisection is built upon three planks. They are:

PLANK A. Vivisection is immoral and should be abolished. PLANK B. Abolition of vivisection is not antiscience or antiresearch. PLANK C. The consequences of abolition are acceptable.

It is easy to misunderstand the AR philosophy regarding vivisection. Often, scientists will debate endlessly about the scientific validity of research, and sometimes AR people engage in those debates. Such issues are part of PLANK C, which asserts that much research is misleading, wrong, or misguided. However, the key to the AR position is PLANK A, which asserts an objection to vivisection on ethical grounds. We seek to reassure people about the effects abolition will have on future medical progress via PLANKS B and C. In the material that follows, each piece of text is identified with a preceding tag such as [PLANK A]. The idea is to show how the text fragments fit into the overall case. There is some overlap between PLANKs B and C, so the assignment may look arbitrary in a few cases. DG

[PLANK A] Over 100 million animals are used in experiments worldwide every year. A few of the more egregious examples of vivisection may be enlightening for the uninformed (taken from R. Ryder's "Victims of Science"):

  • Psychologists gave electric shocks to the feet of 1042 mice. They then caused convulsions by giving more intense shocks through cup-shaped electrodes applied to the animals' eyes or through spring clips attached to their ears.
  • In Japan, starved rats with electrodes in their necks and electrodes in their eyeballs were forced to run in treadmills for four hours at a time.
  • A group of 64 monkeys was addicted to drugs by automatic injection in their jugular veins. When the supply of drugs was abruptly withdrawn, some of the monkeys were observed to die in convulsions. Before dying, some monkeys plucked out all their hair or bit off their own fingers and toes.

Basic ethical objections to this type of "science" are presented here and in questions #79 and #85. Some technical objections are found in questions #78 and #80. Question #92 contains a list of books on vivisection; refer to them for further examples of the excesses of vivisection, as well as more detailed discussion of its technical merits. VIVISECTION TREATS ANIMALS AS TOOLS. Vivisection effectively reduces sentient beings to the status of disposable tools, to be used and discarded for the benefit of others. This forgets that each animal has an inherent value, a value that does not rise and fall depending on the interests of others. Those doubting this should ponder the implications of their views for humans: would they support the breeding of human slaves for the exclusive use of experimenters? VIVISECTION IS SPECIESIST. Most animal experimenters would not use nonconsenting humans in invasive research. In making this concession, they reveal the importance they attach to species membership, a biological line that is as morally relevant as that of race or gender, that is, not relevant at all. VIVISECTION DEMEANS SCIENCE. Its barbaric practices are an insult to those who feel that science should provide humans with the opportunity to rise above the harsher laws of nature. The words of Tom Regan summarize the feelings of many AR activists: "The laudatory achievements of science, including the many genuine benefits obtained for both humans and animals, do not justify the unjust means used to secure them. As in other cases, so in the present one, the rights view does not call for the cessation of scientific research. Such research should go on--but not at the expense of laboratory animals." AECW

Atrocities are not less atrocities when they occur in laboratories and are called medical research. George Bernard Shaw (playwright, Nobel 1925)

Vivisection is the blackest of all the black crimes that a man is at present committing against God and his fair creation. Mahatma Gandhi (statesman and philosopher)

What I think about vivisection is that if people admit that they have the right to take or endanger the life of living beings for the benefit of many, there will be no limit for their cruelty. Leo Tolstoy (author)

I am not interested to know whether vivisection produces results that are profitable to the human race or doesn't...The pain which it inflicts upon unconsenting animals is the basis of my enmity toward it, and it is to me sufficient justification of the enmity without looking further. Mark Twain (author)

SEE ALSO: #78-#82, #85-#86