TOPIC GUIDE: Animal Experimentation
"Animal experimentation cannot be justified"
PUBLISHED: 01 Aug 2008
AUTHOR: James Gledhill & Tony Gilland
The rights and wrongs of animal testing have been disputed for decades. In the early part of this decade the debate was dominated by animal rights groups, whose activities led Cambridge University to abandon its plans for a primate research lab in 2004 [Ref: BBC News]. Since then supporters of animal experimentation have become more vocal and effective at getting their points across. Spurred on by a protest organised by a 16-year-old boy in Oxford [Ref: BBC News], a new pro-vivisection campaign group called Pro-Test was established and, alongside existing groups, has argued more persuasively for the importance of animal experiments. The issue remains highly contested, not least because in recent years the number of experiments conducted on animals has increased due to new scientific discoveries. In May 2008, the primatologist Jane Goodall proposed that a Nobel prize be set up for advancing medical knowledge without experimentation on animals [Ref: Guardian]. Two fundamental issues are at stake. First, there is the scientific question of the nature of the contribution that animal experiments make to medical and scientific progress. Second, there are ethical questions about the moral status of animals. These ethical questions first came to prominence in the 1970s, when the publication of Peter Singer’s book Animal Liberation helped launch the animal rights movement. The main question raised is this: Should we expand our sphere of moral concern to include animals on a more equal basis, or is there something unique about human beings that justifies us in using animals for our own ends?
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Animal Experimentation DEBATE IN CONTEXT
This section provides a summary of the key issues in the debate, set in the context of recent discussions and the competing positions that have been adopted.
What is the current situation of animal experimentation in Britain?
Government policy has supported animal experiments, but has emphasised the principles of the 3Rs – the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of animals in research. However, the fact that the number of scientific procedures carried out on animals in Britain rose by 6 per cent in 2007, to just over 3.2 million [Ref: Home Office], has led the RSPCA to question the government’s commitment to the 3Rs [Ref: Guardian]. Advocates of animal testing, such as Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, have countered that the increase in the number of experiments is linked to an increase in the volume of medical research and that this is to be welcomed [Ref: Guardian].
Is there a scientific case for using animals in research?
Supporters of animal experimentation say it has played a part in almost every major medical breakthrough over the last century [Ref: Research Defence Society], such as the development of insulin and the polio vaccine. They also argue that it will be essential to further scientific progress in combating diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and HIV. Some go further, arguing that the advancement of human understanding is sufficient justification for animal research [Ref: spiked]. Opponents of animal research contest whether results derived from experiments on animals can be applied to humans and criticise scientists for failing to move beyond outdated procedures [Ref: Times Online]. Recently, US government agencies announced that they are working on techniques to test the toxicity of chemicals that would replace animal tests with a combination of computer models and human cells [Ref: USA Today]. Vivisectionists point out that animals remain essential as other tests are unable to replicate the operation of a biological system [Ref: Research Defence Society].
What are the moral arguments against animal experimentation?
Arguments against the use of animals employ a number of moral frameworks but share a commitment to a revised view of the relative moral standing of humans and animals. The philosopher Richard Ryder coined the term speciesism to describe prejudice against other species which, he argues, is on a par with racism or sexism. Respecting the rights of animals is seen as a further step in the expansion of our sphere of moral concern and as part of overcoming human arrogance. This argument involves the identification of a source of moral status which is common to humans and animals: the capacity to suffer pain. Supporters of animal rights take the lesson of Darwinism to be that humans are part of nature, existing on a continuum that has no radical break between animals and humans. This is backed up by observations of the similar way in which animals and humans react to noxious stimuli, showing the same kinds of neurochemical response [Ref: Grandin].
What are the moral arguments for animal experimentation?
Those in favour of animal experiments, by contrast, locate moral standing in capacities that set humans apart from animals [Ref: New Statesman]. They argue that humans are rational and autonomous beings, capable of pursuing chosen ends and of constructing moral systems and then living with other humans on the basis of these moral rules [Ref: Guardian]. This makes humans self-conscious subjects, while animals are non-autonomous objects driven by instinct and unable to rise above the dictates of nature. We recognise this distinction in our everyday lives, they suggest – we would be suspicious of someone who put the interests of their pets before those of their family, and most people eat meat. Proponents of a human-centred morality argue that it is a mistake to draw moral conclusions from the scientific theory of Darwinism. The distinction between humans and animals is qualitative not quantitative: animals develop through evolution but humans develop themselves.
It is crucial for debaters to have read the articles in this section, which provide essential information and arguments for and against the debate motion. Students will be expected to have additional evidence and examples derived from independent research, but they can expect to be criticised if they lack a basic familiarity with the issues raised in the essential reading.
John J. Pippin vs Frankie Trull Business Week 28 May 2008
Richard Ryder vs Kenan Malik Guardian 13 June 2006
Arthur Allen Slate 1 June 2006
Anonymous neuroscientist BBC News 28 November 2003
Ray Greek BBC News 28 November 2003
Wendy Higgins New Statesman 21 July 2008
Richard Ryder Guardian 6 August 2005
Jeremy Rifkin Guardian 16 August 2003
Robert Winston Guardian 31 May 2006
Stuart Jeffries interviews Tipu Aziz Guardian 4 March 2006
Stuart Derbyshire spiked 2 March 2006
Definitions of key concepts that are crucial for understanding the topic. Students should be familiar with these terms and the different ways in which they are used and interpreted and should be prepared to explain their significance.
Useful websites and materials that provide a good starting point for research.
Laura Blue Time 17 June 2008
BBC News Have Your Say 24 July 2006
BBC News 24 July 2006
Times Online Debate 24 February 2006
Stuart Wavell The Sunday Times 28 August 2005
BBC News 24 August 2005
Christopher Anderegg et al Medical Research Modernization Committee (MRMC) 2002
James Parker AnimalRights.net 4 August 2000
Biomedical Research Education Trust
Links to organisations, campaign groups and official bodies who are referenced within the Topic Guide or which will be of use in providing additional research information.
IN THE NEWS
Relevant recent news stories from a variety of sources, which ensure students have an up to date awareness of the state of the debate.
Guardian 21 July 2008
Guardian 28 May 2008
USA Today 14 February 2008
BBC News 23 July 2007
BBC News 27 July 2006
Daily Telegraph 27 July 2006
BBC News 4 June 2006
BBC News 3 June 2006
NewScientist.com 2 June 2006
BBC News 14 May 2006
Times Online 8 May 2006
BBC News 19 April 2006
BBC News 4 April 2006
Guardian 4 March 2006
Guardian 24 February 2006
The Times 25 August 2005
NewScientist.com 22 April 2004
BBC News 27 February 2004
BBC News 27 January 2004
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