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There are many scientific domains that utilize animals as testing subjects, ranging from social sciences (like psychology) to astronomy. This utilization of animals is extremely controversial and poses many ethical concerns. Animals cannot give consent, they cannot tell you they are hurting. How does this type of treatment affect their quality of life? Despite the ethical concerns, animal testing is an absolutely necessary tool to help save human lives; a far greater ethical obligation.
In 1964, Louis Lasagna wrote a modern Hippocratic oath, to which there are multiple points; the most important is “I will apply, for the sick, all measures required…” (Tyson 2001). The Hippocratic Oath is a code of ethics among doctors regarding how they behave and how they treat their patients. But this concept is so much more than that. It clearly defines our ethical obligation to do whatever is necessary to aid our fellow man. In the field of medicine, that has included using animals as test subjects.
The basis of moral consideration of animals relies heavily on the assumed notion that animals experience feelings similar to humans; such as pain, frustration, and fear (Palmer 2010). As humans we consider these feelings to be negative and assume that they are also negative experiences for animals. Animals cannot voice feelings of pain, fear, or frustration; we can only make assumptions based upon posturing and noises. Subjecting an animal to these feelings intentionally is considered unethical to some. Another ethical concern is regarding the ability to consent to testing. A human being can choose to walk away from an experiment at any point, animals cannot. Additionally, society typically considers it unethical to conduct experiments or testing on an individual against their will, or if they cannot express their complicity in testing. Applying this notion to animal testing gives air to the claim of unethical practice.
Conflicts in Obligations
In her book Animal Ethics in Context, Clare Palmer states that “Perhaps these kinds of arguments are inadequate: they fail to provide a sound enough reason as to why we should think that the kind of experience that pain is should generate a moral concern either to avoid inflicting it or to relieve it” (pp.24, 2010). This is a valid point, as just because pain is present in certain instance does not mean that something unethical has occurred. Procedures and techniques that cause pain are used in humans frequently (such as chemotherapy or detox protocols), but are not questioned on ethical ground as they are preformed to reach a specific and positive goal. Arguably, animal testing could also fit that description.
A second major conflict is defining which obligations are more important. According to Palmer there is a difference in moral consideration moral significance, “So, whereas moral considerability concerns whether an entity should be taken into account at all, moral significance concerns how much an entity should be taken into account” (pp.15, 2010) Can we say reasonably it is more important to save animal lives than human lives? Also, are we more obligated to saving certain animals than others? While animals offer value to our world, the extent of that value is mainly subjective. Depending one’s view point, animals solely benefit mankind; or conversely are an important and intricate part of the ecosystem of the world.
Polio, one of the most devastating epidemics in American history, caused the paralysis of over 100,000 children (PGEI 2017). Those of us born in the 1970’s or later are lucky enough to only hear about Polio, instead of having to see its fallout. In the 1950’s Jonas Salk created a vaccine for Polio; and in 1954 human trials began providing relief to a worried nation. The video titled Unconditional Surrender shows the process of creating the vaccine for distribution, part of which is the utilization of animals for testing at a variety of different stages (1956). Through the utilization of animal tissue and animal testing, a safe and effective vaccine that saved countless children from a detrimental disease was created. Unfortunately, some of these animals likely suffered and/or died; but even that provides valuable information towards aiding humanity.
Diabetes is a condition in which the body cannot process glucose appropriately, either because of insufficient amounts of insulin (Type 1) or resistance to the insulin produced (type 2). Insulin is made in the pancreas. The discovery that the pancreas is the origin of glucose control was made in 1889 by Joseph von Mering and Oskar Minkowski, upon noting the effects of removing the pancreas of a dog (AnimalResearch 2017). Additionally, dogs were used to isolate the factor responsible for lowering glucose levels (insulin). Animal testing has since been used to learn more about insulin and its affects, providing life-saving information for those afflicted with insulin dependent diabetes.
Countless other vaccinations, procedures, treatments, and pharmaceuticals have been generated using animal research. The advent of Penicillin, arguably the most influential medical breakthrough of the 1900’s, utilized mice for testing (Cook 2006). From eradicating Smallpox to the creation of pacemakers, animal research has saved millions of lives.
Advancements in veterinary medicine through the use of animal testing has produced new vaccines and treatments that allow animals to live longer as well. For example, the vaccination for rabies was developed through animal testing (Cook 2006). Rabies affects nearly all mammals, and is fatal. These advancements extend through out the animal kingdom to include domesticated animals, endangered species, and various kinds of wildlife.
The most obvious benefit is that animal testing provides vital information about whatever is being tested prior to trying it on human. As noted in the film Unconditional Surrender, various animals were tested to ensure that the vaccine worked and was free of other harmful bacteria (1956). Had this been performed on humans, it may have resulted in death. This would have been counterproductive to the vaccine’s goal, and likely caused a halt in production.
Animal testing allows us to not use humans for experimentation. In a not so distant past, experimentation was conducted on the developmentally disabled and minorities. Society has deemed this unacceptable due to long-term and critical effects, such as in the case of the Tuskegee Study. The purpose of the Tuskegee experiment was to determine if Penicillin could not only cure but prevent Syphilis. However, the participants were ill informed of what the experiment consisted of: being infected with the STD; and as a result, hundreds of African-American men went untreated for over 40 years (Nix 2017). In this case, not only could animal testing been used instead of human subjects, but it would have been far safer to the collateral public.
Albeit an abstract concept, it is guaranteed that if you ask someone about the value of mankind they will respond with some idea of how we benefit the world. If you ask the same question about animals, the answer will likely be about how animals benefit us. While animals do have some ground for moral consideration, the significance is not at the same level as human moral significance. Animal testing provides many benefits such as safe and effective treatments, as well as more abstract benefits such as preventing the unethical treatment of human beings in testing. Animal testing is necessary to science because it aids in keeping the human population alive.
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