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Torturing Animals

Entry 716, on 2008-03-10 at 21:53:17 (Rating 3, Science)

I have just listened to a podcast discussing the use of animals in research. This is a contentious issue and a difficult one for many people to cope with. There is a wide variation in the amount of opposition or support people have for the subject. At one extreme are those who think humans have the right to do whatever we like with animals, and at the other are those who are prepared to resort to violence to prevent animals being used in research. So who is right?

There are two issues involved. First, does animal research work? And second, even if it does work is it morally OK to use animals this way?

The first question is the easiest but even that has a certain amount of debate connected with it. Some reports indicate animal research isn't a particularly effective way to evaluate the safety of drugs intended for humans for example, but the consensus is clearly that animal research is an essential tool for research and development of new products.

The rigorous regulatory requirements and significant expense associated with using animals means that researchers wouldn't be likely to use them if there was a reasonable choice. And there have been drugs and treatments which were developed using animal research in the past, for example diabetes treatments. So clearly it does work well enough to make it worthwhile, and is there a reasonable alternative anyway?

What about the moral question? Most people would say we should minimise suffering, so how experimental animals are treated is important. If we save one human life by sacrificing a thousand mice is that OK? What about 1000 dogs or monkeys or chimps? Does it matter if the animals die but don't suffer, or is it better for them to suffer but not die?

There is no right answer here. Even people with (what I call) imposed moralities (such as those who believe their morals are derived from a holy book or a religious leader) might have trouble with this question. People like myself who believe morality is subjective and ultimately subservient to pragmatism might have even more trouble.

As I hinted at above, I am ultimately a pragmatists. Animals die and suffer every day in the wild, its just part of nature. That doesn't necessarily make deliberately causing harm right, but it does put the question in context. There is good reason to believe that animal research is valuable and there is no viable alternative. It seems to me that we should continue with it but only with the understanding that it isn't the ideal situation.

And there's one other thing I would suggest to genuinely test people's commitment to the cause of protecting animals. They should carry a card like a "do not resuscitate" card which says they don't want any medical interventions used on them which had animal testing at some phase of their development. That way the drug companies would be forced to stop using animals in research because no one would use the resulting drugs. But somehow I suspect that the vast majority of people against animal testing would somehow take a more practical stance in that situation and that they might tend more to the pragmatic view, just like I do!

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Comment 1 (1261) by Farmer on 2008-03-11 at 22:18:55:

The subject of animal testing is only difficult where emotion rules the thinking process. Having worked with animals all my life, valuing them for I make my living from them, ensuring that the herd or flock is managed so that there is always feed, and then drafting animals to the freezing works/slaughter house may seem to some an odd mix of morals.

I'm not confused and can appreciate those who choose vegetarianism rather than eat animals, though I think fish could merit the same regard, so when it comes to animals being used for testing it surely is a case of perspective. After all those managing these animals are not cruel to them any more than your doctor who doesn't really know what the hell is wrong with you so fires medicine (chemicals) at you seeking cure.

I don't see humans relinquishing there position in the food chain lightly. As for torturing animals, there is no point or purpose. Incidentally sheep seem to find many other ways to die without human influence. Actually so do humans.

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Comment 2 (1262) by OJB on 2008-03-11 at 22:37:44:

I agree that many of the arguments against animal testing are based on emotion, but there are genuine moral arguments against it as well. The philosopher Peter SInger has particularly extreme views on animal rights, but those views aren't based on emotion. Note that I'm not saying I agree with him though.

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