Raising the Bar in the Justification of Animal Research


A recent paper in Journal of Animal Ethics provides a detailed internal critique of the ethical decision-making framework of Animal Ethics Committees (AECs), such as the one at Queen’s which reviews and approves animal research protocols for all teaching and research uses of animals. Animal researchers typically use a utilitarian framework for rationalizing the use of animals in (harmful, non-therapeutic) research. This framework has been widely criticized from two broad approaches. First, most moral philosophers consider a utilitarian cost-benefit analysis to be a completely inadequate approach for ethical decision-making that sacrifices individuals’ basic interests (e.g. their interest in not being deliberately confined, harmed or killed). When it comes to human research subjects, we don’t think that it’s okay to harm or kill one human in order to search for a disease cure that might benefit thousands or even millions of other humans. When doctors sacrifice human research subjects in this way we consider them criminals guilty of violating fundamental rights. This is an external critique of the utilitarian research framework used to rationalize animal experimentation.

In “Raising the Bar in the Justification of Animal Research”, Elisa Galgut provides in internal critique of the utilitarian framework. In other words, she takes animal researchers at their word when they say they apply utilitarian ethical principles. Then she analyzes whether or not researchers in fact live up to the ethical requirements of the utilitarian approach they espouse. They do not. Even on their own (inadequate) criteria, most of the animal research they conduct is unethical.

Here is the abstract for Galgut’s paper:

Animal ethics committees (AECs) appeal to utilitarian principles in their justification of animal experiments. Although AECs do not grant rights to animals, they do accept that animals have moral standing and should not be unnecessarily harmed. Although many appeal to utilitarian arguments in the justification of animal experiments, I argue that AECs routinely fall short of the requirements needed for such justification in a variety of ways. I argue that taking the moral status of animals seriously – even if this falls short of granting rights to animals – should lead to a thorough revision or complete elimination of many of the current practices in animal experimentation.

Upcoming Talks: “Affirmative Action for Animals” and “Animals as Vulnerable Research Subjects”

colloquium series header

There are two upcoming talks this week on animal ethics at Queen’s University, both by post-doctorate Angela Martin from Centre for Research in Ethics from University of Montréal (CRÉ).

“Affirmative Action for Animals”

The Queen’s Philosophy Department Colloquium Series will host “Affirmative Action for Animals — What Justice Demands?” by Angela Martin.

When: November 26th from 4 pm to 6 pm
Where: Watson Hall, room 517

Anti-speciesism requires, amongst other things, equal consideration of equal interests, regardless of species membership. Currently, we live in a society that often does not give equal weight to the interests of animals. Most animal groups are at high risk of having their interests unjustly considered by moral agents due to speciesist prejudices. In my talk, I address the question of whether, in order to remedy these discriminations, animals currently have a claim for more than equal consideration, that is, for affirmative action. In the first part of my talk, I make some distinctions about the notions of discrimination and affirmative action. Then I show that any animal groups – amongst others, farm animals, laboratory animals, and wild animals – currently do not have their most basic interests justly considered by moral agents due to speciesist prejudices. In the third part of my talk, I argue that, in order to remedy these injustices, animals have a claim for affirmative action. I outline what this means in practice, and defend my position against potential objections.

All welcome.

“Animals as Vulnerable Research Subjects”

The Animals in Philosophy, Politics, Law and Ethics research cluster will host a discussion on one of Angela Martin’s papers titled “Animals as Vulnerable Research Subjects”.

When: November 27th from 10:30 am to noon
Where: Watson Hall, room 517

It is commonly accepted that particularly vulnerable research individuals and populations in medical research should be afforded special protection and attention. Recently, it was argued by some authors that laboratory animals can and should also be identified as vulnerable research subjects. In consequence, they should benefit from similar protections as vulnerable humans in research. In this article, I discuss whether the concept of vulnerability can indeed be meaningfully applied to research animals, and if yes, what it implies from an ethical point of view for animal research.

If you wish to attend, please note that reading the paper is required for participating at this event. Please contact cliffehanger[at]sympatico[dot]ca to receive it. Continue Reading

Canadian Doctors and Nurses Significantly Overestimate the Value of Animal-based Biomedical Research

Unsure Doctor Clipart

A recent study (open access) of Canadian pediatricians and nurses notes that “health care workers (HCW) often perform, promote, and advocate use of public funds for animal research”. Because health care professionals have an important influence on public perceptions of animal research, their advocacy is important for the animal research industry.

The purpose of the study was to investigate whether health care professionals are in fact well-informed about the nature of animal research – its scientific rigour, and likelihood of translating into human health benefits. The study found a significant discrepancy between the beliefs of doctors and nurses, and the reality of animal research. Health care professionals significantly overestimate the scientific rigour of animal-based research, and significantly overestimate the likelihood that animal research findings will translate to human responses to drugs and disease. In other words, health care workers regularly promote the benefits of animal research, but their advocacy is based on serious misinformation.

The study also found that if health care workers were better informed about the realities of animal research, they would withdraw their support.