Raising the Bar in the Justification of Animal Research

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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.

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