The use of animals in scientific research especially biomedical testing is still a controversial issue despite the benefits realized from it and the lives saved from the same. Society is sensitive to moral issues. Therefore, the interests of scientists in biomedical research using have indicated clearly that the use of animals in scientific research must be performed under certain ethical, legal, and scientific conditions. Other critiques have already recommended that use of animals in any kind of biomedical research should be banned with immediate effect. However, abolishing animal use in biomedical research is impossible, and there is a legitimate demand that scientists need to use animals in researches. In fact, use of animals in research has been important in the acquisition of medical knowledge such as understanding fundamental processes in human body and generally improving the quality of health of human beings as well as animals.
Those animal activists who emphasize the rights of animals as being violated by their use in scientific research should first define rights then determine whether the concept can be used in the context of animals. The proper definition of rights asserts that they are claims or potential claims to be realized against another within a society of moral agents consequently, animals cannot be said to have rights since they cannot participate as independent and rational agents in any moral society (Regan, 2005). A human being cannot make a claim on a dog or lion that attacked him or her because the dog does not recognize the interests of human beings. Nonetheless, this does not disqualify animals as not having a moral status. Living beings are considered to have moral status if others are morally obliged to respect their interests regardless of the living beings’ utility to them. Both human beings and animals are said to have interests in the well-being of their lives as well as freedom and thus to have a moral status. There are people who think animals have no moral status and human beings can do with them as they please and there are those that think the moral status of animals is equal to that of human beings. Personally, I think that the moral status of a living thing should be graded based on their cognitive capabilities. Just as a mother would prefer to have a mouse in a burning house as opposed to her child, then medical tests should be performed on animals not human beings.
Human beings are different from animals in that they can rise above their biological lives in a manner that animals cannot. Human beings have a unique ability to study nature and understand it such as the fundamental biological processes that affect life and disease processes. They have the ability to accumulate and store large amounts of knowledge in a perpetual form, which can be used to secure benefits for next generations.
‘In fact, unless we continue with science and gather knowledge, whether or not it seems useful on the spot, we will be buried under our
problems and find no way out. Today’s science is tomorrow’s solution and tomorrow’s problems too” (Ringach, 2011 p.310).
Human beings can challenge nature through technological advances and enhance the well-being of all living things on the earth. The human being carries a large moral burden since they often find themselves in positions requiring them to make decisions that concern the tradeoff between human and animal life. For instance, people in areas faced with drought and malnutrition cannot refrain from eating their cattle because it is inhumane since human beings in perfectly food secure conditions already eat beef without causing ethical controversies.
A utilitarian consideration may help justify the use of animals in biomedical research. The probability of using one experiment to heal severe diseases and advance our knowledge is very high. For instance in a research conducted to determine an effective therapy for Parkinson’s disease:
‘To date 40,000 people have been made better with this [Parkinson’s therapy], and worldwide at the time I would guess only 100 monkeys were used at a few laboratories’ (Ringach, 2011 p.310)
In addition, a patient with chronic aortic stenosis, which has an estimated mortality rate of 75%, can be saved by replacing the valve in the heart with one from a pig. Taking the example of a burning house again, when the fireman is faced with a situation of a person and a pig in a burning house, he is likely to save the person regardless of where he or she is trapped in the burning house. Critiques who equate the life of the pig to that of the human effectively condemn the person to death in the same version of saving the pig from a burning house as opposed to the person. So far animal use in scientific research has produced significant results and has saved many lives throughout the world (Ringach, 2011 p.309).
Some people may argue that researchers cannot justify individual experiments using utilitarian considerations unless they know that the experiment would yield positive results, and no one might theoretically disagree with that. However, animal use in scientific research is usually conducted to establish whether a certain theory in the biomedical field can be realized. When subjecting the animals to those intrusive tests, the scientists usually have no idea of what the side effects of the tests would be or whether the tests would traumatize the animals mentally or physically (Conn and Parker, 2008). Therefore, it is difficult to know that the experiment would give good results or not.
Although there are many controversies surrounding the issue of using animals in scientific research, it is still an inevitable part of biomedical research. It has been claimed that the moral status of an animal is below that of a human being due to their low cognitive capabilities.
However, this does not necessarily mean that animals can be harmed without caring about their wellbeing. As mentioned earlier, there should be reasonable legal, ethical, and scientific considerations to be followed while using animals in research to avoid inflicting unnecessary pain or trauma to them when pursuing the greater good.
Conn. P. M., & Parker J. V. ‘The Animal Research War.’ New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 2008. Print.
Regan T. ‘Empty Cages: Facing the Challenge of Animal Rights.’ Lanham (MD): Rowman & Littlefield. 2004. Print.
Ringach, D. The Use of Non-Animals in Biomedical Research. American Journal of the Medical Sciences, 342, 4 (2011): 305-313. Print.
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