Animals in Biomedical Research

There have been longstanding debates regarding the inclusion of animals in biomedical research and experimentation. However, there has been no consensus to conclude whether or not such inclusion is ethically legitimate or not. There are certain grounds in which arguments are made on both sides, but it is the purpose of this paper to create an ethically sound argument in favor of including animals in essential biomedical research. The structure of this argument relies heavily on concretely defined terminology and closing the ambiguous gaps on the inherent question.

The debate over whether or not to include animals in biomedical research stems from a greater debate of whether or not animals are subject to inherent rights. It is my purpose through this paper to answer this question and apply it accordingly to whether or not animals should morally be considered for biomedical experimentation. The opposition groups that stand against animal involvement in biomedical experiments often rely on using abstract rhetoric in order to create a false conclusion that animals have innate rights. Conversely, those who are in favor of animal experimentation often cite that no such rights exist inherently within animals, and that they are not to be considered moral agents acting on the same level as human beings. The polarizing topic often times becomes confusing due to a lack of congruity in accepting crucial terms and understanding what they mean in the realm of philosophical discussion.

Before we can successfully begin our precise argument of whether or not animals should be included in biomedical research, we have to establish a concrete set of terms that enable the reader to formulate a concise understanding of the very basics to my argument. To accurately define what kind of experimentation we are dealing with, strict guidelines regarding such testing, research, and development should be limited to that of biomedical research. Biomedical research is commonly defined as the application of principles of natural sciences, especially biology and physiology, to clinical medicine. This includes pharmaceutical and therapeutic experiments conducted on animals in an attempt to understand side affects and conditions prior to human involvement and testing.

Secondly, I’m going to address the issue of “rights.” The ambiguity of this term has led many to use it as a fundamental argument to exclude animals from the biomedical research that may induce pain and/or suffering. However, there lies an inherent problem with using such terminology. Trying to argue anything in regards to being a right is problematic-and we will see this later on. The reader must understand that rights are first and foremost, abstract social constructs that are recognized by human civilization only. From this, we can define a certain set of rights in which society applies to its own designations. For instance, there are specific differences between a claims right, a legal/statutory right, a moral right, and a political right (Munson 656). These rights, when strictly defined, cannot logically be applied to animals. It is the purpose of this paper to construct an argument that refutes the notion of applicability of rights as inherent within the animal kingdom; and that animals should be included (licitly of course) in biomedical research.

In order to construct a solid, deductive argument-we must base it on fundamental grounds of a major philosophical theory. The theory in question which best supports said argument is Kantian ethics and the categorical imperative. This is essential because we are arguing a position of rights, and in turn attempting to construct a logical definition of such. The deontological position outlined by Immanuel Kant gives us a theory in which the applicability of rights is never grounded in consequences, but on actual duties (Munson 752).

In utilizing this theory, there are important factors of the categorical imperative that will help us differentiate whether or not animals have rights. Kant asserted, “Always act so as to treat humanity, either yourself or others, always as an end and never as only a means” (Munson 752). This means that each person has his own worth and can’t be used to achieve something else. Contradicting these duties results in a morally wrong action, and subsequently dissatisfies the categorical imperative (Munson 755).

In regards to the question of rights, it’s important to adequately define them in terms of their applicability to species outside of Homo sapiens. After previously defining rights, and discerning certain rights from others, we will successfully have argued that these abstract constructions are not inherent within the animal community. Rights that are fundamentally grounded in legality (constitutions, amendments, bills, law, etc.) cannot be argued in favor of animals for specific reasons. Rights (of all varieties) can be summarized as a conclusion of moral claims or potential claims rational beings have towards one another.
In this strict definition, we can attribute rights to those who can successfully and intelligibly understand the moral implications of these rights. Thus, from this point on, we can define what the basic requirement for the application of rights: as Kant puts it, rights are held by those whom are moral agents capable of making logical decisions and possess the ability of self-legislation. Kant held that there was a universal human possession of a uniquely moral will and its our (as humans) autonomous comprehension and interpretations of our own existence that make such a capacity for the application of rights even possible. Human beings take part in the communities that are governed by moral rule. They possess rights because they are able to negotiate and interpret ethical situations and moral complications, while animals do not. Animals lack the ability to act as moral agents, and cannot on the grounds of the categorical imperative, be said to inherently contain a right to life. It is the capacity for moral judgment that separates animals from human beings, and it is on this basis that the argument for including animals in biomedical research may be based upon (Munson 755).

By recognizing that animals lack the moral capacity to an innate right to life, it is also understandable that by excluding these animals would be inconsistent with the given duty that all human beings (whom undeniably possess rights) should be treated as ends in themselves, and never as means. If we were to discontinue the use of animals in biomedical research, there would be two concluding results that would be unquestionably unethical. First, it would force the use of primary biomedical research to be conducted on human beings. This would be a direct contradiction of the duty of treating moral agents in respect to their given rights, and as stated above, would remain clearly unethical. Secondly, the process of biomedical research as a whole would have to be halted, and scientific research would be stunted in such a way that many more biomedical questions would remain unanswered, and undue hardships would be placed upon the human community (Munson 754).

To purposely contradict an inherent duty within the categorical imperative (violating the autonomous rights of human beings) would be an unethical approach to the question of whether or not animals should be included in biomedical research. We have a deontological duty to meet the needs of rational beings, and scientific progress that exists largely on the results and information extracted from animal research in biomedical experimentation creates a prima facie duty to use animals in a way in which they can bring about successful benefits to human health-while not manifesting any major moral qualms or inconsistencies.

The focus of my inductive argument is to prove there is a strong necessity for animal research. Animal research contributes to cures and treatments for human and animal diseases, scientific breakthroughs, and new medications. Animal research saves human lives and is the best testing resource for medical advancements. It would be a crime against humanity not to do everything possible to try and save human lives. Animal research provides benefits to humans that compensate for the cost to animals involved in the research. I feel it’s safe to say that if even one human life is saved because of animal research, then the use of animals is justified.

Vaccines, made possible through animal research, have cured millions of people around the world of polio. Children are also immunized against typhus, diphtheria, whooping cough, smallpox, and tetanus ( ). Diabetes is another example of the importance of biomedical research. Dogs were crucial to the research that identified the cause of diabetes, which led to the development of insulin. Approximately 6.2% of the population (17 million people) has diabetes and without insulin treatments to regulate their blood sugar levels, many diabetics would die. Research involving animals has helped identify the causes of high blood pressure and develop more effective drugs to control the problem. Other research has resulted in treatments for strokes and heart attacks that save thousands of lives and reduce recovery time. Dogs have been especially important to researchers who developed open-heart surgery, pacemakers, and heart transplants. These techniques have revolutionized the therapy for people who have severe heart disease (Dogs and Research).

There has been incidence where researchers have cured new diseases because of previous cures. Research can produce unexpected benefits that no one can predict. In spite of the remarkable medical progress during the last century, there is still much work to be done. There are many incurable diseases such as AIDS, Cystic Fibrosis, Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, and genetic birth defects that researchers are trying to learn the causes of and the cures for. If researchers were all of a sudden not allowed to conduct experiments on animals these diseases would more then likely never be cured.
Breakthroughs in treating spinal cord injuries can be contributed to the experiments done on animals, because only animal experimentation could yield such remarkable results. As of now, the spinal cord of a human cannot repair itself after being severely damaged. A gene called Nogo was tested on rats and the gene produces a protein that seems to have blocked spinal cord and brain nerves from regenerating. The point of the test was to try and make the spinal cord and brain nerves regenerate, but this test inspired further research to be done. A Nogo antibody was then created and tested on rats whose spinal cords had been partly paralyzed. The rats experienced some return of function to their legs after treatment with a Nogo antibody. This success provided researchers with confirmation that they were at least pursuing a potentially viable course of investigation. If the Nogo gene had never been tested on the rats, these steps made toward discovering a treatments for spinal cord injuries and even treatments for multiple sclerosis suffers would no have been made (Paul).

During the 20th century, nearly every major advance in medical knowledge and treatment involved research using animal models. Two-thirds of Nobel Prizes in Medicine awarded since 1901 were won for discoveries that required the use of animals (Primates in Biomedical Research: The Need to Use Primates in Research). Biomedical research done on pigeons led to the 1902 Noble Prize awarded for unraveling the life cycle of malaria. The 1905 Noble Prize was given for discoveries involving the pathogenesis of tuberculosis, where cows and sheep were the subjects. In 1984 a Nobel Prize recipient used mice and other kinds of rodents to discover the technique of forming monoclonal antibodies to help fighting some types of cancers. All of the following medical breakthroughs by which animals were used have won Noble prizes. Animal experimentation has led to the development of the electrocardiogram, which has become the routine screening device for cardiovascular disease, the understanding of penicillin’s role in fighting bacterial infections, the development of a vaccine for yellow fever in 1951, the discovery of streptomycin, the understanding of how our bodies metabolize cholesterol and other fats that clog our arteries and lead to heart attacks, strokes, and coronary diseases. Animal research has also lead to organ transplantation techniques, the understanding of how the immune system detects cells infected with viruses, our understanding of how nerve transmitters function, how visual information is stored in the brain, and how the brain organizes itself to coordinate internal organs of the body (Paul).

Biomedical researchers argue that there is significant biomedical information about humans, which can only be discovered through experiments on undamaged animal systems (LaFollette & Shanks). Alternatives such as epidemiological studies, computer simulations, clinical investigation, and cell, bacteria, and tissue cultures are inadequate replacements to the use of animals in research (Guzek). If animal research were eliminated, a toll would be paid in loss of human life and increase in human suffering. The progress of medical research depends on the use of animals and it would be unethical to deprive humans of advances in medicine (Van Rooy).

Last year only 2.6 million animals were used in medical research. That’s approximately equivalent to one mouse per person every 20 years (The Benefits of Animal Research). Millions of people around the world where saved from yellow fever and polio alone because of animals. An animal’s life is greatly out weighed by a human’s life. The majority of Nobel Prizes awarded in medicine over the years depended upon animal experimentation. There is no other research technique that can substitute for the reactions of live animals. Without animal research many diseases, viruses, bacteria, pathogens, and other harmful sources would be free to roam the world infecting millions of people while showing no signs of slowing down. If extremely restrictive regulations were put on animal experimentation, or if it’s banned altogether the world’s population would be left vulnerable to fatal viruses that unexpectedly materialize.

There is much opposition to the views and arguments espoused throughout this paper. Most notably, is the work and theories implemented by Peter Singer. Singer has long been an adamant supporter of animal rights, while relying heavily on speculative conclusions and sometimes outright assumptions in order to formulate his arguments as to why animal experimentation should not only be heavily restricted, but in some instances completely banned. Much of Singer’s own positions are based on his own personal repugnance of the experimentation that is undertaken-while attempting to use highly graphic depictions of otherwise rare animal experiments to invoke the same emotional repugnance in the reader. It may be noted that repugnance often times may be wise; however, it is an informal fallacy because it tries to elicit pity from the reader and or listener and has nothing to do with the question of animal research/experimentation.

Singer’s arguments outlined in his article, “Animal Liberation”, attempt to refute claims of animal experimentation by digressing on whether or not animals suffer (Singer 200). Peter Singer (a self-proclaimed utilitarian) attempts to make his argument with a foundation relating the utility of human beings as being equitable with that of animals. He claims that as human beings, we fail to recognize the interests of animals; he labels this distinction as “speceisism”-which he equates to racism and sexism (Singer 203).

The fatal flaw of Singer’s argument is his assumption that in terms of applicable rights, considerations are concerned by the presence of “suffering.” By this, he means that all animal species are capable of feeling pain, and it is this indifference towards the suffering and infliction of pain upon animals that represents an illicit action. Thus, he’s indirectly ascribing physical responses (the chemical/physiological response to pain receptors) as a qualification for both positive and negative rights. The fact that animals cannot reason, not to mention absence of membership to the moral community is essentially irrelevant. In classical utilitarian terms, Singer attempts to construct an argument on a hedonistic-utilitarian ground that may be summarized adequately by Jeremy Bentham in regards to the topic, “The question is not, can they reason? Nor can they talk? But, can they suffer (Singer 200)?”

Singer argues the fundamental issue in determining how we should treat animals is whether they suffer, or in other words, whether they have the capacity to feel extraordinary amounts of pain. He argues that many animals are more intelligent than human infants or the severely mentally retarded (Singer 206). Thus, this sense of intelligence and awareness that correlates severely retarded human beings with highly intelligent animals makes for the grounds of ethical consideration of excluding animals from biomedical research. Peter Singer concludes that when performing research using animals, researchers should be required to demonstrate that the benefits of their research are justifiable for suffering and pain to be imposed; and on a personal ethical level-researchers should question whether or not they would be willing to perform these exact experiments on human infants, in order to recognize the ethical status of any respective experiment (Singer 206).

Basically, Singer is attempting to make a compelling argument by giving equal status to the interests of both humans and animals. Essentially, whether Singer admits this or not-to recognize interests in such a way can only be done through formal recognition of rights. However, as I defined earlier, to have a right is to have a moral claim against others (this has already been a demonstrated impossibility for animals). Animals lack the capacity to recognize conflicts between their self-interest and that of others; conflicts between self-interest and what is right; and being able to restrain one’s own self-interest when appropriate. Since animals lack these abilities-they’re unable to possess rights and may be sacrificed for the welfare of others.

Furthermore, human beings cannot be expected to recognize the pleasures and pains of animals as equal to their own. When calculating the overall benefits of animal experimentation, these pains and pleasures (of animals) do not present a substantial reason not to commit to biomedical research that is conducive to human health. Indeed, another prima facie duty to maximize health whenever possible. Singer’s concept of “speciesism” doesn’t hold up. As demonstrated before, this isn’t analogous to racism because animals lack autonomous consciousness and cannot be considered members of the moral community. Peter Singer fails to recognize that indeed what he calls “speciesism” is the recognition that we owe more to our own human welfare than that of other species. To act in such a manner is a failure to recognize crucial moral duties.

Of course it can be demonstrated that pain and suffering are imposed on animals through various means of biomedical research. This is not the question. The question of whether or not this behavior is morally legitimate rests on the question not of whether or not animals suffer-but rather, does their suffering warrant a moral problem sufficient enough to exclude them from biomedical research, when we are certain this research will benefit the human community? The answer to this question is evident in the values that we place on human life and the ends in which we make to preserve and protect it.

Finally, to utilize Singer’s arguments would mean we’d be forced to recognize the interests of animals as completely equal to our own. One does not have to be a proponent of consequentialist philosophy to understand the problems with this scenario. Indeed, it would appear as if the utilitarian would recognize that the social utility of human beings does take precedence over that of the nonhuman community, and to recognize the rights of the latter would cause undue hardships on the former. If we bestow equal status and give animals a moral claim on each other and the human population, it would not only seem ludicrous to expect animals to participate in moral/ethical deliberations, but serious harm would be imposed on the human community as well. Most people aren’t willing to go this far in recognizing the “rights” of animals-particularly since most people don’t object to killing animals to meet the human needs for food, clothing, shelter, and other necessities. It’s on these grounds that Singer (and those who agree with him) fail to make a logically sound argument to provide any grounds sufficient enough to halt (much less ban) animal experimentation in biomedical research.

I’ve established an argument to come to a solution to the question of whether or not animals should be included in biomedical research and experimentation. To answer this question in a sound, logical manner, I’ve employed Kant’s categorical imperative ethical theory as a means of creating a resolution to the problem. The problem of whether or not animals may be included in biomedical research centers around the debate of whether or not they have intrinsic rights that demand our attention and respect. Using the categorical imperative, I’ve argued that animals are not members of the moral community on the grounds that they do not act as morally rational agents. They lack the mental/physiological capacities to understand the fundamental basis of self-consciousness and are unable to deliberate in any logical sense (or any sense at all for that matter!) their own rationalizations versus those of others. It’s this lack of self-awareness and moral deliberation that makes animals an unworthy candidate as possessors of inherent right.

In order to construct this argument, I’ve offered concrete definitions that have further removed animals from considerations as moral agents deserving of rights. I’ve also addressed the issue of the opposition, specifically Peter Singer and his article Animal Liberation. Singer makes some interesting points that deserve attention, but the overall premises of his articles don’t contribute a sound argument in which animal experimentation and involvement in research should be halted nor completely banned. As members of the moral community that is humanity, we (as a species) do have intrinsic rights and interests that take precedence over the non-human community; essentially, speceisism does not pose a moral problem.

In conclusion I’ve based my argument on the grounds that rights belong to those members of the moral community, and that our duties exist to serve and protect the interests of this said community. We must act in accordance to treat every rational moral agent as an end in themselves, not as a means-this is basic Kantian philosophy. These principles of ethical treatment however do not extend to those whom fall outside the consideration of rational moral beings, i.e. the non-human community. In assessing the situation and the problems that arise from the use of animals in biomedical research, it’s imperative to recognize the numerous moral qualms that occur. To approach this argument as an absolute would be erroneous because it eliminates the possibility of future improvements in biomedical research. Further research could be conducted into alternatives to animals that amplify or replicate the most beneficial aspects of their inclusion in research. If alternatives to animals could be found that would result in more benefits for humankind, then I would welcome such a finding with the utmost enthusiasm.

Finally, it’s significant to mention that these differences that arise between human beings and non-human animals are the basis for the latter’s lack of consideration for innate rights. The ultimate consideration of whether or not animals should be used in biomedical research will circle entirely around whether or not they deserve the same respect and attention that we give to human beings. Throughout my research and observations, animals do not fit the criteria as sentient beings containing intrinsic rights; the same rights we respect and bestow upon other human beings as integral aspects of human conduct and relations.

Works Cited:

Dogs and Research. Feb. 2006. WayBack: Internet Archive. 20 April 2006 .

Guzek, Jan W. “Human-Animal Relationship: Human Health and Animal Experimentation.” Dialogue and Universalism Vol. 9, Issue 9/10 1999: 83-97. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOHost. Capella University Library. 21 April 2006 <>.

LaFollette, Hugh, & Shanks, Niall. “Two Models of Models in Biomedical Research.” Philosophical Quarterly Vol. 45, Issue YEAR: 141-161. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOHost. Capella University Library. 22 April 2006 <>.

Munson, Ronald. Intervention and Reflection: Basic Issues in Medical Ethics. United States: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2004.

Paul, Ellen Frankel. “Why Animal Experimentation Matters.” Society Vol. 39, Issue 6 2002: 7-15 . MasterFILE Premier. EBSCOHost. Capella University Library. 22 April 2006 <>.

Primates in Biomedical Research: The Need to Use Primates in Research. 2004. University of Wisconsin-Madison National Primate Research Center. 20 April 2006 .

Singer, Peter. “Animal Liberation.” Current Issues and Enduring Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking and Argument, with Readings. 7th Ed. Sylvan Barnet and Hugo Bedeau. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2005. 198-210.

The Benefits of Animal Research. 2005. Patients’ Voice for Medical Advance. 20 April 2006 .

Van Rooy, Wilhelmina. “Animal Experimentation.” Australian Science Teachers Journal Vol. 46, Issue 2 2000. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOHost. Capella University Library. 22 April 2006 .

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