The use of animals for research is controversial and even though there are numerous benefits to animal research, the ethical concerns surrounding the argument over animal research trump most others. The kinds of advances and benefits from animal research that researchers have made in understanding and treating diseases would have been impossible without animal research. In a survey of psychologists and their relationship with animal research, more than three-quarters of respondents said that they believe the use of animals is critical to the scientific advancement (Plous 1167). Critics of the argument in favor of animal research contend that inhumane treatment of animals is a problem, and our reliance upon animals for research is an arrogant assertion of our belief that humans are a superior and more valuable species (Wenz 127). Each side of the argument on animal research has reasonable arguments with a number of benefits and drawbacks.
However, despite the reasons both sides of the argument over animal research have, what has largely been missing from the debate and argument about animal research and its benefits is a consideration about how researchers can use animals for research within a clear and universal set of ethical guidelines. Animal use for research need not be inhumane, but in order to avoid cruelty, a formulation of best practices must be devised to guide researchers in acting appropriately. Having such an ethical code for scientists that regulates all aspects of animal research is necessary and if these implemented guidelines about animal research are followed enough and become common practice among animal researchers, the public will see this and a wider discussion about the benefits of animal research can finally begin to emerge since it is clear from science that animal research is not a bad thing as it stands but has many more benefits than one might realize.
Animals used in research have provided the medical community with valuable knowledge resulting in the improved treatment of a number of illnesses, including “addiction, anxiety disorders, phobias, …incontinence, ruminative vomiting… schizophrenia, depression, retrograde amnesia, and a range of other psychological phenomena….” (Plous 1167). Because certain mammals have physiological systems similar to those of humans, they have been viewed as ideal research subjects. Furthermore, because the questionable use of human subjects has become restricted over the years, the use of animals for research has become more important. Without subjects to use for testing vaccinations, treatments, and even introducing illnesses to evaluate the trajectories of various pathologies, it would be impossible to know and understand how any of these processes and interventions will work.
Ethical concerns plague many sides of the argument against the use of animal research, though. As critics often argue, “Interests and rights are not the sole preserve of the human species” (Plous 167). While people may recognize that animal research is valuable, a historical analysis revealed that the public’s confidence level about the humane treatment of research animals has plummeted from 75% in 1948 to 33% in 1989 (Plous 1168). High profile cases have exposed the extent and cruelty of abuses, and have called into question the extent to which research can and should go. In other words, because of a few cases of ethical violations by those using animal research, the potential benefits are denied civilization because the entire process has such a bad stigma.
What is needed to preserve the value and benefits of animal research while ensuring safety and appropriate use is a set of ethical standards that can be applied universally. Some extreme practices may need to be prohibited, but at the very least, a basic set of guidelines must be set in place, overseen, and enforced. In this way, scientific knowledge can be ethically advanced while respecting the rights and safety of non-human species and ensuring that abuse is minimized or eliminated. This set of best practices should be devised by an independent panel of experts comprised of people representing both sides of the debate. By incorporating all viewpoints, it is possible to arrive at a set of standards that will be fair and which will protect the health of all species.
Other essays and articles in the Arguments Archives related to this topic include : The Multifaceted Argument for Advancing Stem Cell Research • Biomedical Ethics and God: A Lack of Universals • Argument in Favor of Euthanasia (Annotated Bibliography Included) • The Medical, Social and Economic Benefits of Genetic Engineering
Plous, S. “Attitudes Towards the Use of Animals in Psychological Research and Education:
Results from a National Survey of Psychologists.” American Psychologist 51.11. (1996): 1167-1181.
Wenz, Peter S. “Against Cruelty to Animals.” Social Theory and Practice 33.1 (2007): 127.