Conclusion

We have suggested that the ethical dilemma at the heart of animal research can be captured in four straightforward propositions. How did these help? The idea was that because these propositions are in conflict, we can make progress in thinking about the ethics of animal experimentation by asking which of them is incorrect, or at least an overstatement. We looked at three ethical theories — contractarianism, utilitarianism, and the rights view — and noticed that these generate different conclusions about the rights and wrongs of animal experimentation. Potentially, the contractarian viewpoint seems the most liberal. At the other end of the scale, the rights view places severe restrictions on animal use, restrictions essentially the same as those we would expect to govern the use of human "guinea pigs." Midway between these two approaches lies utilitarianism. Within utilitarianism, animal suffering is treated as no less important, morally, than human suffering. However, looking at the overall balance of suffering and benefit, the utilitarian concludes that research projects in which animal suffering is minimized and the human dividends are substantial are best permitted.

In the course of the discussion, we have noted several ways in which, in practice, the researcher can keep animal suffering to a minimum: by devising experiments that use no animals at all, by using fewer animals, and by refining experimental techniques so that the pain or distress they cause is lessened. We have also observed that, while there is absolutely no doubt that animal research has delivered significant human benefits, in some research, the anticipated benefits do not justify continuance — for example, because they are too unimportant, or because there is a good chance that they will not be secured.

These days, more and more people take an interest in what is happening in the laboratory, and a substantial number of people have grave concerns about animal welfare. As a result, scientists who do animal research often need to explain and justify their work to others — to friends and colleagues or, more formally, to funding or ethics committees. In our view, researchers are better equipped to account for their methods when they understand both the ethical dilemma those methods pose and the ethical theories that lie behind this dilemma. In this chapter, we have tried to set out a theoretical framework that, we hope, will help interested readers to acquire this understanding.

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