The Costs To Animals

Animal experiments can be costly in economic terms, and from an ethical point of view, it will sometimes be appropriate to ask whether the resources a study consumes could have been used more effectively or for some other purpose altogether. The cost we want to focus on here, however, is one carried not by those who fund or perform animal research, but by the experimental subjects — the animals. It is a cost measured not in monetary terms, but in suffering. Animals may suffer because the relevant experimental interventions provoke one or another of a wide range of unpleasant states. Pain, for instance, may be the result of surgical interventions, noxious stimuli, the application of irritating or corrosive substances, certain progressive diseases, genetic disorders, or infectious diseases. The systemic administration of test substances may provoke nausea and general discomfort. Fear is common in experimental situations because the animals are exposed to procedures to which they are averse and from which they cannot escape. And even when they are not specifically painful, most medical conditions occurring through provocation or spontaneously in laboratory animals are likely to be accompanied by some general discomfort. Finally, experimental animals are often housed in restrictive conditions in which they experience frustration when they cannot carry out species-specific behaviors.

Some countries have made data available that show the impact of various kinds of experimentation on animals. Examples are given in Table 2.1. This kind of information has a significant bearing on the ethics of animal research. Data from Canada and Switzerland, for instance, show that toxicology studies and studies performed in the research, development, and quality control of pharmaceutical and other medical products are those that most frequently expose animals to severe discomfort.

In general, statistical information of this kind suggests that the vast majority of animals suffer little or no distress in experimental settings. Some observers have used this finding to defend the position that animal research is unproblematic because relatively few animals suffer greatly. However, this argument seems weak. First, the plight of the 5 to 10% of animals described in the data as being exposed to severe pain or distress certainly seems, on the face of things, to be an ethical problem. Generally speaking, morally objectionable conduct does not become unobjectionable when it is directed at only a few victims. Second, in connection with the remaining cases, in which the animal distress is minor, we

* This figure excludes projects on the genetic modification of animals and immunological studies.

Table 2.1 Estimated Degree of Discomfort in Laboratory Animals
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