Two Concerns About Things Other Than Suffering

We have seen that the notion of individual suffering is central to utilitarianism, and that a moderate rights theory with application to animal research might also need to refer to animal pain and distress. However, some aspects of animal experimentation appear to raise ethical issues even though they need not involve suffering of any kind. In this section, we shall discuss two practices of this kind: genetic modification and, in particular, transgenesis and euthanasia.*

Turning to the first of these, genetic interventions, and particularly the production of transgenic animals, concern many observers. Often the animals themselves do not suffer as a result of having their genome modified. Even so, people feel uneasy at the thought of introducing spinach genes into the pig genome. In this unease, there seems to be a sense that the "naturalness" of an animal is important: a pig should be a pig and nothing else. In trying to capture this attitude, the philosopher Bernard Rollin24 refers to the "telos" of an animal. Using this notion, we might say that the creation of transgenic animals is morally unacceptable because animals have the right to have their telos respected. Against this, it has been suggested that the idea that there is a genuine ethical issue here is an illusion: human beings altered the genetic makeup of various animals through breeding long before anybody knew how to manipulate genes directly, and the only significant difference between traditional breeding techniques and direct manipulation of the genome is that the latter is faster. This is a fascinating, if rather intractable, issue. We cannot devote any more space to it in the present chapter, but interested readers might like to consult Rollin,24 Sandoe et al.,25,26 and Appleby.27

We now comment briefly on animal euthanasia. At the end of an experiment, animals are often killed in a manner that, as far as possible, prevents their feeling any fear or pain. Properly carried out, euthanasia involves no suffering, but some people feel that the killing of sentient creatures in this way nevertheless raises ethical issues. Is this correct? Should we worry about euthanasia?

To answer this question satisfactorily, we would need to stand back from the animal question and ask in general terms why killing is unethical. This question is too complex to deal with here, but let us just sketch one relevant line of thought. It has been suggested that killing an individual is wrong because it prevents him or her from realizing future desires. This account of the wrongness of killing can be used to defend the killing of animals because it is plausible that animals lack a concept of the future and therefore possess only immediate desires. On the other hand, if we can justify the killing of animals on the basis of their limited cognitive capacities, it would appear that we can also justify the killing of human beings, such as infants or mentally deficient adults, with similar cognitive limitations. One way to block this unwelcome implication is to say that killing a person tends to cause more harm than killing an animal because the person will be mourned by relatives and friends, and because knowledge about the killing will provoke fear among other people. For more extensive discussion of the ethics of killing animals, we refer readers to References 28 through 31.

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