Against the Use of Knowledge Gained from Animal Experimentation
2. The Case against Experimentation
2.1. Animal Rights Theory: The Case against Experimentation
2.2. Consequentialism: The Case against Experimentation
2.3. Animal Pain and Distress in Experimentation
Because most are not surgically sterilized, [rabbits] are kept alone in small, steel cages to prevent fighting and unwanted reproduction, and typically have nothing to play with and nothing to do. Rabbits, like other laboratory animals, are often observed engaging in stereotypic behaviors associated with emotional and psychological deprivation, such as bar licking, excessive grooming, or paw chewing, and sitting in a hunched position for hours at a time. The cages are too small to permit normal behaviors such as sitting up on hind legs, hopping, digging, and hiding. In addition, they often either undereat or overeat to counter their boredom; and many develop deformities in the spine and legs because they can’t move freely in the tiny spaces. (p. 79)
2.4. Benefits to Humans
Tuberkulin cures tuberculosis in guinea pigs but causes it in humans. The arthritis medicine, oraflex, was safe and effective on animals but kills humans, and indeed guinea pigs can safely eat strychnine, while sheep can consume large quantities of arsenic. Digitalis, a cardiac drug that has saved millions of human lives, was delayed in its release because it dangerously elevates blood pressure in dogs. The discoverers of penicillin are grateful that no guinea pigs were available for testing, for it kills these small animals. Morphine causes mania in cats and mice, and dogs have twenty times the tolerance for it that humans do. Cases such as these abound. Nonhuman animals make very poor models for predicting results for human beings, and it is doubtful whether they help us to predict at all even when the humans and nonhumans are similarly affected by treatments: we just do not know in advance, in any given case. And allowing us to know in advance is supposed to be the whole point of animal experimentation. (>p. 178)
Species differences are evident even in closely related species: humans and New World monkeys use different metabolic pathways. Why do these differences matter? Because researchers often speak as if the condition or disease being studied in laboratory animals strongly resembles the condition in humans. Evolutionary theory suggests that is not a plausible expectation. We thus have reason to think that nonhuman animals are not, in general, strong models of human biomedical phenomena. (pp. 809–810)
3. Knowledge Gained from Evil
Among the other uses to which concentration-camp prisoners were put was to serve as the raw material for medical experiments by S.S. doctors. None of the post-war trials produced more macabre evidence than at the so-called “Doctors” Trial. All the experiments were conducted without anaesthetics or the slightest attention to the victims’ sufferings. Amongst the ordeals to which they were subjected were intense air pressure and intense cold until the “patient’s” lungs burst or he froze to death; the infliction of gas gangrene wounds; injection with typhus and jaundice; experiments with bone grafting; and a large number of investigations of sterilization (for “racial hygiene”), including castration and abortion. According to a Czech doctor who was a prisoner at Dachau and who personally performed some seven thousand autopsies, the usual results of such experiments were death, permanent crippling, and mental derangement.(quoted in  (p. 108))
If supporters of the complicity rationale seriously wish to maintain that one can become a blameworthy accomplice to the evil of abortion 18 after the fact by using the tissue of an aborted fetus for benevolent medical purposes, even if one disapproves of abortion, it is difficult to see how their rationale would not also condemn the use of organs from murder victims and other products of evil. (p. 8)
4. Knowledge Gained from Animal Experimentation
The benefits of using the evil product have led to a situation in which society views the original evil in a more positive light. If fetal tissue transplantation proved to have substantial therapeutic benefits, it may lead society overall to regard abortion in a more favorable light. This generally more positive attitude towards abortion could make it easier for some to opt for abortion than they could have without the more positive context brought forth by fetal tissue appropriation. I believe this type of situation should be recognized as encouragement of evil just like its more direct counterpart. (p. 17)
5. Conclusions: Implications for Knowledge Use
Conflicts of Interest
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- 1The infliction of pain to and the death of animals in experimentation receives attempted justification on several grounds, including to “advance knowledge, test and devise medical and non-medical products…[and] determine…toxicity levels”  (p. 17). Since all of these purposes serve to enhance knowledge in one way or another (e.g., how toxic is this product?), I speak broadly about animal experimentation’s results as epistemic. When I refer to animal experimentation, I intend the “use of live animals in research in the biological, psychological and medical technological sciences”  (p. 6).
- 2According to Hugh LaFollette, most people embrace a “common view”, which holds that “although (a) there are moral limits on what we can do to (some) nonhuman animals; (b) humans can use them when doing so advances significant human interest”  (p. 796). This broadly consequentialist thought employs a cost-benefit type of reasoning, such that even those who are against animal experimentation itself may still justify use of the practice’s results (since the deed is already done). Moe and Martin hold this type of position in relation to the use of data gained from Nazi experimentation [4,5].
- 3As Shelly Kagan describes it, “a pro tanto reason has genuine weight, but nonetheless may be outweighed by other considerations...a prima facie reason appears to be a reason, but may actually not be a reason at all”  (p. 17).
- 4Moreover, it is irrelevant that some or most humans possess the requisite property for moral inclusion (e.g., rationality or language), for other humans cannot gain the property “being a member of the moral community” by mere association  (p. 53). Nathan Nobis explains: “Consider a case where you’d wish this principle were true: you are a student (A) in a class who has failed the exams and done none of the homework, so on your own merits, you are failing. However, fortunately for you, the rest of the students have the properties of ‘passing the exams and done well on the homework’ (C) and, on that basis, have the property (R), passing the course.’ If Cohen’s principle were true, you too would have the property of passing the class, as well, because you are a member of the kind (K) ‘students taking this class’, and the properties from the majority transfer to you. Unfortunately for you, this property you would possess only on your own merits (which you lack, since you have failed the exams and have done none of the work), so Cohen’s principle is false”  (p. 53).
- 5Although Singer has been accused otherwise, he maintains that his account is not speciesist. This is because, controversially, not only do non-self-aware animals have fewer interests than self-aware humans on his view, but non-self-aware humans have fewer interests as well. As Singer writes, “whenever experimenters claim that their experiments are important enough to justify the use of animals, we should ask them whether they would be prepared to use a brain-damaged human being at a similar mental level to the animal they are planning to use. […] What difference is there between the two? Only that one is a member of our species and the other is not? But to appeal to that difference is to reveal a bias no more defensible than racism or any other form of arbitrary discrimination”  (p. 82–83).
- 6Pain can be defined as “the detection and signaling of a noxious stimulus”, while suffering can be defined as “the affective, behavioral or emotional response to the pain”  (p. 93).
- 7As Vaughan Monamy notes, “it may be argued that it is not possible to describe to another the pain one is feeling, or to comprehend another person’s misery”  (p. 93).
- 8Carbone notes that “The AWA (Animal Welfare Act), the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, and current Public Health Service policy all allow for the conduct of what are often called ‘‘Category E’’ studies—experiments in which animals are expected to undergo significant pain or distress that will be left untreated because treatments for pain would be expected to interfere with the experiment”  (p. 1).
- 9The study itself admits that comparisons between humans and animals are dubious: “Cigarette smoke has been tested for carcinogenicity by inhalation studies in rodents, rabbits and dogs. The model systems for animal exposure to tobacco smoke do not fully simulate human exposure to tobacco smoke, and the tumours that develop in animals are not completely representative of human cancer. Nevertheless, the animal data provide valuable insights regarding the carcinogenic potential of tobacco smoke”  (p. 1185).
- 10As Carbone writes, “successful pain treatment [in humans] can require an intravenous catheter for round-the-clock medication. This would be an extremely unlikely and challenging management strategy for rodents on cancer studies”  (p. 2).
- 11Deformities were produced only in a specific strain of rabbit  (p. 57).
- 12Indeed, many viable alternatives to animal experimentation exist, including, but not limited to, human-tissue in vitro testing, human stem-cell research, and micro-dosing technology. Since they do not require animal suffering, the existence and promise of such alternatives (several of which are cheaper and more reliable than the use of animal models) renders the utilitarian case for animal experimentation especially precarious. Thanks to Mylan Engel Jr. for this point.
- 13Many would object to the effort to analogize the case of animal experimentation to that of Nazi experimentation on the grounds that it is offensive to the memory of Holocaust victims. Consider, for instance, the uproar that ensued following PETA’s 2003 campaign entitled “Holocaust on your plate”, which placed images of concentration camp inmates alongside images of caged animals. One PETA tagline read: “To animals, all humans are Nazis” (invoking a similar line by Jewish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer)  (p. 98). In response, several Jewish groups and individuals called the exhibit “outrageous, offensive... abhorrent” and a “reprehensible misuse of Holocaust materials” . Of course, such comparisons must always be made with the utmost care (for instance, they should not be made as claims to identical oppressions (see Sztybel , Painter )). However, we should also remain critical of objections to such comparisons on speciesist grounds. That is, one should object to claims that the comparison is offensive, because Holocaust victims mattered morally, whereas animals qua animals matter less or not at all. Once speciesist objections are pushed aside and the analogy is understood not as a claim to identical oppressions, I think the comparison becomes instructive, not only for its ability to shed light on the gravity of the human use of animals, but since “the commodification and exploitation of women, racialized peoples, and animals are indelibly linked and mutually sustaining”, also to understand better human oppression  (pp. 38–39).
- 15As Stan Godlovitch notes, this data includes, for example, information derived from hypothermia experiments regarding tolerance to cold and ways to revive people gone unconscious from hypothermia  (p. 2). Interestingly, himself a major animal activist, Godlovitch also invokes, but does not develop, a comparison to animal experimentation: “I must add—though this will play no role in the discussion—that I can find no interesting moral difference between these research cases, so graphic to us now, and the current daily routine use of other animals by researchers worldwide”  (p. 2).
- 16This parallels thoughts that a refusal to use knowledge from animal experimentation means the animal died in vain and resonates with the popular idea that it is more respectful to an animal that we use all its parts than to “waste” it. On this view, morality is commensurate with use. As an example of this view, Chloë Taylor describes a hunter colleague of hers who claimed he was a fellow animal activist, because he makes sure to use every part of the animal he kills, making “household items of their fat, fur, skin and bones”  (p. 88). However, Taylor notes that using “parts” and eating meat are never considered moral in relation to humans  (p. 86). Rather, they are considered signs of utmost depravity. If we learned, for instance, that human bodies were being dug up for a newfound energy resource, moral outrage (rather than moral approbation) would ensue. Indeed, far from profiting without consent from human death or suffering, respectful attitudes toward dead humans typically involve mourning rituals and efforts to grant humans dignity by fulfilling their wishes  (p. 97). Taylor concludes that the speciesist Western worldview “is deontological with respect to dead humans and utilitarian with respect to dead animals of other species”  (p. 97).
- 17Green himself thinks such sentiments are “highly opaque to analysis”  (p. 548).
- 18This, of course, assuming that abortion is morally wrong.
- 19Some might object to the victim disrespect concern on the grounds that we cannot disrespect the dead. I do not have the space to enter this debate here. However, for those who doubt the possibility of disrespecting the dead, I think the victim disrespect concern can be also be understood in terms of disrespect to victims’ memory, and disrespecting victims’ memory can do direct harm to: (1) those individuals who cared for the victims (e.g., their family members, or perhaps activists who fight on behalf of those victims); and (2) in the case of ongoing oppression, to the class of victims who are oppressed by the same practice, but who remain alive (e.g., animals currently being used in experimentation).
- 20When I refer to knowledge use, I do not intend the use of knowledge by someone who already possesses the relevant knowledge (we cannot simply “unknow”). Rather, I intend use in terms of transfer, i.e., should this knowledge/data/information be transferred to a wider pool of knowledge or to others? Following Robert Nozick’s formulation, “a person who acquires a holding in accordance with the principle of justice in acquisition is entitled to that holding” and “a person who acquires a holding in accordance with the principle of justice in transfer, from someone else entitled to the holding, is entitled to the holding”  (p. 151). For Nozick, there can only be “justice in holding” if Conditions 1 and 2 are met  (p. 151). On my view, since there was no justice in acquisition (i.e., knowledge gained from animal experimentation was not legitimately acquired), then there can be no justice in transfer (i.e., since it was not legitimately acquired in the first place, knowledge gained from animal experimentation cannot legitimately be ransferred to others).
- 21I think this is especially likely in the case of experiments intended to satisfy scientific curiosity.
- 22I would also question the description of this as “moderate” stress for the rat. Thanks to an anonymous reviewer for this point.
- 23Consider here Joel Marks’ call for scientists to formally acknowledge the debt owed to animals in their experimental research  (p. 6). However, although formal acknowledgment may constitute a step forward in the fight against animal oppression, if it serves to allay human guilt over the use of animals, it could also constitute a step back.
- 24Even in experiments intended to benefit animals, the research may not benefit individual animals, but rather future animals of that species. Moreover, even in studies on animal health, for instance, the benefit is still usually for humans (for instance, to ensure a safe meat supply). Thanks to an anonymous reviewer for this point.
- 25Recall that the New England Journal of Medicine’s third reason for refusing to publish Nazi data is that it expresses the message that “though important, [the data] may be less important to a decent society than the way it is obtained.”
- 26Thanks to José Medina for this point.
© 2015 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Tuvel, R. Against the Use of Knowledge Gained from Animal Experimentation. Societies 2015, 5, 220-244. https://doi.org/10.3390/soc5010220
Tuvel R. Against the Use of Knowledge Gained from Animal Experimentation. Societies. 2015; 5(1):220-244. https://doi.org/10.3390/soc5010220Chicago/Turabian Style
Tuvel, Rebecca. 2015. "Against the Use of Knowledge Gained from Animal Experimentation" Societies 5, no. 1: 220-244. https://doi.org/10.3390/soc5010220