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American Society of Mammalogists

Animals, Nature, and Ethics Author(s): Marc Bekoff and Ned Hettinger Source: Journal of Mammalogy, Vol. 75, No. 1 (Feb., 1994), pp. 219-223 Published by: American Society of Mammalogists Stable URL: . Accessed: 09/10/2011 18:44
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Department of Environmental, Population, and Organismic Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0334 (MB) Department of Philosophy, College of Charleston, Charleston, SC 29424 (NH)

Recently, Howard (1993, Journal ofMammalogy, 74:234-235) argued for the defensibility of research on nonhuman animals (hereafter animals). Unfortunately, his essay is unnecessarily combative, lacking in detail, unbalanced, and poorly argued. Howard (1993) unfairly and mistakenly stereotypes as biologically naive anyone who rejects his position that nature's poor treatment of wild animals justifies animal research. Those interested in the morality of animal research deserve better guidance than what Howard ( 1993) provides. Here, we analyze Howard's (1993) claims and their implications, present relevant literature on ethics and animals, and conclude that much work remains to be done to understand and properly appreciate the moral dimensions of animal research. The questions raised about uses of animals by humans in various activities, including research, are difficult and demand careful interdisciplinary analysis. Simple answers should not be expected. We explore some of the issues and make them accessible to a wide audience, including practicing scientists. Key words: animal welfare, animal rights, animal research, morality, ethics

Interest is growing in the diverse and complex issues about how humans ought to treat nonhuman animals (hereafter animals). That many scientists who work with animals are concerned with animal welfare is evidenced by the fact that most professional societies, including The American Society ofMammalogists (1987), have published guidelines to which researchers must adhere ifthey are to publish in thejournal(s) sponsored by that society (Bekoff, 1993a; Rollin, 1989). Ewbank, the editor-in-chief of Animal Welfare, has called for papers that consider ethical issues specifically in field research (see Animal Welfare, 1993, vol. 2). Recently, Howard (1993) presented his views on the defensibility of animal research (and other uses of animals), echoing the main messages in Howard ( 1990). Howard (1993) states his ideas as if they were facts, ignoring counterarguments and failing to confront the complexity of the issues. His
Journal of Mammalogy, 75(1):219-223, 1994

vague platitudes do not help in understanding the variety of ethical issues that arise from the diverse uses of animals by mammalogists and other scientists. For example, he ignores morally relevant differences between field research and research on captive animals, and he lumps all animals (e.g., mammals and amphibians, domestic and wild animals) into one category about which he makes sweeping generalizations. Howard's (1993) ideas are typical of those who wish to distance humans from other animals and place humans apart from, and above, nature. His belief that animals should not be mistreated because of obligations to humanity rather than obligations to the animals themselves, establishes this absolute moral gulf between humans and everything else. Our goals are to provide an analysis of Howard's (1993) wide-ranging claims, expose their implications, suggest alternative points of view, and provide references so



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that future discussions can be more informed. We show that the issues are not as cut and dry as Howard (1993) and others (e.g., Nicoll and Russell, 1991) make them out to be (Bekoff and Jamieson, 1991, in press; Bekoff et al., 1992; Broom, 1991; Cavalieri and Singer, 1993; Cuthill, 1991; Driscoll and Bateson, 1988; Gavaghan, 1992; Gruen, 1991; Hettinger, 1989, in press; Lockwood, 1987; Lynch, 1988; Mendl, 1991; Regan, 1983; Rollin, 1989; Rolston, 1988; Sapontzis, 1987; Singer, 1990, 1993; Taylor 1986; United States Department of Agriculture, 1991; Verhoog, 1991; Zimmerman ei al., 1993; the journal Environmental Ethics). Early in his essay, Howard (1993) claims that animals do not have legal rights, but he later points out that extensive review processes exist for animal research. These regulations are legally enforceable, and in this sense, animals do have legal rights (i.e., humans have legally enforceable duties concerning animals; for further discussion, see Finsen, 1990). Indeed, the Animal Welfare Institute ( 1990) summarizes the legal rights ofanimalsinAmericafrom 1641-1990. "A right," Howard (1993) tells us, "implies concomitant responsibilities, which certainly are not displayed by animals." If this were true, human infants, mentally disabled humans, and those who suffer from different forms of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease (Binstock et al., 1992), also would lack rights because they too have no responsibilities. Ethicists, caregivers, and many others who are concerned with the rights of young (prelinguistic) humans or those humans who are mentally impaired find this conclusion to be extremely disturbing (Dresser, 1992; Moody, 1992). Perhaps Howard (1993) denies that animals have legal rights because he thinks that obligations the regulations impose on humans are ''obligation(s) made to humanity and not to non-human animals." Apparently, he believes regulations that prohibit causing unnecessary suffering to research animals are aimed at protecting humans who

might be upset about such suffering and not at protecting animals that are the victims of such suffering. For Howard (1993) the ethical question is "how animal resources should be exploited." Not only do animals lack rights, they are, in his view, mere resources or tools that exist for the purpose of being exploited. This fits with his insensitivity to the moral significance of taking animal life. At one point, he even speaks of the killing of laboratory and wild animals as a "sacred act." One of Howard's (1993) justifications for killing wild animals in research is that they usually will be replaced by others of the same species who would not have existed if humans had not killed those they are replacing. On his view, an individual animal's life is a totally replaceable commodity. The ethical guidance that Howard (1993) provides concerning animal pain is that we should not inflict "unnecessary pain and suffering" on animals and that we should not "mistreat them." But he does not tell us what constitutes mistreatment or unnecessary pain and suffering. By failing to develop these notions, he gives no guidance whatsoever. Mammalogists and others deserve a more careful, accurate, and helpful analysis about the conditions under which it is morally justified to kill animals or to cause them pain and suffering. Howard's ( 199 3) characterization of the animal-rights movement is misinformed also. His foes belong to "the biologically unsound animal rights movement (ARM) which wants to bring all new knowledge about mammals to a screeching halt." However, it is just not true that those in the animal-rights movement "think it morally wrong to acquire knowledge by studying mammals" or think it unjustified "to protect endangered species." These sorts of false attributions commonly are found in the arguments of those who want to demean the animal-rights movement as a whole. We also are told that members of the animal-rights movement are "anti-establishment types," and "generally they are very uncompro-

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mising .... " However, the animal-rights movement actually is a heterogeneous organization composed of different factions whose members often try to distance themselves from one another (Bekoff et al., 1992). Based on a study of individuals who identify themselves with animal rights, Holden ( 1991 :264) concluded that so-called animal rights activists are "by no means monolithic in their views" (see McAdam, 1992, and Pious, 1991 ). Howard (1993) writes that "the ARM always ignores nature when they try to defend their views," and he informs us that we need to educate the public about nature to counteract their biologically unsound claims. The education about nature that he provides is that nature "requires much cruelty" and has "a death ethic." Howard (1993) notes the "brutality of natural predation" and "nature's brutal deaths" and "cruel diseases." In defense of mammalogists and others who "should and usually do demonstrate compassion and pity toward the animals they utilize," he seems to berate wild animals for failing to manifest these virtues. However, nature has no ethic, nor can nature have one. Neither nature nor animals can be held morally responsible for the suffering and pain they cause or for failing to show pity or compassion. It only makes sense to hold moral agents accountable, and neither nature as a whole, nor individual animals, are moral agents. Howard's (1993) main argument in defense of animal research is that because what nature does to animals is so horrible, what humans do to them must be permissible, as we treat them less badly. He appeals to the fact that individual animals bred for research purposes would not have existed if humans had not created them. He claims that these animals live longer, have a higher quality of life, and die less painfully than do their wild counterparts. Howard (1993) does not dispute the claim and is undaunted by the fact that millions of animals are killed each year in high school and college classes. He justifies this practice by noting that

"None of these animals would be born if not wanted, and they have a quality life and die humanely rather than live nature's tortuous life." Do we really want an ethic that sanctions treatment of animals by humans as long as it is better than what nature typically has in store for similar animals? For example, would we allow mammalogists who are accused of animal cruelty to justify their behavior with the argument that they caused them less suffering than their wild predators would have caused them? Although the sorts of lives animals lead in the wild is an important consideration for insuring appropriate care and management of animals (e.g., animals in zoos and wildlife parks), an ethic that permits any use of animals by humans that causes them less suffering or allows them a longer life than is typical for wild animals is far too weak (Hettinger, in press; Rolston, 1988). We also should not accept Howard's (1993) claim that the quality of animal lives is superior in human culture than in wild nature. For example, with rare exceptions the life of a tiger is not improved by putting it in a zoo. Although its food will be provided, hunting has played a large role in the evolution of tigers and is essential to a tiger's way oflife. Movement also will be severely restricted, and for animals that typically roam in search of food and shelter, captivity produces an impoverished existence. Furthermore, it is not at all clear that captive animals live longer than their wild counterparts. Further discussion is needed concerning if and how appeals to the "ways of nature" bear on the morality of treatment of other animals by humans (Bekoff and Jamieson, in press; Hettinger, in press). Superficial appeals to nature's brutality to justify the treatment of nonhumans (e.g., Grandin, 1992; Greenough, 1992; Lansdell, 1988) will not do (for a field biologist's perspective on death in nature, see Lack, 1957: 72-79). Two other points deserve mention. First, without corroborative data, Howard (1993)



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claims that abuses of animals in research are rare and that the benefits of animal research to people and animal welfare are enormous. Both of these claims need to be bolstered by a deeper appreciation of the problems involved in making judgements about what constitutes abuse and what sorts of knowledge are appropriately valued as beneficial (see the exchange between Bekoff, 1993a and Emlen, 1993, concerning the study of infanticide). Second, Howard (1993) glosses over the issue of alternatives to animal research. He merely states that "alternatives will never be able to replace all needs of laboratory and field research with live animals." Howard (1993) does not mention that there is much interest among diverse scientists in developing alternatives to certain animal research practices (Langley, 1991; National Library of Medicine, 1993; Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 1992). Indeed, The Johns Hopkins University supports a Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing, and a similar group exists at the University of California at Davis. Howard's ( 1993) treatment of these important issues is superficial and narrow. Although some animal research is defensible, some is not (Bekoff, 1993b; Bekoff and Jamieson, 1991, in press; Singer, 1990), but even the first conclusion does not directly follow from Howard's (1993) essay. The interests of members ofThe American Society of Mammalogists and of other professional societies would be better served by reading some of the mentioned references for more diverse and informed opinions about the ethics of animal use. It also is important to assess available empirical information concerning the behavior and cognitive abilities of diverse animals (Bekoff and Allen, in press; Jamieson and Bekoff, in press) and how these data can be used to inform welfare decisions (Bekoff and Jamieson, 1991 ). Questions about the ethics of animal use must not be trivialized or reduced to hurdles in the pursuit of scientific knowledge. Critical discussions about how scientists ought

to treat animals should not be taken as being antiscience. Instead, inquiries concerning scientific conduct ultimately will make the practice of science more challenging and satisfying to scientists (Bekoff, 1993b), and it will allow scientists to explain better what they do to nonscientists interested in the enterprise of science.

We thank D. Jamieson, L. Gruen, S. Townsend, and T. Daniels for discussing some of these issues and also an anonymous reviewer for comments on this paper.

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Submitted 25 March 1993. Accepted 17 August 1993. Associate Editor was Michael R. Willig.