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Animal Rights and Ethics Introduction

Animal ethics is a complex subject. Rational argument about the right and wrong way to treat animals is made more difficult by the deep love that many of us feel for animals. For philosophers it raises fundamental questions about the basis of moral rights. So is there any statement of animal ethics that people on both sides might accept? The suggestion is that this is the most they could agree on: Higher animals have a moral status and there are right and wrong ways of treating them. Animals and humans Throughout the Animal Ethics section the term 'non-human animals' has been used for clarity, since the animal kingdom is often taken to include humanity. Human and animal identity The most difficult part of animal rights and welfare for human beings has been summed up by Colin McGinn: is important to see that animals are not defined by their relation to us. Most animals, after all, have lived out their spans in sublime indifference to the habits of those odd chattering bipeds with the removable plumage. Even if we had never existed, they would still be here. We are just as accidental to them as they are to us. (Colin McGinn, Social Research, Vol. 62, 1995) How far should we go? Most animal rights activists are concerned with preventing cruelty to animals - but should we go further? Does ensuring animal welfare require providing for animal happiness as well as eliminating suffering? Controversies The main controversies in animal ethics are these: Experiments on animals Rearing and killing animals for food Rearing and killing animals for fur/leather goods Hunting Entertainment Zoos Pet-keeping

Our relationship with animals is based on beliefs we absorb from our upbringing and social customs. We accept these beliefs, often on trust from our elders, without challenging or analysing them. But unexamined beliefs when acted out can do enormous harm. Everyone has some contact with animals directly or indirectly, whether farming or shooting animals, eating them, feeding their pets factory farmed animals, going to the zoo, using substances tested on animals or washing with animal-based soap. Yet most people do not realise the suffering and destruction humanity imposes on animals because it goes on largely out of sight and where it peaks above the surface it is tolerated as normal.

Here is the point. The harm humans are doing to animals amounts to a holocaust that we must address. If we are to make civilized progress we must comprehend what we are doing to animals and think about how we should be treating them. All of us must justify and defend our relations with animals in light of animal ethics. An ethical issue is when you think a harm or wrong is happening and something should be done about it. If we harm people then we must justify why we harm them and if we cannot justify our actions then we must not harm them. In the same way, with animal ethics we must critically question our conduct with animals. We must ask what we are doing to animals, why we are doing it, how should we and how can we do better - and take action.

Animal experimentation
A difficult issue In 1997 Dr Jay Vacanti and his team grew an ear on the back of a mouse

Animal experiments are widely used to develop new medicines and to test the safety of other products. Many of these experiments cause pain to the animals involved or reduce their quality of life in other ways. If it is morally wrong to cause animals to suffer then experimenting on animals produces serious moral problems. Animal experimenters are very aware of this ethical problem and acknowledge that experiments should be made as humane as possible. They also agree that it's wrong to use animals if alternative testing methods would produce equally valid results. Two positions on animal experiments In favour of animal experiments: Experimenting on animals is acceptable if (and only if): suffering is minimised in all experiments human benefits are gained which could not be obtained by using other methods

Against animal experiments: Experimenting on animals is always unacceptable because: it causes suffering to animals the benefits to human beings are not proven any benefits to human beings that animal testing does provide could be produced in other ways

Harm versus benefit The case for animal experiments is that they will produce such great benefits for humanity that it is morally acceptable to harm a few animals. The equivalent case against is that the level of suffering and the number of animals involved are both so high that the benefits to humanity don't provide moral justification.

The three Rs The three Rs are a set of principles that scientists are encouraged to follow in order to reduce the impact of research on animals. The three Rs are: Reduction, Refinement, Replacement. Reduction: Reducing the number of animals used in experiments by: Improving experimental techniques Improving techniques of data analysis Sharing information with other researchers

Refinement: Refining the experiment or the way the animals are cared for so as to reduce their suffering by: Using less invasive techniques Better medical care Better living conditions

Replacement: Replacing experiments on animals with alternative techniques such as:

Experimenting on cell cultures instead of whole animals Using computer models Studying human volunteers Using epidemiological studies


Theoretical approach
Kantian Theories Closely related to Worldview/Religious theories are theories such as Immanuel Kants (17241804). Kant developed a highly influential moral theory according to which autonomy is a necessary property to be the kind of being whose interests are to count direclty in the moral assessment of actions (Kant, 1983, 1956). According to Kant, morally permissible actions are those actions that could be willed by all rational individuals in the circumstances. The important part of his conception for the moral status of animals is his reliance on the notion of willing. While both animals and human beings have desires that can compel them to action, only human beings are capable of standing back from their desires and choosing which course of action to take. This ability is manifested by our wills. Since animals lack this ability, they lack a will, and therefore are not autonomous. Since animals have no wills at all, they cannot have good wills; they therefore do not have any intrinsic value. Utilitarian: The position of Utilitarianists is that all animals are equal in the sense that they all can sense pain and suffering. They can also feel pleasure. One of the most famous utilitarians who talked about animal rights is Peter Singer. His criteria for judging animal rights are the animals capacity to suffer pain and enjoy pleasure. Since they can feel pain just as a retarded person or a child. They should be treated as equal. He equates racism with specism. We should rise above this and give animals their due. He does however argue for a range of the quality of pain. There is a difference between a hunter and Murderer. A difference between rescuing a human or a dog. He does not specify the quantity of pain or pleasure. Humans derive greater pleasure from rescuing a human versus a dog. Therefore it is of a higher ratio of pleasure over pain for a human to rescue. Consequentialism Consequentialism is a moral theory stating that the morality of your action depends only on its results or consequences. Consequentialism is goal-directed because only the outcome or consequence of your action is important, not how you achieve it. You need not be dutiful or virtuous - you might even lie, cheat or whatever - so long as the result of your action is morally good. Say you develop a vaccine that could save the lives of thousands of animals. But as part of the vaccine's development you must test it on tens of laboratory animals and they might die as a result. Consequentialism says it is the end result that is important, in this case you may be saving the lives of many more animals than you might kill, so you might decide it is morally right to go ahead with your tests. Or say a pig escapes from a slaughterhouse. You believe it is immoral to take him back to be killed, so you hide him and lie that you do not know where he is. Your action focuses on its result. Saving the pig from slaughter is morally more important to you than telling lies.

Deontology Deontology (or the more descriptive term duty ethics) can guide us about what kind of action to take concerning animal rights problems, and with many other moral problems too. Deontology asserts that the right moral action is founded on an objective duty or obligation. When you do your duty you behave morally; when you fail to do your duty you behave immorally. Deontology asserts that you should do your duty even if you or others suffer as a consequence by your doing it. Two examples of acting deontologically. A rancher might hate shooting predators but accepts that he has an obligation to protect his cattle regardless of his action's impact on wildlife. A researcher might keep an animal in pain because he believes he has a responsibility to find a cure for a disease. Alternatively, however, as your duty to animalkind you might devote yourself to saving wildlife from ranchers or might release laboratory animals used in experiments - moral thinking can work in more than one direction. Virtue Ethics Virtue ethics says you cannot isolate the making of ethical decisions from your personality. Your good actions are the result of good character and possessing admirable personal qualities makes you a virtuous person. As a virtue ethicist you might, for instance, approve or reprove individuals or companies. You might only support the ones that do not harm animals and nature. Are these individuals or companies advancing or opposing virtue? Are they progressive, admirable and responsible entities? Or are they insensitive, negligent or dishonest? Do they support virtuous or immoral values? Again, as a virtuous person, you could abstain from eating animals and from wearing fur and could keep a low environmental impact lifestyle.

Case study and Conclusion

In the spring of 1987, a veterinary lab at the University of California at Davis was destroyed by a fire that caused $3.5 million in damage. Credit for the fire was claimed by the Animal Liberation Front, a clandestine international group committed to halting experimentation on animals. Three years earlier, members of the group invaded the Experimental Head Injury Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania where scientists had been engaged in research on head trauma, a condition which now claims more that 50,000 lives a year. They took videotapes recording the deliberate and methodical inflicting of severe head injuries on unanesthetized chained baboons. Copies of the videotape were sent to the media, to University officials, and to government agencies which eventually suspended federal funds for the experiments. About 20 million animals are experimented on and killed annually, three-fourths for medical purposes and the rest to test various products. An estimated eight million are used in painful experiments. Reports show that at least 10 percent of these animals do not receive painkillers. Animal rights advocates are pressing government agencies to impose heavy restrictions on animal research. But this growing criticism of painful experimentation on animals is matched by a growing concern over the threat restrictions on the use of animals would pose to scientific progress. Whether such experiments should be allowed to continue has become a matter for public debate. Those who argue that painful experimentation on animals should be halted, or at least curtailed, maintain that pain is an intrinsic evil, and any action that causes pain to another creature is simply not morally permissible. Animals do in fact suffer, and do in fact feel pain. The researcher who forces rats to choose between electric shocks and starvation to see if they develop ulcers does so because he or she knows that rats have nervous systems much like humans and feel the pain of shocks in a similar way. Pain is an intrinsic evil whether it is experienced by a child, an adult, or an animal. If it is wrong to inflict pain on a human being, it is just as wrong to inflict pain on an animal. Moreover, it is argued, the lives of all creatures, great and small, have value and are worthy of respect. This right to be treated with respect does not depend on an ability to reason. An insane person has a right to be treated with respect, yet he or she may not be able to act rationally. Nor does a right to be treated with respect rest on being a member of a certain species. Restricting respect for life to a certain species is to perform an injustice similar to racism or sexism. Like the racist who holds that respect for other races does not count as much as respect for his or her own race, those who support painful experimentation on animals assume that respect for other species does not count as much as respect for members of his or her own species. "Speciesism" is as arbitrarily unjust as racism or sexism. The right to be treated with respect rests, rather, on a creature's being a "subject of a life," with certain experiences, preferences, and interests. Animals, like humans, are subjects of a life. Justice demands that the interests of animals be respected, which includes respect for their interest to be spared undeserved pain.

Finally, animal welfare activists defend their position by countering the claim that halting painful animal experiments would put an end to scientific progress, with harmful consequences to society. Much animal experimentation, they say, is performed out of mere curiosity and has little or no scientific merit. Animals are starved, shocked, burned, and poisoned as scientists look for something that just might yield some human benefit. In one case, baby mice had their legs chopped off so that experimenters could observe whether they'd learn to groom themselves with their stumps. In another, polar bears were submerged in a tank of crude oil and salt water to see if they'd live. And, for those experiments which do have merit, there exist many non-animal alternatives. It is only out of sheer habit or ease that scientists continue to inflict pain on animals when, in fact, alternatives exist. And, where alternatives don't exist, the moral task of science is to discover them. Mice or men? Where do our moral obligations lie? The debate over painful experimentation on animals enjoins us to consider the wrongfulness of inflicting pain and the duty to respect the lives of all creatures, while also considering our obligations to promote human welfare and prevent human suffering, animals aside.