[paper in progress presented in VII World Conference of Bioethics – Spain, 2011]
Introduction: This presentation analyzes some bioethical aspects on the involvement of other animals in research - the animal experimentation.
Firstly, we compare the rejection and the acceptance of animal experimentation in the teleological-based theories (as in Peter Singer’s and Carl Cohen’s writings) and the deontological-based theory (as in Tom Regan’s and Jan Naverson’s writings): what are the basis for rejecting or for accepting animal experimentation¿ Secondly, we compare the ideas of the value of life and the harms of the death in Singer and Regan’s theories: what is the value of the animal life itself if compared with other values¿ Some epistemological considerations to bioethics are made too.
The results are contrary too our normal acceptance of animal experimentation and suggest revision of this institution: from animal experimentation to research with animal subjects, like the ethical research with vulnerable human subjects.
Aims: We aim to clarify the bioethical problem of the use of nonhuman animals in scientific research presenting some of the principal ethical considerations about this topic, including to analyze the topic of the value of life of nonhuman animals and the harm of the premature death.
Methods: We assume, for the argument, that there are two principal normative theories in ethics and bioethics: teleological-based theories and deontological-based theories. Teleological-based analyze the moral concepts and moral problems in terms of results or consequences of the action (or rule of action) for the affected agents and patients of that action. In general it is an utilitarian theory. Deontological-based theories analyze the moral concepts and moral problems in terms of the intrinsic nature of the action (or rule of action) expressed generally in norms or principles. In general it is a Kantian theory, and contemporarily it tends to be a rights-based theory (for example, a human rights-based theory or fairness and justice accounts). In bioethics, the concept of value of the life and problems on killing can be interpreted following an Utilitarian or a Kantian theory: utilitarian will access the value of life and killing as function of the goodness or good states of affairs that will result from these actions. In contrast, Kantian will access them as function of the intrinsic respect for the subjects or fairness expressed in the actions among themselves. Many arguments in Bioethics are utilitarian, and many are Kantians, and probably the best account uses the two ways of thinking.
Materials: The facts about animal life and the involvement of animals in animal experimentation are, generally: the similarities of nonhumans animals with us humans in terms of psychological characteristics, the possible or actual pain or suffering by-produced by catering and manipulating animals in the experiments, the premature and intentional death of the animals, the good things we can possibly or actually provide for other animals and specially for human beings (knowledge, medicines, technologies), the long tradition of animal experimentation meaning convenience and psychological security.
Appling the teleological approach on these facts, Peter Singer has concluded that the most part of the actually existent animal experimentation is wrong, because in balance it causes more evils that goods, specially for animals, but Carl Cohen has concluded that it is right, because it produced more benefits that harms, specially for human beings. Applying the deontological approach, Tom Regan has concluded animal experimentation is wrong because it is unjust or unfair to moral patients, but Jan Naverson thinks it is right, because the concepts of fairness and justice do not apply to non rational beings. We can analyze the arguments pro and con in comparison with each other. And we can compare the arguments contra animal experimentation in the comparison with each other.
Analysis: Tom Regan has rejected completely animal experimentation because the harmful involvement of non-human animals in these researches. He thought this because the (supposed) animal rights: if a being has the right of life, of bodily integrity and of natural liberty, we should respect these rights even if the disregarding would result in better things for other beings. This is so because this is the case with vulnerable and weak human beings, for example: they have their rights protecting their lives, integrity and liberty specially because as patients they are vulnerable and weak and could be abused by other humans. However the same is the case for (non-human) animals. If this would be accepted, the use of animal experimentation, in the past and in the present, were and are wrong and should be reformed or abolished. Jon Naverson and Carl Cohen, based on the same notion of equal rights for human beings, have accepted animal experimentation - provided it causes the less pain or suffering as it is possible - (Naverson in fact says we can do anything to animals as we like, but probably he was thinking more theoretically than practically): for both non-human animals have not individual and basic rights because they, as a community, have not the practical notion or the understanding of what is to have a right and a duty (Cohen’s point), and/or because they are not rational and contractual agents with reciprocal capacities of changes (Naverson’s point). We should evaluate animal experimentation only in terms of good or bad results from it, and about this, we should compare the many good consequences of the animal experimentation for so many humans and the harms caused to some limited number of nonhuman animals. Cohen uses the example of polio vaccine: according to him it would not have been discovered without animal experimentation. After discovered, it saved so many lives. How could we be contra animal experimentation in this case¿ Peter Singer disagree with all them, Regan, Cohen and Naverson: the harmful use of nonhuman animals in animal experimentation depends in fact of the balance of good and bad consequences, but the well informed and impartial (moral) balance is not favorable to the most part of the actual experimentation. Except when the result will probably be better than evil things, and very important stakes are in play (important diseases), animal experimentation should be restricted because in the most cases these good results probabilities are very small or lesser than the actual and certain evil effects on animals. In the majority of the examples using animals is wrong. One criterion for critical ethical assessment is the acceptance to use a mentally defective newborn human orphan in a research: if it is not acceptable by the conscious researchers, then, the specific research is not right with nonhuman animals too. This is because a newborn orphan has the same relevant characteristics that nonhuman animals have: they can suffer pain and distress, and they can live a good life in a certain time.
Singer and Regan disagree specially about the harm of the death. For Singer the value of life is a function of the satisfaction of present preferences of sentient beings. If a being has not the preference for living in the future, being only sentient, her preferences are only no suffering and no pain. So, if an animal, human or non-human, is only sentient, the value of life for her is the value of her present preferences and the painless use in experimentation with of course instant death would not be harm for these sentient beings. In cases when there are clear and strong benefits for other beings, and they are a majority in numbers, this use could be right or at least ethically acceptable. For Regan the value of life in not only a function of the satisfaction of preferences, but a function of the opportunities that that life contains (good life in the future, liberty for exercising her abilities with bodily integrity) and the best interest of the patient. As the interests in life, liberty and integrity of some beings (subject-of-a-mental-life) are a vital ones as opportunities, and as the protection of these vital interests are protected by limits in the communal or personal search for goods, these limits (basic rights) are what we need to guarantee the best interest of these sentient beings (human or nonhuman animals).
There is something to be said about Cohen's belief, widespread among scientists, that without animal experimentation, medical advances would not have been possible, and will not be possible in the future. First of all, this is a factual hypothesis, and may be false. As writes David DeGrazia, "just because you gave me a metro ticket does not mean I needed it to get there. Maybe I could go on foot or by bus. Some critics say that we have made progress despite the biomedical animal experimentation, not because of it. Lafollete Hugh and Niall Shanks (1996) have evaluated that the confidence in animal models has delayed the development of an effective polio vaccine for many years. It may be that the same happened in other cases of vaccines and medicines, and is happening today with the current investigations "more important"! It may be, after all, that exist research methods without animal experimentation that will lead to the same progress. How do I know rationally that without investing in them and do the assessment seriously¿ In addition, any honest analysis of the cost effectiveness has to multiply the value of an expected benefit by the probability of achieving it, and decrease of the worthlessness of harm multiplied by the probability to do so. In the case of animal experimentation, the harms are always liquid and certain, but not the benefits.
Conclusions: If we accept human rights in the wide sense of the expression, including vulnerable human beings, then, we should conclude that the argument contra animal experimentation is stronger than the argument for. If we accept the opportunity theory of the value of life, we should conclude that the rights-based argument contra animal experimentation is stronger than the utilitarian one. We could use alternative means, specially the replacement of (harmful) animal experimentation by (therapeutic) research with animal subjects of research, following the same guidelines we use for vulnerable human beings as subjects of research. This seems the price of being ethical when using animals in research.
Alcino Eduardo Bonella
Institute of Philosophy (IFILO), Federal University of Uberlândia (UFU),
National Counsel for Research (CNPq)