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Full Topic: Is the Harmful use of Sentient Non-Human Animals in Biomedical Experimentation Morally Evil?
This is a debate on the moral permissibility of animal experimentation used for medical research for the benefit of human beings. Pro will defend the claim that animal experimentation is morally wrong, whereas Con will argue that it is morally permissible. Below is a list of assumptions for our debate that cannot be challenged. Although these assumptions are interesting, arguing about these points in this debate would shift it away from the applied ethical issue at hand.
Assumptions for debate:
Moral realism is true.
Animals *feel* pleasure and pain to a similar degree with humans.
First round is for opening statements by Pro and Con (no rebuttals).
Second round is for first rebuttals.
Third round is for second rebuttals and concluding remarks.
The following definitions were influenced by the google:
Animal - any organism of the Kingdom Animalia, as opposed to those of the Kingdoms Plantae, Fungi, Protista, Archaeabacteria, and Eubacteria.
An animal test is any scientific experiment or test in which a live animal is forced to undergo something that is likely to cause them pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm.
The area of science devoted to the study of the processes of life, the prevention, and treatment of disease, and the genetic and environmental factors related to disease and health. ... A basic researcher's experiments add pieces to the immensely complex puzzles of life.
morally wrong, one has a moral duty not to do it; can’t do it.
Not morally wrong, okay to perform, this is morally acceptable.
The Moral Argument for Animal Experimentation
P2) We only have moral obligations toward rational beings.
C1) Therefore, we have no moral obligations toward animals.
P3) If we have no moral obligations toward animals, then animal experimentation is morally permissible.
C2) Therefore, animal experimentation is morally permissible.
Put more crudely, the argument for the moral permissibility of animal experimentation could run as follows. Animals are dumb, and humans are smart! Since animals are dumb, there is nothing wrong with causing them extreme pain in experiments for the benefit of humanity. The argument for the moral permissibility of animal experimentation is valid. Given this fact, I must explain why at least one of the premises is faulty to demonstrate why the argument is unsound.
A Problem with the Moral Argument for Animal Experimentation
Premise two of the moral argument for animal experimentation, I think, has a false premise. This is because accepting this premise leads to absurd conclusions. Specifically, it entails that we have no moral obligations toward non-rational humans such as human infants. Virtually nobody thinks, for good reason, that it would be morally permissible to sever the limbs of human infants, crush their organs; or induce heart attacks in them for the purpose of gaining scientific knowledge.
In response to this case, I think many of us would say that, although human infants lack rationality, it still seems wrong to experiment on them. But what explains this judgment? One reason that explains the wrongness of experimenting on human infants seems to be that such experiments would cause them extreme pain. Intuitively, it is ordinarily wrong to cause an individual extreme pain. Given a commitment to oppose causing infants extreme pain in ordinary circumstances, we can conclude that it would be morally wrong to experiment on them.
However, if we think we have a moral obligation not to experiment on human infants even though they lack rationality, why not also accept that we have a moral obligation not to experiment on animals? After all, animals, like human infants, can feel pain and lack rationality. Why believe that human infants should be protected from being subjected to extreme pain in experiments, but allow animals to be subjected to it? Animals and human infants seem morally similar since they have roughly the same psychological capacities. But if this judgment is correct, then either we have to accept the moral permissibility of experimenting on both human infants and animals or accept that experimenting on both would be morally wrong. You cannot have it both ways. More formally, this argument can be stated as follows:
P1) The best explanation for the moral wrongness of experimentation on human infants is grounded in the claim that it would cause them pain.
P2) If the best explanation for the moral wrongness of experimentation on human infants is grounded in their ability to feel pain, then this explanation will entail the moral wrongness of experimentation on animals since they also have the ability to feel pain.
C) Consequently, it is morally wrong to experiment on animals.
The basic idea behind this argument can be summed up in a conversation (Graham). “Animals are dumb, so it’s fine to torture them in experiments to generate scientific results that will save human lives.” “Oh, yeah? Well, human infants are dumb too, so would it be fine to experiment on them? “Absolutely not! That would be wrong.” “Well, then you can’t justify experimenting on animals for being dumb since if you applied that reasoning consistently you would also have to say that experimenting on human infants is fine too.”
Defense of Premise One
Someone might reject this premise on grounds that there is a better explanation for why experimentation on human infants would be morally wrong, but where this reason would not apply to animals, which would then mean that animal experimentation could be morally justified. That is to say, we can explain the immorality of experimenting on human infants while at the same time non-arbitrarily excluding animals from moral consideration. There are two popular explanations that come to mind, but both are inadequate, or so I will argue. The result will be that a human infant’s ability to feel pain is the best explanation for the moral wrongness of experimenting on them, and, since this reason applies to animals, it would be wrong to experiment on them too. In other words, I will argue for premise one by explaining why the alternative explanations for the moral wrongness of experimentation on human infants are open to forceful counterexamples and, therefore, the explanations must be rejected in favor of the one I offered in premise one of my argument.
The Infant’s Potential
Membership in the Human Species
Despite the intuitive appeal of this idea, however, there seem to be very strong reasons to reject the claim that we have stronger moral obligations to individuals merely because they are members of our species. For example, suppose it was discovered that all green-eyed people were not members of the human species, but they otherwise had the same intelligence and emotional capacities as human beings (DeGrazia). Surely it is completely implausible to claim that we would, therefore, have weaker moral obligations to them because of this difference in species membership. Indeed, discovering this would not change our moral judgments toward them in the slightest. Or consider the existence of Yoda from Star Wars. Yoda is clearly not a member of the human species, but surely our moral obligations toward Yoda would not be weaker merely because he is a non-human.
Examination of these counterexamples demonstrates, I think, that mere species membership is not morally relevant, and, for this reason, an individual being a member of the human species cannot plausibly provide a reason to believe that our moral obligations toward them must be stronger than our moral obligations to sentient members of other species.
Indeed, I think exposure to these counterexamples enables me to make a stronger claim. More narrowly, I think these examples show that sentience, not potential rationality or species membership, is the property that we should consider when determining whether a being can be wronged by our actions. After all, the sentience criteria can explain the moral wrongness of harming the individuals I presented in my counterexamples whereas potential rationality or the species membership criteria cannot. But then it appears that the sentience criteria is the best explanation for the moral wrongness of experimenting on human infants since the other explanations are unsatisfactory. In other words, we must agree that we have moral obligations toward *all* sentient beings because this belief is congruent with our other moral judgments about our moral obligations toward human infants. Consequently, if we have moral obligations to all sentient beings, then we will also have moral obligations toward animals, particularly a moral obligation not to intentionally torture and kill them for scientific knowledge.
If we accept that we have moral obligations toward human infants, then we must also accept that we have moral obligations toward animals. This is because there is no morally relevant difference between them that can justify protecting human infants from harm while denying this same protection for animals. If a human infant’s pain counts morally, then an animal’s pain counts morally too. But if an animal’s pain counts morally too, then we must conclude that animal experimentation is morally evil.
(1) ‘A Libertarian Replies to Tibor Machan"s "Why Animal Rights Don"t Exist"’ by David Graham.
(2) The Ethics of Abortion by Christopher Kaczor.
(3) “Review of Singer: Animal Liberation” by David DeGrazia.
Premise 2: A Life With Meaning, A Life Well-Lived
Con argues, first, that we only have moral obligations toward rational beings, and, secondly, animals lack rationality, and, therefore, we have no moral obligations to them. Given that we have no moral obligations to animals, it is morally permissible to experiment on them. The explanation provided for why rationality is morally important is grounded in the claim that rationality allows us to pursue what is true.
But now consider animals. Are animals able to rationally pursue objective truths? Can they understand any of the concepts that give meaning to the lives of rational agents? No, of course not. Indeed, considering these observations, animals look much more like machines than rational agents. Animals are merely driven by instinct and simple pleasures such as food consumption and reproduction. Rational agents, by contrast, are not merely driven by these behaviors and can look at the world from an objective standpoint. As Con eloquently stated:
If this is the case, then it follows that rational agents are able to act more authentically than animals, being able to comprehend “higher truths,” implying that their lives have more meaning (Sleek).
But if we agree that a being’s ability to understand objective truth gives their life meaning and that a being that lacks this capacity has no moral value, how can we avoid the conclusion that we must not have any moral obligations toward animals? Con maintains that we cannot avoid this result, and, therefore, we must not have any moral obligations toward animals. Given this fact, animal experimentation must be morally permissible.
While we may prefer to avoid causing animals pain, choosing to do so is truly a preference, as we do not have a duty to do so (Sleek).
But this belief is completely implausible. It would mean that there is nothing wrong with, say, people pouring gasoline on a dog to set it on fire for fun. Even Peter Carruthers, the most prominent opponent of animal rights, agrees with my judgment about this sort of case. He says:
Note that I am not justifying my moral judgment about the dog burning case with a fallacious appeal to authority. Rather, I am trying to demonstrate that Con’s argument goes against a confidently and seemingly plausible shared moral intuition which poses a problem for him.
Since Con’s criteria of moral obligations entail these morally repugnant conclusions, this is further evidence against the reasonableness of his argument.
To justify the claim that it is morally permissible to sacrifice the less valuable lives of animals for the preservation of more valuable rational agent lives, Con appeals to the moral theory of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is a moral theory according to which the right action is one that has the best consequences, all things considered, of the options open to you. So, for example, if you are forced to choose between saving one life or five lives, you ought to save five lives since that is a better consequence than the alternative action, other things being equal. When this moral theory is applied to the context of animal experimentation, Con states that:
From a utilitarian approach, whatever your opinion of Mill may be, it makes mathematical sense to exchange the weaker utils of an animal for the more valuable ones of a rational agent (Sleek).
This is a forceful argument, particularly because utilitarianism is a simple and intuitive moral theory. After all, it has a plausible account of what is valuable, happiness, and a satisfactory account of moral rightness, good consequences. Nonetheless, there are two objections that I have to Con’s utilitarian argument in defense of animal experimentation.
One problem with this argument is that it leads to morally repugnant conclusions. Specifically, it entails that rational agents like you or me may be sacrificed for a being that has more units of pleasure. Consider, for example, the existence of a utility monster, who derives more units of pleasure than any other rational agent possibly could (Nozick). Under utilitarianism, it would be morally obligatory to sacrifice our interests for the sake of the utility monster since he has more desires to be satisfied than us. But surely this conclusion is incorrect. Accordingly, we must reject Con’s utilitarian argument in defense of animal experimentation.
Secondly, utilitarianism is a false moral theory. It entails that any action is permissible if it has good consequences. But this is unreasonable. It would entail, for example, that a doctor may kill one healthy person to save five of her patients. Indeed, not only would the doctor’s action be permissible, but obligatory. This implication is too implausible to be accepted. Since utilitarianism fails as a moral theory, it cannot be used by Con to justify animal experimentation.
The Wrong Reasons Objection
Finally, Con gives the wrong reasons for why we have moral obligations to rational agents. To see why put yourself in the position of someone that is about to be subjected to an extremely painful experiment. On Con’s view, why would harming you in this situation be wrong? Well, it would be wrong because you are a rational agent that can understand abstract truths about the world. But this explanation is bizarre. It seems more natural to say that it would be wrong because it would cause you to experience pain, fear, and deprivation (Nobis). Indeed, if I was being tortured to death in an experiment, I doubt I would object to it by saying “Ah! But I can understand that a=a!” Rather, I would respond “Ah! Please stop the pain!” (Jacob). The sentience account, unlike the rationality account, identifies the most salient property that best explains the wrongness of the harm done to us in the case described. Consequently, it should be favored over the rationality account defended by Con.
(1) Against the Moral Standing of Animals by Peter Carruthers
(2) The Utility Monster thought experiment by Robert Nozick
(3) Review of Tibor Machan’s Putting Humans First by David Graham and Nathan Nobis.
(4) My buddy Jacob mentioned this idea to me in conversation.