I’ve been thinking about the ethics of scientific animal research. I see the benefit humanity has derived from the cures and treatments which have been developed through animal research. Indeed, I personally have benefited from the cures and protocols developed through that research.
On the other hand, I know that how we treat animals and how we view them as beings is not merely a question of ends but of our humanity–our humaneness if you will. The forces which drive animal research are not merely the altruistic concern for others and the benefit they provide our fellow man, but the potential profit and fame enjoyed by those who find cures (researchers and pharmaceutical companies). The payoff for finding a cure for, say cancer, can feed a greediness which pushes people to think in categories of industrial efficiency to maximize profit rather than the best way to demonstrate humane compassion.
As I’ve been thinking, here’s what I’ve been reading.
C.S. Lewis (via BBC) wrote against a contemporary practice of performing surgical operations on animals without sedation or anesthesia which is illegal today. In his essay, “Vivisection” he writes the following:
“The Christian defender … is very apt to say that we are entitled to do anything we please to animals because they ‘have no souls’. But what does this mean? If it means that animals have no consciousness, then how is this known? They certainly behave as if they had, or at least the higher animals do. I myself am inclined to think that far fewer animals than is supposed have what we should recognize as consciousness. But that is only an opinion. Unless we know on other grounds that vivisection is right we must not take the moral risk of tormenting them on a mere opinion.
On the other hand, the statement that they ‘have no souls’ may mean that they have no moral responsibilities and are not immortal. But the absence of ‘soul’ in that sense makes the infliction of pain upon them not easier but harder to justify, for it means that animals cannot deserve pain, nor profit morally by the discipline of pain, nor be recompensed by happiness in another life for suffering in this. … ‘Soullessness’, in so far as it is relevant to the question at all, is an argument against vivisection.”
The news media has brought the subject up once again because of several situations here in North Carolina:
- A researcher in Winston-Salem was lately criticized for his apparent insensitivity as reported in the Winston-Salem Journal’s Researcher regrets use of slides in presentation.
- Several months ago an animal research facility was shut down because of apparent violations with respect to its animal care. You may read an article here about the lab’s closing.
And here are a series of articles posted at Slate.com about the circumstances which exposed the need for more government oversight of labs doing animal research.
The following prayer is take from 4th Century church father, St. Basil, and is the lead paragraph of Ron Lutjen’s article listed above.
“O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to thee in song, has been a groan of travail. May we realize that they live not for us alone but for themselves and for thee, and that they love the sweetness of life.” –Basil the Great, c. 330-379 A.D.