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It is customary that animals used in research are killed at the termination of the research study, and research itself often involves the inﬂiction of various diseases and physical or psychological injuries on the animals (Carbone 2004; Knight 2011).Beginning in the early 1970s, philosophers and some theologians turned an increasing amount of their attention to the ethical evaluation of animal research, focusing principally on animals’ moral standing and the question of whether harmful animal research could be justiﬁed.Today, at least 100 million animals are used in research each year worldwide, though this might represent a signiﬁcant underestimate.
Some “equal moral consideration” (EC) views might judge all nontrivially harmful animal research to be indefensible, except perhaps in the most extreme and urgent circumstances.
“Unequal moral consideration” (UC) and utilitarian views would permit some harmful animal research, but with signiﬁcant restrictions and qualiﬁcations that go far beyond the status quo.
Death is usually a harm because it takes away from the animal future opportunities to satisfy interests.
Thus, whatever pleasures, satisﬁed desires, or other goods the animal might have experienced in the future will be prevented when it is killed (De Grazia 2002).
These categories are suffering, conﬁnement, and death. Second, even if it does not cause suffering, it prevents the conﬁned animal from satisfying any number of “liberty-related” interests, such as interests in moving about, investigating new things in the environment, relaxing comfortably, playing, foraging, and so on (De Grazia 2002).
Suffering (deﬁned broadly here to include pain, anxiety, distress, and other aversive mental states) is a harm because it is bad in itself; it is unpleasant and aversive to the individual experiencing it. The harm of conﬁnement is especially signiﬁcant when animals are conﬁned in barren environments and/or environments preventing ample freedom of movement.The moral relevance of harm to animals in research derives from the relevance of harm to morality more generally.Essentially all ethical theories, as well as common morality, embrace a principle of nonmaleﬁcence, which holds that we ought not to harm others (harm being generally deﬁned as setting back another’s interests or making them worse off).This implies that in cases where animals are experiencing intractable pain or suffering, killing them does not harm them because their future lives would not be worth living (e.g., think of a veterinarian euthanizing a dog with a late-stage terminal illness).However, it is important to consider the source of intractable suffering: if animals only suffer in the ﬁrst place because they are harmed by humans, then it seems misleading to say that they are not harmed by death.As concerns humans, while there are sometimes exceptions to this principle (e.g., harms in self-defense), nonmaleﬁcence is generally acknowledged as a strict principle, with exceptions being very limited.For present purposes, it should be emphasized that scientiﬁc research is not typically regarded as a legitimate exception, and acceptable risk or harm in humansubjects research (particularly non-beneﬁcial research) is very limited.Over the past 100 years, scientiﬁc research using animals has expanded greatly in scope and complexity and now occupies a central place as an investigative tool in biomedicine.Animals are used in basic research to generate fundamental knowledge about biological processes; in preclinical research to test the safety, efﬁcacy, and quality of drugs, biologics, and medical devices; in toxicologic research to test the safety of industrial and consumer products; in research training and education; and in other areas.In practice, however, most utilitarian philosophers argue that the theory supports a strong principle of nonmaleﬁcence toward other humans (e.g., because following this principle as a rule tends to produce the most goodness over the long term).Depending on how we conceptualize animals’ moral standing, the principle of nonmaleﬁcence might not apply as strongly to animals as it does to humans.