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The use of animal experiments has been a long-held controversy in our society, one that continues to inspire activists, protests, and non-government organizations. However, this controversy is extremely complex. The use of animal experiments has significantly advanced our society for decades. They have advanced scientific knowledge, human and veterinary medicine, and the safety of chemical products (Nuffield summary XVIII). However, this research can come at a great cost to the animal’s welfare and life. Although there are ethical issues with animal experimenting, the state should allow such experiments to be conducted as long as they are closely regulated and follow three basic concepts: refinement (experiments should be designed in a way to limit the amount of harm caused to animals), replacement (alternative research methods should replace animal experiments wherever possible), and reduction (a strict process of approval for animal experiments will reduce the number of experiments conducted). These three tenants of ethical research form the basis of the recommendations made by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics in the United Kingdom (Nuffield guide 3).
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Animal experiments should be allowed to continue as they have tremendously improved our society, in terms of the progress of human and veterinary medicine and the safety of chemical products (Nuffield consensus 1). An example of this is the discovery of treatments for rheumatoid arthritis, polio, and hepatitis C which were all achieved due to animal experiments (Nuffield guide 3). Banting and Best discovered insulin as a result of animal testing, by demonstrating that insulin could treat diabetes in dogs and rabbits (Hills 215). This discovery alone saved millions of human lives. However, animal experiments are not justified simply because they produce benefits, especially when the benefits are not guaranteed and the costs, in terms of harm to animals, are typically immediate and may result in death (Degrazia 692). One of the most significant parts of Canada’s policy on animal experiments should be refinement. The experiment should be refined so as to limit the amount of discomfort and harm to the animals. This includes, but is not limited to, the experimental procedures as well as breeding, transportation, housing, and handling (Nuffield sum XXIII). Although animal experiments are necessary, it is not morally acceptable to cause more pain or discomfort to an animal than absolutely necessary. There are many ways to assess the amount of discomfort or pain that an animal is feeling, and although it cannot be as accurately measured as humans, there are still valid measurements. As mentioned in the report published by Nuffield Council on Bioethics, The Ethics of Research Involving Animals, animals have different abilities to sense discomfort and pain. Therefore, the Nuffield Council identified five morally relevant features of animals’ characteristics, which will help identify their capacity to feel harm or discomfort. The five features include sentience, higher cognitive capacities, the capacity to flourish, sociability, and possession of life (Nuffield guide 5). As stated in the Nuffield report, “Observations of animal behaviour and evaluation of signs of distress, such as increased levels of specific hormones or weight loss, combined with an awareness of species-specific needs and a critical use of empathy, can lead to useful assessment of animals’ wellbeing” (Nuffield guide 2). This shows that we can approximately address and then limit the amount of distress caused to an animal.
An objection which may arise in refinement is that it is impossible to reduce the amount of harm caused to animals as almost all experiments cause discomfort and lead to the animal’s death. It is brought up by Jonathan Wolff, in his book Ethics and Public Policy A Philosophical Inquiry, that just about any creature with a nervous system is capable of suffering (Wolff 17). He goes on with further discussion that “it would be inhumanely callous simply to ignore the fact that a creature can feel pain, even if we find reasons to justify experimenting on it.” (Wolff 20-21). Therefore, it is unreasonable to assume the state can limit the amount of harm caused to an animal during testing.
This is where the state must make a cost-benefit analysis. If the research is in fact necessary for society, such as finding a cure for cancer, and there is no possible alternative method of research, then it is for the greater good to harm a few animals than deprive society of an important medical advancement, such as insulin. As Alison Hills states in her book Do Animals Have Rights? “We ought not to make animals suffer unnecessarily, but the benefits of scientific research can be considerable, and can warrant experimenting on animals.” (Hills 216). Canada’s policy should agree and allow animal experiments to be conducted, even at the cost of harming animals, so long as animal welfare regulations are enforced. Even if the experiment leads to the animal’s death, it is still possible to reduce the amount of trauma caused to the animals. For example, researchers should use specially bred animals for experiments instead of animals brought from the wild as they suffer severe trauma when they’re captured and kept in captivity (Hills 217). The state could also require scientists to use anaesthetics on animals when possible, minimizing the amount of pain for the animal.
It is important that experimenters look for other methods of research before resorting to animals. This concept, known as replacement, should be a vital part of the state’s policy on animal experiments. With new technological innovations it has become easier than ever before for experimenters to find alternative methods of research that are not ethically controversial. According to On The Ethics of Animal Research by David Degrazia, these alternatives can come in two forms; incomplete or complete. “Complete replacements use no animal-derived materials. Examples include mathematical and computer modelling studies of biological processes, predictions based on chemical properties of molecules, analyses of epidemiological data, research on human cell or tissue cultures, and studies directly involving human volunteers.” (Degrazia 693). Incomplete replacements use some animal-derived materials such as cell or tissue cultures, or even insentient animals like insects (Degrazia 693). An example of when a complete replacement is practical is the thousands of frogs being dissected in high schools across North America, for the sake of learning biology. These dissections have led to frogs now being an endangered species in the United States. These experiments are not a necessity for our society as they can be replaced by computer simulations or simply reading the textbook and therefore come at a greater cost than benefit (Hills 208).
An objection to the replacement of animal experiments is that there are no adequate alternatives to testing on animals as living beings have very complex biological systems. This is even addressed in the Nuffield report, stating the majority of researchers agree “animal research will remain an essential part of their work.” (consensus 4). This is proven through the discoveries of many treatments and cures of diseases, such as AIDS and diabetes (Hill 215).
It is obvious that animal experiments have helped society improve over recent decades, and that is why the state should continue to allow animal experiments. However, that does not mean alternative research methods cannot be sought out. Human beings and non-human animals are actually quite different biologically and physiologically. Therefore, in some cases, alternative research, such as computerized models, may be more beneficial to society than animal experiments. An example of this was when scientists were testing the drug thalidomide on animals, which showed no side effects, but when taken by pregnant women, caused serious birth defects (Hill 214). There are also numerous other drugs which show no effect on animals but have drastic effects on humans, such as aspirin and carbenoxolone (Hill 214). This questions the extent to which animal experiments are beneficial to society, and whether alternatives may actually be more useful.
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Finally, the third part of Canada’s policy on animal experiments should be reduction. It should be in the state and society’s interest to reduce the number of animals used per experiment, as well as the number of animal experiments as a whole. Then, if there are no alternatives available and an animal experiment must be used, researchers should still be obligated to seek licensing and approval for their experiment to be conducted. For example, animal research should only be conducted for applied research, not basic research. Basic research is conducted simply for the sake of the researcher gaining more basic knowledge on a subject and applied research seeks knowledge with a purpose, such as designing a cure for a disease (Degrazia 690). Therefore, animal experiments should be reduced to only research with a set purpose to which its benefits outweigh its costs. The state should also impose longer and more in-depth approval processes for animal experiments, making the experimenter seek alternatives when possible and also debate the importance of his or her research. For example one of the UK’s regulations is that the experimenters must be licensed before conducting animal testing, and “The more serious the suffering of the animal, the more significant and worthier the outcome of the experiment must be if it is to go ahead.” (Hill 202). The experiment must also have no alternatives that cause less or no suffering to animals (Hill 202). This will make researchers question if their research is worth the lengthy and costly process of approval. It will also ensure no experiments are duplicated and that the suffering of animals is not repeated. Then, if the experimenter obtains a license, there will be strict guidelines that must be followed when treating the animal. Again, like the United Kingdom, Canada should require animal experiments to be monitored by qualified inspectors (Hill 202). This would emphasize the importance of treating the animals as humanely as possible.
Some may object to stricter regulations and longer licensing as it restricts researchers’ abilities to produce medical improvements and wastes their time. If animal experiments are allowed because they are an aid to society’s improvement, then such improvements should not be restricted. Why create obstacles for researchers who are simply aiding our society? If such obstacles were in place when Banting and Best searched for the treatment of diabetes, it is possible insulin would not have been invented and millions of lives would have suffered (Hills 215).
Although regulations may seem as a burden for experimenters, they should be vital in the state’s laws regarding animal experiments as they reduce the number of animals being used and harmed. According to Degrazia, 50 to 100 million animals are involved in experiments annually (Degrazia 689). With so many animal lives at stake the regulations are well deserved. The regulations also do not inhibit the researchers’ ability to conduct their experiment, as long as the experiment is reasonable, follows guidelines, and is a benefit to society, the experiment will receive permission by the state to continue. These regulations simply ensure that the benefit of the experiment outweighs the cost of the animal’s harm, or even life. The regulations also allow the state to ensure no experiments get duplicated, therefore saving the researcher an extensive amount of time from conducting an experiment which has already been done.
In conclusion, our society greatly benefits from the use of animal experiments and Canada should continue to permit such experiment to be conducted. However, the state’s policy on animal experiments must be clear and exhaustive, ensuring the three R’s, refinement, replacement, and reduction, are strictly followed. This will ensure that all animal experiments are conducted in the most ethical manner possible and are only done when absolutely necessary.
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