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The Ethics of Animal Experimentation -Katherine and Jessica

calvinhobbes_ethicsWe live in a society which prides itself for being modern, sophisticated, and cultured. A society hoping to fight corruption within systems, a society boasting cutting-edge research, a society living with justice and cohesive ethics. While many of us could agree with this, many others would disagree due to the way our society deals with different ethical dilemmas, especially regarding the controversy of animal experimentation. Before we discuss the philosophical ideologies applicable to this problem, let us define animal experimentation, and look at some concrete pros and cons it brings to society.

Animal experimentation is defined as “the use of non-human animals in research and development projects, especially for purposes of determining the safety of substances such as cosmetics and drugs”, thus we find two distinct purposes for animal testing: developing cosmetics and drugs. Cosmetic animal testing is used to determine the toxicity, appropriate dosage, and safety of an ingredient before it is put into product. There are many types of tests cosmetic companies run to determine the safety of an ingredient, such as the infamous Draize test, where a substance is applied to the eye of a restrained rabbit and reactions are monitored for up to three weeks. John H. Draize, Ph.D., the scientist who invented to Draize test, also developed a skin irritancy test in which high concentrations of test substances are applied to a rabbit’s shaved skin and reactions are observed. The rabbits are then disposed of after the experiment. Most cosmetic animal tests are a variation of Draize’s tests, and bring about both pros and cons to society, which we can evaluate with the different philosophical ideologies we discussed in class.

So what are the pros of animal experimentation for cosmetic purposes? From reflecting over what we have learned so far, it appears to only satisfy a lower form of utilitarianism. Cosmetic products make people “happy”. Mascara, eyeliner, eyeshadow, primer, foundation, and blush bring many an unyielding confidence and happiness from being perceived as aesthetically beautiful. Soaps, shower gels, lotions, perfumes, and cleansers allow people to (literally) feel pleasant, and bring them comfort and satisfaction as well. Utilitarians would argue that this happiness does bring about the good of “happiness”, as happiness from cosmetics is generally perceived as selfish, and so it satisfies only the lower level of utilitarian ethics. Contrasting, Kantian ethics would deem cosmetic animal testing as unethical, seeing that this type of animal experimentation is done only for self-interest. In order for it to be considered moral by Kantian ethics, we must be testing on animals due to a moral duty we have which rationalizes the action of subjecting them to inhumane trials and think; would this maxim be good if made into a universal law? The maxim in which we justify cosmetic animal testing can be phrased into a syllogism:

Cosmetics are tested on animals

Cosmetics make humans happy

Cosmetic testing makes humans happy.

Would this maxim of “doing what makes us happy” bring about good if implemented as a universal law? Simply, no. Some people find happiness in killing others. Some find happiness in wealth, and sell their souls to corruption in order to pursue their desire. Some find happiness in being aesthetically beautiful, and this happiness is often brought about by products which have been tested on animals. So we see that this maxim of “doing what makes us happy” cannot bring about only good if made into a universal law, and thus is considered immoral by Kantian ethics.


Now moving onto animal experimentation for medical research and drug development. Animal testing for medical research and drug development has been used by researchers for many centuries. A few highlights of medical discoveries from animal testing:

1600’s: William Harvey dissected animals to observe how blood flowed through the body. This resulted in the discovery of the circulatory system and how the heart pumped blood throughout the body.

Early 1900’s: Louis Pasteur proved the germ theory (that germs attack the body from the outside and cause diseases) to be true by infecting sheep with anthrax. He went on to discover how diseases were caused and the developed vaccinations for these diseases.

1920’s: Frederick Banting experimented on dogs to find the role the pancreas played in producing insulin, discovering a way to treat diabetes.

1950’s: Researchers and scientists injected streptomycin into guinea pigs diseased with tuberculosis, proving the capability of antibiotics to stop and reverse disease.

1960’s: Albert Sabin infected numerous animals to be living hosts of Polio, creating a living vaccine to inject into humans.

1960’s: Albert Starr pioneered heart valve replacement surgery by learning and practising on animals. The discovery of heart valve replacement surgery. No longer was a full heart transplant needed if someone had a diseased heart, technology could now replace unhealthy heart valves.

Mill’s utilitarian ethics would agree to medical animal experimentation, as we see an exponentially greater amount of “good” brought into the world from the harms we committed in order to bring about that good. Animal testing for medical research and drug development also satisfies a higher level of utilitarianism. The “good” (of progression in medical research), brought about by the “harm” (of testing on animals) is being created for an altruistic reason; to benefit and improve the health of all human lives. In contrast to cosmetic animal testing whose purpose is to satisfy debateably superficial wants, scientific animal testing is being used to grant people a higher quality of life.

Something we’re unsure about is where Kantian ethics lies on this issue. We’ve come up with two possible maxims to be conceived as universal law which would label scientific animal experimentation as either moral or immoral:

Moral: I am testing on animals to decrease the amount of human physical suffering in this world. So, would I want to live in a world where everyone worked to decrease the physical suffering of humans? Yes. Therefore, testing on animals is ethical.

Immoral: I am subjecting a living being to inhumane circumstances for the benefit of another living being. So, would I want to live in a world where every being could torture another being for the benefit of another? No. Therefore testing on animals is unethical.

The large difference between the two maxims is that they differ on how they view the rights of non-human persons. If we value them less then humans, then yes, it’s ethical. If we grant them the same rights as humans – such as the right to security of person – then no, torturing an animal is completely inhumane and unethical.

So we ask you: does with rights come responsibility? And if so, what responsibilities are animals fulfilling which grant them this right to security of their being?




  1. Pingback: Katherine 2013 | Philosophy 12 - January 20, 2014

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