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.
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.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.At present, a robust literature on animal ethics exists, with at least 1,500 books having been published and multiple journals specializing in this area (Akhtar 2012).This essay will provide an overview of animal research ethics, with an eye toward the global context.Thus the moral legitimacy of harmful animal research cannot simply be taken for granted: if harms to animals are thought to be more permissible than harms to humans, some compelling reason(s) must be provided to substantiate this judgment.De Grazia (2002) has helpfully delineated three categories of harm to animals that apply across many types of animal use, including research.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.A review of published statistics indicates that much important information about the nature of animal use in research is unavailable, and this itself is a signiﬁcant ethical problem.