The ethics of animal research: a survey of the public and scientists in North America

BMC Medical Ethics 17 (1):1-12 (2016)


BackgroundTo determine whether the public and scientists consider common arguments in support of animal research convincing.MethodsAfter validation, the survey was sent to samples of public, Amazon Mechanical Turk, a Canadian city festival and children’s hospital), medical students, and scientists. We presented questions about common arguments to justify the moral permissibility of AR. Responses were compared using Chi-square with Bonferonni correction.ResultsThere were 1220 public [SSI, n = 586; AMT, n = 439; Festival, n = 195; Hospital n = 107], 194/331 medical student, and 19/319 scientist [too few to report] responses. Most public respondents were <45 years, had some College/University education, and had never done AR. Most public and medical student respondents considered ‘benefits arguments’ sufficient to justify AR; however, most acknowledged that counterarguments suggesting alternative research methods may be available, or that it is unclear why the same ‘benefits arguments’ do not apply to using humans in research, significantly weakened ‘benefits arguments’. Almost all were not convinced of the moral permissibility of AR by ‘characteristics of non-human-animals arguments’, including that non-human-animals are not sentient, or are property. Most were not convinced of the moral permissibility of AR by ‘human exceptionalism’ arguments, including that humans have more advanced mental abilities, are of a special ‘kind’, can enter social contracts, or face a ‘lifeboat situation’. Counterarguments explained much of this, including that not all humans have these more advanced abilities [‘argument from species overlap’], and that the notion of ‘kind’ is arbitrary [e.g., why are we not of the ‘kind’ ‘sentient-animal’ or ‘subject-of-a-life’?]. Medical students were more supportive of AR at the end of the survey.ConclusionsResponses suggest that support for AR may not be based on cogent philosophical rationales, and more open debate is warranted.

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Nathan Nobis
Morehouse College

References found in this work

Are Animal Models Predictive for Humans?Niall Shanks, Ray Greek & Jean Greek - 2009 - Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine 4:2.
Contractarianism and Animal Rights.Mark Rowlands - 1997 - Journal of Applied Philosophy 14 (3):235–247.
The Flaws and Human Harms of Animal Experimentation.Aysha Akhtar - 2015 - Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 24 (4):407-419.

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