Journal of Applied Philosophy 1995; 12(1): 13-25
Biomedical experimentation on animals is justified, researchers say, because of its enormous benefits to human beings. Sure, animals suffer and die, but that is morally insignificant since the benefits of research incalculably outweigh the evils. Although this utilitarian claim appears straightforward and relatively uncontroversial, it is neither straightforward nor uncontroversial. This defence of animal experimentation is likely to succeed only by rejecting three widely held moral presumptions. We identify these assumptions and explain their relevance to the justification of animal experimentation. We argue that, even if non-human animals have considerably less moral worth than humans, experimentation is justified only if the benefits are overwhelming. By building on and expanding on arguments offered in earlier papers, we show that researchers cannot substantiate their claims on behalf of animal research. We conclude that there is currently no acceptable utilitarian defence of animal experimentation. Moreover, it is unlikely that there could be one. Since most apologists of animal experimentation rely on utilitarian justifications of their practice, it appears that biomedical experimentation on animals is not morally justified.