The cures and technologies we have obtained from animal experimentation has been undeniably beneficial to human life. From eliminating life-threatening diseases to less observable quality of life enhancements, we have gained a lot from those experiments. However, this doesn’t make that experimentation inherently ethical, nor the means utilized in any way justifiable.
The University of Washington has one of the nation’s most prominent animal labs, located underground on its Seattle campus. At this facility, they conduct research experiments on many creatures, including mice, rabbits, dogs and monkeys. I visited the lab and went on a tour of the premises.
Scientists have to undergo rigorous bureaucratic processes to justify experimenting on any specific animal. They cannot haphazardly select an animal and decide to randomly experiment on it. There are strict rules they must abide by.
They, like many supporters of animal experimentation, cite the preeminent position humans hold — one of preference and moral superiority — in order to justify experimenting on animals.
This is almost a textbook definition of anthropocentrism — believing humans as paramount or exceptional amidst the natural world. While anthropocentrism lies at the heart of nearly all political ideologies and the majority of Western philosophies, it isn’t an innately true doctrine. It alone cannot necessarily sustain the entire justification for mass experimentation.
At UW, hundreds of thousands of animals either die during experiments, or are euthanized after completing those experiments. While few people would argue that the life of a single animal is equivalent to the life of a human, what about the lives of around 500,000 mice? Those mice don’t die for the sake of one human, but in the hopes that a cure for a disease plaguing many humans can be discovered.
Even if we — as a society — can ethically justify that exchange of lives, the methods used still need to be examined and questioned. The methods have improved dramatically over the past hundred years, but animals are still subjected to immense levels of stress. Not only is this a problem in the ethical sense, but also in a pragmatic one. When animals are under that much stress, they don’t produce as useful or accurate results.
At face value, cramming as many mice into a room as possible may seem to make the most sense. You are able to perform more experiments on more test subjects in less time. However, since the integrity of those tests is affected by those high stress levels, it might not be ideal.
More funding should be used to make the lives of test animals as natural as possible. Then, the results of experimentation will be more reliable, the animals will live less stressful lives and fewer animals will end up dying in our pursuit for cures.
I may not be condemning all animal experimentation while ignoring the benefits it has provided, nor am I suggesting that I endorse it. Some may call it a necessary evil. Regardless, it needs to continue progressing towards a direction of less suffering.