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Animals in science: the justification issue.

At the heart of the wide-ranging and seemingly unending controversy over the use of animals in biomedical science, whether in basic or applied research, toxicity testing, drug production, or education, is one burning question: Are we humans ethically justified in such a use of animals, in general and in particular cases? How we individually or collectively answer this question no doubt finally depends on our moral worldview, including the judgment of the relative moral status of human beings and animals, discussed in the preceding section. However, the very fact that controversy continues to rage among the more extreme animal liberationists/rightists and human welfarists/scientific progressivists, with the "troubled middle" caught in-between, provides evidence for a plurality of "ultimate" or primary ethical values, goods, and responsibilities that are not easily commensurable.

In addressing the justification controversy, it is important to see precisely what is at issue. The central factors leading to conflict are the nature and methodological requirements of scientific inquiry, the human values of science, and the complex values accruing to animals and organic life, including the ethical responsibilities that these values engender. We are caught in a cross current of seemingly ultimate ethical values and obligations from which we do not easily escape. The Nature of Scientific Inquiry

Certain general features of biomedical science (understood here as the scientific study of organic life for both theoretical and practical reasons) require notice. Whatever be the most adequate theory of the scientific method-the so-called hypotheticodeductive method with its infusion of rational imagination-modern biomedical science is characterized by controlled experimentation for validation of scientific ideas, knowledge, and techniques. Moreover, biomedicine essentially involves an interdependence of various scientific disciplines and areas of inquiry for generations of important scientific knowledge and practical techniques. (11,19) This interdependence extends to the various "models" used in experimentation, whether mathematical, cellular, animal or human, in vivo or in vitro. (19,45) Animal experimentation and use, for whatever scientific purpose, do not exist in isolation from the rest of science. Science and biomedicine are a dynamic, complex, and temporal, if loose web of cultural activity, not an aggregate of discrete episodes of research and experimentation.

Another characteristic of scientific and biomedical inquiry is its overall tentative and "uncertain" character. (46) Scientific theories or experimental results are never finally complete, but are subject to revision in light of new evidence or novel theoretical imagination. There can never be a guarantee or certainty of the usefulness or importance of any one particular experiment, including those on animals. Finally, narrowly practical and useful biomedical knowledge in its overall genesis crucially depends on imaginative and explorative basic and non-clinically oriented research. (11) In short, scientific advance, perhaps inherently, is not a rationally tidy affair. Science is an ever-beginning and never-completed exploration, always requiring a confrontation with natural reality, including animal life, in the quest for ever more adequate scientific understanding. The Human Values of Science

These inherent features and requirements of science intimately interweave with its human and ethical values. Beyond the values of personal and professional gain to individual scientists and profits to corporations, a fundamental pragmatic value of biomedical inquiry to both humans and other animals exists: the relief of human and animal suffering and the enhancement of opportunities for individual activity and well-being. The relief of suffering particularly strikes us as an ultimate ethical imperative, underived from any more primary obligation. Despite the essential and positive role of pain in animal, including human life, taken by itself the relief of suffering is an intrinsic or inherent good, a fundamental response to our mortal and finite estate. "If possible, relieve suffering." The relief of human suffering in particular is a basic aim of biomedical inquiry and the central, if not sole, value behind the championing of the use of animals in science by human welfarists.

Biomedical inquiry also is constituted by the intrinsic human value and good of coming to know and knowledge itself. (46) This speaks for the intelligent actor in us. Knowing is a fundamental capacity and activity characteristic of human life, in which we are not the only ones who might have a stake. We are an integral part of animate nature and seemingly are life's most emphatic, if not only, opportunity to know, understand, and explicitly appreciate itself. Curiosity arises from our organic depths, and the thrill of a novel idea or discovery infuses our whole bodily being. "By nature," theoretical knowing also strikes us an ultimate ethical value and imperative, unconditioned by practical or utilitarian considerations. This is the ultimate value of the philosophically minded scientific progressivist.

Given the inherent nature of science as interdependent human activity, these practical and theoretical "virtues" together engender other important human values. Science is an ongoing adventure, requiring both intensely individual and cooperative efforts. Thus it has an inherently civilizing force, bringing people together for humanly noble reasons in a mixture of cooperation and competition that seems to mark vital, high civilization. This appears on local, national, and international levels arid involves more than the scientists themselves, that is, all those who directly or indirectly participate in "scientific culture." Whole peoples can come to glory in their science. This civilizing force of science also seems to be a primary human and ethical good. This is not to claim, however, that science presents no barbaric dangers; the cultural hegemony of science's view of the world and the threat of technologically rooted human and ecological disaster suggest otherwise.

In virtue of the ultimate values embedded in the practical and theoretical aspects of scientific inquiry, as well as the civilizing capacities of science, biomedical research is at bottom an ethical endeavor or enterprise. Given the ethical imperatives of scientific inquiry and the integral role of animals in biomedicine, this seems prima facie justification for the scientific use of animals, both for the practical benefits to human and animal life and for the theoretical reason that animal and biological life is an intensely interesting, perhaps ultimately significant feature of the reality we by nature strive to know. With these centrally important goods and ethical imperatives underlying scientific inquiry, what can be said against the use of animals in science? The Value of Animal and Organic Life

The problem undergirding this heated controversy is that the ultimate ethical goods of scientific inquiry are confronted and challenged by corresponding rival goods of animal life and organic reality and the ethical responsibilities they foster, which also seem ultimate and underived. Hence the specter of inescapable ethical conflict and controversy, which is especially acute since the biomedical, scientific good, both theoretical and practical, often can be pursued only by harming animals. This is the fate of our mortal and finite human condition.

Most obviously, the reality of animal life includes the undeniable fact of animal sentience and especially capacities for pain, distress, or suffering, difficult as these may be for us humans to judge. [See Section III.] The ethical injunction to relieve or minimize suffering ostensibly reaches beyond concern for humans to all sentient creatures. It is in the sentient animal's felt "interest" not to suffer, especially severely, and we are objectively or inescapably enjoined to take this interest into account. This is the overriding ethical value of animal liberationists, especially those of a utilitarian persuasion who take pain and suffering to have paramount significance. (40)

However, the mere avoidance of pain or suffering is decidedly not the only animal good. Natural capacities of organic, animal being and activity are played out on various levels: subjectivity and individuality, subjective preference and purposeful behavior, and interactions with animal others, including complex social relations. Individual animal actors by nature live in animal communities and/or larger ecosystems, necessarily interacting with many forms of biological life. Such living individuals and communities, in their mutual and concrete involvements, emphatically impress us as being a fundamental good, commanding ethical responsibility. We feel the ethical injunction, "Take care, here is something that matters." This is doubly so if we consider that all the multiform natural goodness of organic life, animal, human, and other, has arisen within, if not out of a dynamic and temporally vast evolutionary and ecological process, the spatio-temporal interconnections of things natural. In fact, "taking care" of the breath-taking fact of biological life, human and other, is characteristically experienced as our ultimate worldly responsibility. (14) The apparently intrinsic value of organic individuals grounds the claim of animal rightists that at least certain animals should be treated as ends and not as mere means to human and scientific purposes. (35)

Finally, and this leads to unavoidable dilemmas, it is precisely the experienced goodness of animate nature, emphatically expressed in organic individuality, purposive activity, and relatedness to animate others, that lends an ultimate dignity and value to scientific inquiry and theoretical knowing. It is a classic Greek insight that the object of knowledge must be intrinsically good for the knowing to be intrinsically worthy. The Inevitable Ethical Conflict

This confluence of knowing, the good, and the real inevitably puts biomedical scientists and those who support their research in a complex and difficult position. What scientists characteristically care about or revere, that is, animal and organic life, and what they often must harm in the pursuit of significant knowledge, are one and the same. Animal individuals and biological life are squarely in the cross currents of the biomedical scientists' complex ethical imperatives. To be ethically responsible, they must face several conflicting ethical ultimates or goods at once, none of which can command absolute allegiance. here must be the judicious promotion of both the scientific, human good and the worldly animal and biological good. Neither ought to be pursued at the serious undermining of the other. This requires a delicate, sensitive, and nuanced consideration of ethical responsibilities.

It is precisely this inherently conflicted situation that argues forcibly for the ethical scrutiny of particular uses of animals in biomedical science, whether experimentation, field research, testing, or education. The intention of this ethical inquiry is usually not a dramatic "all or nothing," a go-ahead or stop to animal use. Rather it seeks ways to carry out legitimate scientific investigation in a manner that best respects our ethical responsibilities to animals and biological life.

This "ethical use" of animals in science will not satisfy those who claim that ultimate ethical duties to animals and biological life in general "trump" ethical appeals to human welfare and the intrinsic value of knowledge. However, such judgment seemingly ignores a fundamental fact of natural reality: all forms of animal, including human life must by nature use other instances of organic life in order to be and to flourish. (14) This precarious worldly interaction and "capture of energy" is a fundamental law of metabolic existence. And, again, the rigors of metabolic existence and the ongoingly dynamic, competitive, and cooperative interconnections of living things seem to undergird the evolving natural and specific goodness of organic life. (Here "natural necessity" and ethics--the real, the good, and the obligations they engender--meet.) This is not the world for "noninterventionists" or those who would keep their hands clean from all harm. In fact, the overall dynamic and interdependent character of science, if not the human "polis" itself, seems but a provincial, yet significant modification of the wider organic and metabolic realm.

Thus as both scientific naturalists and ethical actors, biomedical researchers can appeal to the fundamental and ultimately good fact of metabolic existence, life using life, in the pursuit of a science that involves the use and harming of animals. But then the ball of ethical justification falls squarely into their court. They must convincingly show that their scientific practice is an ethically appropriate use of animals, involving a proper and adequate regard for the needs and interests of science, humans, and animals. The rigorous requirements of this justification have spawned their own controversies, for example, the questioning of the methodological merit of research protocols and their human or social value. However, without such considerations, human and scientific imperatives gain an ethical carte blanche. (17)

Several ethical dilemmas arising from the very nature and limitations of science are inescapable. For example, it has been forcibly argued that animal experimentation leads to important theoretical and practical results, benefiting both humans and animals." But it is also undeniable that many experiments lead nowhere, despite the animal suffering and loss of life. The difficulty is judging prospectively which particular experiments will lead to significant results and which will prove useless. Even with calculations of probability of success, how do we ethically face this "useless" use and harming of animals? There also are factors of serendipity, luck, or chance in biomedical inquiry, which defy rational calculation. Given the many uncertainties endemic to the generation of important scientific knowledge, what constitutes a judicious and ethically responsible use of animals? These dilemmas do not even approach the more radical charge of the "uselessness" of all animal research, that human and animal welfare, if not knowledge, are better served by means other than biomedical experimentation on animals, for example, by the change of destructive personal and social habits and preventive public health measures.

Further ethical problems surround the adequacy of animal models in gaining scientific knowledge serving human welfare. In toxicity testing on animals, how relevant are the experimental results to human lives? Even if they are only partially or inadequately relevant, what if no better alternatives are available? In addition, what are the differing human ends, both manifestly important (testing drugs for the treatment of AIDS) or relatively trivial (testing the safety of the latest shoe polish), served by toxicity testing? What difference should these ends make? For animal models presumably adequate to human beings, what ethical weight should be given to this very similarity, especially to those animals whose natural capacities approach our own? Should special ethical consideration be given to higher mammals that would halt potentially significant basic or applied research?

These are ethical questions that may yield no clear or definite answers, but that must be practically decided nevertheless. It is here that a nuanced "taking together" of different ethical obligations comes into play, in which we seek to reduce overall ethical costs and to gain a measured and judicious "proportionality" between "goods" and "evils." (16) Moral Ecology and Particular Scientific Uses of Animals

There can be no straightforward, unambiguous, and single ethical guideline for assessing each and every use of animals in science. In general, we may rank practical welfare concerns over theoretical curiosity, important communal over optional individual goals, and human over animal life. But the many different types, purposes, and contexts of animal use require different considerations, with perhaps a different relative regard for the ethical obligations involved. In laboratory research a chief concern might be the number of animals used and the pain, distress, or suffering of each individual animal. With research in the wild the primary concern could well be in minimizing interference with ecosystems, animal populations or social groupings, and individual behavior, or with slow-breeding or endangered species. With testing, the concern might be the importance of the experiment's goal or the usefulness of the animal as a scientific model. In education, the foremost concern might not only be with suffering and the number of animals used, but the competency of students to handle animals humanely, despite the educational and human significance of interacting with live animals.

In short, each use of animals in science will have its own particular "moral ecology," its own interplay of ethical values and obligations. The appropriateness of the use is to be decided within this particular constellation of ethical factors. The "ought to do" comes at the end of the particular deliberation and arguably should not be decided beforehand a priori. Nevertheless, each judgment should be guided by the same general goal: the promotion of the overall good (human, animal, and organic) at the least or ethically tolerable overall cost. The underlying assumption is that the human, animal, and organic good ought not to be pursued independently of each other. Finally the human good should exist and flourish only within the wider animal and organic good, since all living beings are inextricably linked together within a single evolutionary and ecological context.

With this general "ecological" premise, we can look briefly at specific factors that characteristically have to be "ecologically" considered in the ethical justification of a particular animal use, including the importance of the scientific end, the ethically appropriate means to the end, the competency of those carrying out the project, and the ethical cost to animals in terms of number and kind of animals used and the pain, distress, or suffering undergone. This mixture of scientific and animal issues is similar in kind to issues that IACUCs are mandated under federal law to address in reviewing research protocols. (See also Section IV.)

The end or goal of animal use. The proposed goals for the use of animals in science vary from the humanly most important and compelling to the undeniably trivial. These include the use of animals in research to combat devastating diseases or to explore major theoretical advances, in the production of vaccines and drugs, in toxicity testing, in various levels of education, including high school fairs, and more. Here "moral ecology" and the test of "proportionality" begin to come into play on several levels. First, assuming the prima facie validity of the end, are the number or kind of animals used, or the animal suffering involved, proportionate to the importance of the goal? On a broader level, what would be the probable cost to the human, animal, and scientific good, relative to the ethical cost of the animals involved, if the use were forgone, as for example, in cosmetic testing or education? Causing death or significant suffering for trivial reasons seems straightforwardly or intrinsically wrong. Yet there are always "all things to consider," and toxicity testing for cosmetics and everyday household goods aims to obviate or alleviate foreseeable human harm. The ethical pressure here is to reduce ethical costs while upholding the human good; that is, to find alternatives to animal testing that cause significant suffering.

There are other "ends" issues as well, particularly the clash of scientific with other ethically desirable ends. For example, what if highly interesting and potentially significant research in the wild threatens the stability of animal populations, the local ecosystem, or the survival of a species, pitting the scientific good against the organic good? Seemingly, we ought to disallow the research in absence of an overwhelming welfare justification. The idea of scientists at once studying and destroying an object that is an irreplaceable natural good goes beyond the proportions of reason. This issue pointedly arises with the use of chimpanzees, or any other endangered species, in biomedicine. Does such use threaten their extinction? From a "morally ecological" perspective, which includes the human, animal, and organic good together, what "good reasons" could justify this?

The "clash of ends" reaches into the heart of human morality itself. Are there experiments, no matter how worthy the theoretical or practical ends, that are simply inadmissible due to the decided violation of our moral sensibilities, not to mention the extreme harm done to the animals? What of experiments involving intense and extended animal suffering and the destruction of an animal's vital, individual integrity, as long-term isolation or restraint of primates. Can proportional, morally justifying reasons sometimes be given even here.;

Scientific merit. The goal of animal use spills over into review of the scientific merit of the use. Two distinct issues are involved, both controversial. (17) The first is the scientific, human, and social significance of the proposed use that, at least in the case of research protocols, is difficult to assess due to the uncertainties and unpredictable course of scientific advances. The second is the methodological merit of the research proposal, how carefully crafted and likely to yield the data required the protocol design is. Whether IACUC members or not, only scientific "peers," those knowledgeable in the particular field, can make the latter assessment.

It has been argued that no one can judge with certainty the "moral worth" of a research protocol and that IACUCs are ill-equipped to judge methodological merit. While this may be true, the ethical demands remain: There can be no good use of animals without good science. Researchers ought to be able to give a persuasive account of the probable or possible scientific, human, and social worth of their projects, especially how the projects might fit into the wider web of science. Similarly, methodological merit ought to be reviewed at some point, usually in the funding process, and IACUCs have the duty to question, if not evaluate this merit. Otherwise science is reduced to an arational and amoral affair, which undercuts its own integrity as a rational and ethical enterprise. Science cannot be ruled by "Lord Chance."

The proportionality of animal use to scientific goals. "Proportionality" bears upon both degrees of animal suffering and levels of animal capacities. Even moderate levels of unrelieved suffering must be ethically countered by an arguably important scientific goal and a well-designed protocol. The more acute the suffering, the more important the goal and the tighter the design, until we reach moral repugnance and the possible "beyond the pale" experiment. Similarly there is a certain and varying significance to animals arising from their natural capacities and active life within the world. It is ethically inappropriate to put the more capacitated animals in untrained hands for scientifically trivial reasons. This is especially true in education. On the other hand, it emphatically serves the overall good to introduce students of all ages to the concrete reality and significance of the many levels of animal life. The respect for animal significance particularly calls for close attention to the ethically appropriate use of higher mammals, especially primates. Each use should honor their capacities as much as possible, with minimal interference in their characteristic habits.

The necessity for using animals. Is the use of animal, sentient life, with its attendant harms in suffering and death, necessary to achieve the particular scientific goal? Underlying this question is the possible replacement of a proposed use of animals by other means of research, e.g., computer models and cell cultures. If scientifically practical, this seems an unambiguous ethical good. But there is heated argument over how extensively scientists could use these "alternatives" without compromising legitimate goals and how much effort should be deployed in their discovery. (Computer models, for example, are only as good as our understanding of the organisms they model.) Where present animal models are only moderately useful, as in certain toxicity testing, a call for non-animal alternatives should be more insistent. On the other hand, an appropriate use of animals in basic and applied research and education may be integral to some scientific inquiries and compatible with the fundamental values of theoretical knowing and an appreciative first-hand acquaintance with animal reality.

The training of researchers and laboratory technicians; animal husbandry. The most important scientific goals and well-designed protocols are worthless if those who handle the animals are improperly trained or unskilled. Professional bungling and inadequacy of animal care, with ensuing animal distress, can skew experimental data and render the particular research useless. Attention to the training of researchers and others involved with laboratory animals should be a primary concern of LACUCs. Similarly, the proper use and care of animals ought to be a primary goal of biomedical education and, in its own use of animals, integral to its ethical justification.

The justification of animal use, especially in laboratory research and testing, requires attention as well to the laboratory care facilities, which have a decided effect on animal well-being. Good animal care (unstressed animals), good protocol design, and good scientific data go hand in hand,

Animal numbers, suffering, and interests. Consideration and overview of the use, well-being, and suffering of animals is the fundamental charge and ethical raison d'etre of IACUCs. (16) Beside guarding against unnecessary duplications of animal experimentation, IACUCs must be especially sensitive to particular projects that overuse animals or cause unnecessary suffering. These are difficult, yet vital tasks. Judgments of the statistically appropriate number of animals for a given protocol often requires highly sophisticated and technical understanding, and the appreciation and recognition of animal suffering is a complex skill. Nevertheless, IACUCs characteristically work under rough minimization principles. They look for the use of the least harmed species (the extent of suffering and interference with natural capacities), the least possible suffering, and the least number of animals commensurate with achieving the project's scientific goals. This is the ideal "proportionality" of ethical costs to the overall human and animal good in the project's moral ecology. In experiments causing significant animal distress, this includes special attention to the "endpoint" of the experiment and whether this needs to be death.

The final ethical decision. The mere asking of the right questions and demanding full or detailed answers goes a long way toward promoting ethical science. But not the whole way. The final problem of assessing the strength of the many ethical obligations vis-a-vis one another, the heart of overall "proportionality," remains. How much weight does each obligation carry? For this there is no overarching theory, but the ongoing need for broadly sensitive, educated judgment.

There are specific aids in making final ethical judgments. The primary aid is a well-crafted protocol review form, which asks specific questions about the scientific and social purpose and justification of the research; the justification for the species and number of animals used; the degree of suffering expected and how this will be dealt with in terms of anesthesia or analgesics; the end-point of the experiment and the method of euthanasia; the qualifications of those persons responsible for the animals' care and the training of these professionals; and explicit discussion and justification of any departures from standard practices of laboratory care, relief of suffering, or euthanasia.

Beyond this, several general schemes or guidelines have been proposed to draw attention to the ethical use of animals and the reduction of use and suffering, such as Russell and Burch's "alternatives" to animal use, the three "Rs": replacement, substitution of insentient material for conscious living animals; reduction in the number of animals used to gain information of a given amount and precision; and refinement, decrease in the incidence or severity of inhumane procedures applied to animals still used. (38) The Scientists Center for Animal Welfare offers a categorization and ranking of degrees of harm suffering) to animals in relation to experimental procedures employed. This is meant to aid researchers and IACUCs in determining the relative need for moral scrutiny of protocols, including the identification of experiments that are inadmissible due to the suffering inflicted. (30) Patrick Bateson has fashioned a "decision cube" that plots the scientific quality of biomedical protocols against the probability of generating medically important results against the degree of animal suffering. (3) The cube allows discrimination between protocols that should, and should not, be allowed to go forward.

All these tools, in a schematic way, are based on various rankings or weights, whether of animal harm, protocol design, or human and scientific purpose. (1) The general aim is to gauge the ethical cost and legitimacy of a particular animal use. Unstressful uses of animals require less significant moral and less strict scientific justification. As animal stress in research increases, so do the demands for moral justification, rigorous science, and significant results. Certain of the schemes hold that there is a point beyond which it is ethically inadmissible to go.

At best these are only aids in final decision-making; areas of science that use animals for different reasons, e.g., research in the wild and various levels of formal education, may have different harms and goods to rank- Thus it may be useful for the several areas of biomedical science to draw up their own list of central questions to ask in examining their use of animals. Nevertheless, the final ethical assessment of any particular situation or concrete "moral ecology" is going to be individually or collaboratively human, depending on a final, if tentative vision of the good and the bad, of animals and ourselves. There is no finished science of anything, especially morality. Our fundamental moral persuasions and responsibilities run deeper than our knowledge. -Strachan Donnelley, in collaboration with Rebecca Dresser, John Kleinig, and Rivers Singleton.
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Title Annotation:Animals, Science, and Ethics; section 2
Author:Donnelley, Strachan
Publication:The Hastings Center Report
Date:May 1, 1990
Words:4719
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