Should Animal Testing be banned? An Ethical Exploration Essay

One of the most debated topics in modern animal right discourses is whether animals should be used for scientific test or not. There is always a group of scholars and common people who are dead against the animal test. On the other hand, considerate people opine that animals can be used in scientific experiments, if such experiments are meant for the betterment of humanity and animal kingdom. Some of those who are against animal-testing argue that those animals which possess consciousness and a certain level of rational capability should have the right not to be used for scientific experiment. Another group argues that the criterion of having rationality and consciousness should not be the sole basis against animal-testing; rather the fact that every animal suffers from pain is strong enough to ban animal-testing. Obviously, this contra-animal-testing group fails to perceive that a firm and steadfast opposition against animal-test is as harmful as the view of ‘animal as thing’ is. For example, whereas a scientific experiment on animal could save thousands of man and animals lives, ban on animal-testing may destroy the possibility of living a healthy and disease free life. Therefore, though animals have the rights to live a pain-free life, such rights can be repealed for the sake of the humanity’s betterment. Moreover, any ethical perspective on animal-rights must include human’s interest in animal. Otherwise, any attempt to view animals as self-independent beings and detached from humanity must fail to bring about good for humankind as well as animal.

Utilitarian Arguments for Animal-testing and Animal Right Perspectives

The origin of the arguments for animal-testing can be traced in Biblical affirmation. The “Book of Genesis” asserts that Man has a divine right over the animal kingdom. It says that man’s dominion over the animal kingdom is divine, as the “Book of Genesis” says that God has given Adam dominion over “the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” (Francione, 1996, p. 45) Such biblical evidence necessarily infers that man can use animals for his own happiness and comfort. Therefore, if animal-testing can bring something good to humankind, then it is thoroughly permissible. Indeed, the utilitarian perspective seems to dominate the pro-animal-test arguments. The pro-animal-test debaters argue that animals can serve as good specimens for medical experiments. Even some animals such as rats, dogs, frogs and many others are efficient replicas of man’s genealogical and biological functions. So, scientific tests on animals can effectively foretell the prospect of expected results of any medical theories, propositions and hypothesis. Therefore, a single animal-test can enormously contribute to the development of medical knowledge. In cases, it can save thousands of men and animals’ lives. Furthermore, a nepotistic prioritization seems to provide the basis for animal-test. A pro-animal-testing debater argues that if the sacrifice of one animal’s life on a scientist’s table can save many men’s lives, then humankind should not keep away from enjoying the opportunity to use animals for man’s sake.

Animal’s Sentience, Ability to Feel Pain and Ethical Basis of Arguments for Animal-testing

Debates on animal experimentation often focus on the capability of animals to be sentient and to feel pain as proofs of their rights whether to be or not to be slain on the scientist’s table. Though animal’s ability to feel pain is an anonymously acknowledged matter of fact, their sentience is often disputed. Referring to Descartes’ claim that the animals do not have consciousness, the pro animal-test debaters argue that animals should not possess any right which can protect them from going to the scientists’ lab. Echoing Descartes’ view, lawyer Steven M. Wise claims that animals should not have right because “it lacks that quality of mind that matters for legal rights. They’re not aware that they, or anyone else, exist. . . . Entitlement to legal rights rests upon the existence of conscious states.” (Taylor, 2009, p. 62)

Regarding animals’ ability to feel, the debaters depend on a utilitarian perspective in order to continue their support for animal experimentation. They argue that animals should be allowed to die for a greater purpose, as it is the duty of a soldier to die for his or her country. Even though a soldier knows that going to war may violate his right to live a suffering free life, he must fulfill his duty. But in an animal’s case, since it does not have the power of reasoning and ability of taking decision, it is man’s duty to send it to the scientist’s lab for the sake of the greater interest.

But also regarding the humanitarian issues of animal experimentation, the pro-experiment group argues that the humanitarian role of animal experimentation is inevitable. Therefore, scientists should find effective alternatives of animal experimentation. Also they should focus on reducing the pain and suffering of the animals in experimentation. But if they are left with no other choice, they can continue experimentation as required.

Humanitarian Issues of Animal Experimentation

Apart from the moral, ethical and sacramental debates on the validity of animal-testing, a pure humanitarian view seems to dominate the animal-right discourses. An animal specimen may face both painful and silent death. A painful death from a lethal chemical injection or a microbial contagion may evoke an unaccustomed observer’s protest against animal experimentation. An online visitor’s reaction to cosmetic experiment on guinea pigs is as following:

Do you really want a poor innocent animal that has been smuggled to be tortured, cut open many times, then sewn back together just so your blush would fit your skin tone? Looking good is important, especially for women and young adults. However, we can test the cosmetics or any other medicine on something else. (“Should animal testing be banned?” N.D., pars. 5)

Indeed, humanly compassion and empathy for the sufferer dominate the humanitarian of animal experimentation. Richard D. Ryder notes that the first-known legislative protection of animal from pain was enforced by the Irish parliament in 1635 (Ryder, 2000, p. 49). The main drive behind the legislation of the law was people’s humanitarian protest against “the cruelty used to beasts.” (Nash, 1989, p. 34) Such humanitarianism is also expressed in another law passed by the local parliament in Massachusetts State in 1641: “No man shall exercise any Tyranny or Cruelties toward any brute Creature which are usually kept for man’s use.” (Nash, 1989, p. 19) Opposing Descartes’ attempt to nullify animal rights on the basis that they do not possess any consciousness or rational faculty, philosopher John Locke claims that brutality to animals rather destroys man’s humanity, as he says, “For the custom of tormenting and killing of beasts will, by degrees, harden their minds even towards men.” (Locke, 1693, p. 23)

Humanitarianism further tends to determine animal-right issues in scientific experiments on the ground that animals are able to suffer. Since animals like any other human being suffers from pains, natural laws as well as natural rights should be extended to them. In this regard, Jeremy Bentham argues that if rationality or sentience is taken into consideration as the basis of an animal’s right to live a pain-free life, then human child as well as mentally retards will be deprived of the natural rights to live a pain-free life, as Jeremy Bentham (1789) says:

But a full-grown horse or dog, is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? the question is not, Can they reason?, nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? (Garner, 2005, pp. 12-13)

Arguments against Animal-testing and Animal Right Perspectives

Dissidents against animal-testing, in the first place, complain that animal-experimentation is the violation of a living being’s natural right. A group of these people like to view man and animals on the same chain of consciousness in which animals are supposed to have a lower level of sentience than man’s consciousness. James Rachel (1990) echoes their belief in the following line: “There is no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties” (p.67). This perspective about man’s and animal’s position on the same of chain of consciousness, but with different levels, essentially evolves from some domineering tenets of ancient Greek philosophy about soul. For example, Pythagoras believes that animals’ souls are reincarnated from human souls and vice versa. Even Aristotle also ratifies Pythagoras’s doctrinal view about the similarity of animal soul with man’s right but from a different perspective. He likes to see human beings and animals on the same ‘Great Chain of Being’. (Fellenz, 2007, pp.34-45)

But another group of dissidents argues that the question of consciousness should not dominate the question of animals’ natural rights. Marian Stamp Dawkins says that animals’ sentience is a disputed topic. In this regard, he says, “Different animals might possess some or all of these attributes to different extents, so that it may not be possible to say that an animal is either conscious or not” (Taylor, 2009, p.67). Therefore, this group of dissidents against animal experimentation argues that consciousness or sentience cannot be the true basis of natural rights of animals, as Philosopher David S. Oderberg (2002) states,

The truth is that there is no straight entailment between consciousness . . . and the possession of rights. What is the logical connection between sentience and rights? Feeling pain/ pleasure is just another way that a creature’s life can go badly/ well for it. . . (In Waldau, 2011, p. 89)

What Rights Animals should enjoy in terms of Scientific Experimentation?

The role of animal experimentation in the advancement of modern medical science cannot be overlooked. But modern animal right concerns are also age-worthy and irrefutable. So, responsible authorities must come to a conclusion which will, at a time, fulfill the needs of animal experimentation and not violate animal rights. Any staunch opposition to animal experimentation cannot bring anything good to humanity. Even in some cases, such rigid opposition may prove to be harmful to both mankind and animals. Therefore, animals should be allowed to have some rights such as having proper anesthesia, to undergo less pain, etc during scientific experiments. But if there is no other way but to violate animals’ right, a utilitarian perspective should determine the decision about an animal’s fate. Even though dissidents against animal experimentation defy the sacramental assertion about man’s dominion over animal kingdom, it can be argued that man’s dominion over animal kingdom does not necessarily mean that man should be the ruthless exploiter of animals. Rather God wants man to be the careful guardians of animals (Francione, 1996, pp. 42-46). Even if man is considered as the guardian of animal kingdom, it is man’s duty to treat his subjects fairly. In his book, “Discourse on Inequality”, referring to this guardianship of man over animals, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1754) says,

…it is clear that, being destitute of intelligence and liberty, they cannot recognize that law; as they partake, however, in some measure of our nature, in consequence of the sensibility with which they are endowed, they ought to partake of natural right; so that mankind is subjected to a kind of obligation even toward the brutes. (p. 45)


Indeed, a steadfast opposition against animal deprives humankind of the greater benefits of science. On the other hand, animal-experimentation is the violation of natural right. It not only violates the natural rights of animals but causes serious damage man’s humanity. Therefore, animals should have particular rights in terms of scientific experimentation. Obviously, these rights should be listed according to priority. Scientists should make every possible effort to reduce animal-specimen’s pain and any other major harm. Also in the first place, they should wholeheartedly try to keep animals away from the scientists’ table. But if there is no other possible alternative, then the scientists may be allowed to have the right to push an animal between the jaws of death only for the sake of the greater interest of humanity. Animal-right activists must remember that whereas a scientific experiment on animal could save thousands of man and animals lives, ban on animal-testing may destroy the possibility of living a healthy and disease free life. Therefore, though animals have the rights to live a pain-free life, such rights can be repealed for the sake of the humanity’s betterment.


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Francione, G. (1996). Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement. Temple University Press.

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Locke, J. (1693). Some Thoughts Concerning Education. New York: Bentham Publishers.

Nash, R. (1989). The Rights of Nature: A History of Environmental Ethics. University of Wisconsin Press.

Rachels, J. (1990). Created from Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism. Oxford University Press.

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