Animal research is a necessity today, and has afforded us the opportunity to create lifesaving drugs and vaccines, new surgical procedures and improved diagnosis of disease. Despite the bad press animal activists have given, institutions are given guidelines that guarantee the safe and ethical treatment of research animals. Most scientists agree that continued animal testing is essential to develop new vaccines and medicines, and that computer and mathematical models are not adequate substitutes in all cases. Even so, they follow ethical and legal guidelines that minimize the use of animals and treat them as humanely as possible under the circumstances. Few of them follow the extremist position that animals are mere objects or things that exist only for the benefit of humanity and can be treated in any way humans see fit. In general, public opinion also supports this position, as well as the idea that unnecessary cruelty to animals should be avoided. Most humans do not share the view of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals or the Animal Liberation Front that animals have equal or superior rights to humans. Nor do they agree with their tactics of violence and death threats against individuals and companies involved in animal testing. Utilitarian philosophers are correct that animal research produces benefits for humanity, in the production of new vaccines, improved surgical procedures, pain relief and prosthetics. Without these experiments, human and animal suffering would be much greater, while alternative methods of research may never be available. In fact, use of animals in medical research should be increased to minimize experimentation on humans as much as possible. Moreover, animal rights advocates would be more consistent if they also supported vegetarianism, since treatment of animals in slaughterhouses was far harsher than in laboratories. No one could "coherently object to the killing of animals in biomedical investigations while continuing to eat them," and in fact far more animals were used to provide food and clothing than for medical research (Cohen 297). Finally, the fact that the use of animals is even more costly and restrictive than the use of humans in medical research is highly unethical.
Animal testing is essential in many areas of chemistry, biology and medicine, and has greatly improved the lives and well-being of human beings and animals. In the era before vaccination, for example, childhood mortality was often 20-30% and life expectancy was about 47. In the past, before vaccines and antibiotics exited, the majority of people did not survive to age sixty, nor were there any effective treatments for cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Animal testing has indeed "helped scientists develop lifesaving treatments for deadly diseases such as AIDS, cancer and diabetes," as well as vaccines for mumps, measles and polio (Watson 4). In 2004, about two-thirds of those surveyed in a Gallup poll agreed that animal testing as "morally acceptable" for these reasons (Watson 6). Furthermore, according to the Department of Health and Human Services animal research has increased human life expectancy by approximately 23.5 years (Gaddy 2006). All of this progress in medical science has occurred in the last hundred years, when animal testing in the laboratory became common. Although animal research alone was not responsible for all these advances, most of them would not have been possible in vaccines, drugs and surgical procedures not been tested on animals. Nor would it have been morally acceptable had humans, even terminally ill patients, been the only test subjects. Of course, such unethical experiments did occur, in Nazi Germany, for example, or in the MK Ultra and radiation experiments in the U.S. during the Cold War, but these are widely condemned today.
Most scientists generally agree that no viable alternatives exist to use of animals in every area of research, although these tests on live subjects are not universally applicable in all fields. Federal laws and regulations also require that drugs and chemicals be tested on animals for side-effects before they are ever administered to humans, and disease resistance to drugs or their effects at the genetic level can only be tested on animals. Animal models "remain a vital component of biomedical research," even more so with the development of new types of biotechnologies, but the goal of researchers should be to "create robust animal experiments that ensure minimal suffering and maximal scientific validity" (Kinross and Darzi 2010). Usually animal models have the most validity when the cause and symptoms of the condition are identical in humans and animals, and using animal models uncritically can lead to "unreliable or even dangerous conclusions." In neurology and psychiatry, finding animal models is especially difficult because of "differences in brain structure and function between humans and other species" (De Deyn and Van Dam 2011). This is just more proof that a fundamental distinction exists between human psychology and consciousness compared to all animal species. For most scientists, however, "animal studies continue to be necessary for advancing human and animal health and have played a vital role in virtually every major medical advance" (Poste 2009). Another important consideration is that animal research has also helped improve vaccines and treatments in veterinary medicine, and "in fact, practically all biomedical research with lab animals also advances veterinary medicine and helps companion animals live longer, happier and healthier lives" (Gaddy 2006). Complete replacement may never be possible, but animal rights extremists always "knowingly misrepresent the ability of computers and emerging scientific techniques to serve as viable substitutes for animal studies" (Gaddy 2009).
Levels or harm in experiments can range from none to the death of the animal from painful diseases like cancer, and they can also be restrained and housed in poor conditions. Animal rights is an extreme position that supports only research that does no harm at all and has only veterinary benefits, with any cost/benefit calculations, but utilitarianism would allow research to go forward if the benefits are greater than the costs and no better alternatives are available. This type of unequal consideration is never laissez faire, though, and would also abolish frivolous and nonessential experiments, reduce harm to the animals and require compassionate treatment (DeGrazia 309). Under this standard, "no reasonable view of animals' moral status can justify the full extent of animal research conducted today" (DeGrazia 310). Even so, the use of mathematical and computer models has become more common in the last thirty years, along with more in vitro testing on artificial media, stem cells, and imaging technology. Animals must not be regarded as simply "tools for human use," and should never be used when adequate replacements are available. Nor should there be any use of animals captured in the wild, while great apes and dolphins have sufficient intelligence to be classified as "borderline persons," never to be used in experiments at all without their consent (DeGarzia 312). Toxic substances should not be tested on animals, and over time public funding for animal research should be cut by 90%.
Animals do not really have any rights because they are not moral agents in possession of free will. They lack any comprehension of law or morality, or what Immanuel Kant and other philosophers called an innate moral sense. Animals do not have any rights at all in the sense as humans, not even a right to life, because they have no "capacity for free moral judgment" (Cohen 293). At best, they could only expect the same type of paternalistic obligation to the weak or handicapped that humans have for their own species, and should be treated humanely but not as equals of humans or possessing the same rights. Severely ill or handicapped humans might be subjected to experimentation or even euthanasia with voluntary consent, but this is something animals will never be able to give. Even though animals can reason, communicate and care for their young, at least to a limited degree, they are not moral agents with free will. Human beings often act in an immoral or sociopathic manner, lacking in conscience, but as a species only they have the capacity to recognize and apply moral rules. Animals cannot do so, nor can they ever act in an immoral or criminal manner. Of course, they do feel pain should never be made to "suffer needlessly" (Cohen 295).
According to modern legal and ethical norms, animals do not exactly have rights in the same sense as humans, although there are certain protections in place to ensure their humane use in research. Britain passed the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1876 when animal research was still in its infancy, requiring licensing for all medical research involving animals and setting certain standards to prevent cruelty and ill-treatment. In 1959, William Russell and Rex Burch called for the three R's in the treatment of animals in the laboratory: Refinement, Reduction and Replacement. In addition, the 1986 Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act required "harm/benefits assessments of proposed experiments" (DeGrazia 306). In the Animal Welfare Act of 1966, the U.S. Congress gave protected status for household pets against use in medical experiments, and later amendments set standards…