Are Human Research Participants Deserving of Research Animals’ Rights?

by Suzanne M. Rivera, Ph.D.

For years, mainstream and extremist organizations have waged campaigns against the use of animals.  While PETA successfully deploys propaganda featuring provocative models in sexually explicit positions to denounce the use of animals for food, clothing and experimentation, other groups, such as the Animal Liberation Brigade, engage in violent (some would say terroristic) actions to disrupt animal research and scare off scientists from lines of inquiry for which the use of animal models is the state of the art.

Part of the philosophy of the anti-animal research groups is a belief in moral equivalency among species.    PETA’s Ingrid Newkirk once famously said, “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.”  Does she propose we allow people to suffer with treatable diseases because non-animal models for testing have not yet been developed?  Apparently so.  Newkirk also has gone on the record to say, “Even if animal tests produced a cure for AIDS, we’d be against it.”  This view is out of step with the majority of Americans, who – according to the latest Gallup poll– support animal research.

Among those who regulate and support animal research, there is a very strong commitment to animal welfare.  The “animal welfare” perspective contrasts with the “animal rights” view.  The animal rightists want to end animal use, including research (and also eating meat, hunting, zoos, police dogs and entertainment), because they see it as inherently indefensible.  Animal welfarists, on the other hand, believe animals can be used humanely, under strict rules that seek to prevent unnecessary pain and distress in research animals.  They acknowledging that the animals’ lives are worthy of respect, but do not ascribe the moral status of personhood to them.  The US government requires scientists to assume anything that could cause pain or distress in a human also would be painful for an animal, and they are compelled to provide analgesia and anesthesia accordingly.

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