Animals, Science, and Society

Nell Kriesberg
Division of Multidisciplinary Studies
North Carolina State University

Introduction: the Animal as a Tool

The publication, in 1959, of The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique by W.M.S. Russell and R.L. Burch, (Charles Thomas, 1959) is an example of a shift in the history of the use of animal subjects in research. Up to then, the majority of the arguments, ranging from both written and public debate to civil disobedience, had couched the dilemma as a philosophic one, with each side taking the stand that when the matter was properly understood (as they saw it), then the desired changes would necessarily, naturally follow.

What Russell and Birch did was to shift the context of the discussion from the philosophic to the scientific. To emphasize this, they began each chapter with a quotation from Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, noting that, “Few people have been more concerned than he was with the welfare of experimental animals, or more active in furthering the progress of human experimental technique.” (R&B, xiv) In this training module, we will follow their example of placing our discussion of animal subjects in research within the context of the evolution of scientific practice. Another way to look at this module is that it follows the Office of Research Integrity’s approach of “researching research integrity,” focusing the microscopic reflexively on research practices, their evolution and methodology. As noted in a recent publication, Integrity in Scientific Research,(2002) “The research environment changes continually, and these changes influence the culture and conduct of research. As with any system being scientifically examined, the research environment itself contains variables and constants.” (NAP, p.4)

Russell and Burch looked at the animal as a research tool and asked, how can we be more sensitive to the animals we are using--are they accurate models and how should we express our moral concerns?  Further, they paired ethical and experimental rigor. In so doing, they were in tandem with the evolving thinking about human subjects in research, asking what are the dual perimeters of on one hand, being morally responsible and on the other, being certain that the knowledge gained be statistically valid.

It has sometimes seemed that there is an irreconcilable conflict between the claims of science and medicine and those of humanity in our treatment of lower animals. When, in the late nineteenth century, this conflict appeared to come to a head, the British genius for compromise asserted itself, and the famous Cruelty to Animals Act of 1876 balanced the rival claims (cf. Hume, 1947b, 1957d). Even at that early date, it was to some extent apparent that the wages of inhumanity were paid in ambiguous or otherwise unsatisfactory experimental results. The conflict disappears altogether on closer inspection, and by now it is widely recognized that the humanest possible treatment of experimental animals, far from being an obstacle, is actually a prerequisite for successful animal experiments. Since the Second World War, in particular, this principle has been increasingly accepted; and the intimate relationship between humanity and efficiency in experimentation will recur constantly as a major theme in the present book.(The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique, W.M.S. Russell and R.L.Burch, 1959)

As scientific knowledge increased through the centuries, so did a general sensibility toward animals. This relationship, ambiguous and often paradoxical, is not static and mirrors philosophic and societal changes. As the locus of power shifted from the church to the secular world, animals became caught in this change as well. It was almost as if they became a prize, the treasure granted to the victor. Animals had been instrumental as food, clothing, property and even a sign of status: now the scientists were claiming their bodies as well in the search for new solutions to the ancient dilemmas of sickness and death.

In a widely used textbook on research integrity, Bruce A. Fuchs, the author of the chapter on animals as research subjects, presents a scenario where he compares a mouse with a test tube and asks us to think about our differing reactions if someone were to come into a lab and destroy the test tube, destroy the mouse, destroy a cell culture line; he asks if it would be the same if this person were to do the same to their own mouse. Fuchs is making several important distinctions; all of the three “items” noted are inventoried as expenses in a protocol, are described in the Materials and Methods section of a report and utilized to answer a research question. But the mouse is the only inventoried item that has a moral component. As Fuchs notes:

For example, when planning a surgical procedure involving a rabbit, one must decide on the type and dose of anesthetic to be used. This decision is determined by professional judgment, published recommendations, and consultation with the appropriate animal experts. It is also strongly influenced by the formal rules and policies that govern the use of animals in research. On the other hand, the decision to use a rabbit in the first place has both pragmatic and moral components. (Fuchs, in Scientific Integrity: an Introductory Text with Cases, Francis Macrina, Editor, p. 17)

But it isn’t only the moral factors that come into play in making this sort of decision. Researchers in the early 19th century had few tools to use in their investigations; the science of physiology, for example, was in infancy. The moral consensus, going along with the reality at that time, was that human needs came before animal ones—it was an either/or situation. In the current century, with the rapid increase in both scientific knowledge and the technology to apply it, our range of choices has continually evolved and become more complex as well. But the patterns of discovery and moral dilemma in our century are not new, they are very old. As Elizabeth Heitman notes,

Today, scientists, ethicists, and governmental agencies are all working to articulate the broader scope of research ethics and the demands of responsible conduct of research. It appears likely that the responsible conduct of research will itself grow into a multidisciplinary specialty field in much the same way that bioethics emerged in the 1970s and 1980s. Nevertheless, even as the responsible conduct of research emerges as an area of special expertise, it is essential for scientists and ethicists alike to recognize the ethical values and practical safeguards that have been intrinsic to modern science since its earliest stages. (“The Roots of Honor and Integrity in Science: Historical Themes in the Practical Ethics of Research,” in Bulgar,  2002, p.21)

The history of animal subjects in research echoes overall patterns in society, in particular how both a changing moral sensibility and improvements in science and technology resulted in shifts in practice. For example, by the end of the 1950s, in the intense push to isolate the cause of polio and then to create a vaccine, over a million monkeys had died, both in transport and in laboratories. (Rudacille, 2000, p. 110)  In an effort to both save money (the monkeys were costly) and increase productivity, researchers began replacing the use of monkey kidneys as mediums for growing the polio virus with cell lines from these kidneys. There had been an increasingly vocal concern on the part of the public about the treatment of the monkeys and their diminishing population in the wild. Many researchers shared this moral concern, furthering the impetus to find alternatives. By the 1950s, new technology was available to keep pace with the needs of researchers, a public at risk for the disease and the monkeys. Here is an example of how societal concerns on the part of both professionals and the lay public supported a specific direction in technological innovation.

As another sign of change, the Animal Welfare Institute, founded in 1951 by Christine Stevens, had the specific agenda to work with both researchers and animal welfare advocates, finding common ground and working out solutions agreeable to all. Prior to this, the organized efforts of animal welfare foundations had mainly focused on animal cruelty issues occurring with animals privately owned and their work had exempted animals used in laboratories.

These questions about using animals in research are ongoing, engaging the scientists who live the dilemma on a daily basis. For example, in the Preface in a recent publication by members of a study group on animals in research sponsored by the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, John Gluck makes this comment:

During a recent intense discussion about the implications of considering animals as having moral standing, a prominent biomedical researcher defended her resistance to applying the concept to animals. She explained that she considered animals to be just another category of consumable laboratory “supply,” like glassware and computer disks. When asked to expand her position, she pointed out that the supply catalog was the place in the budget where animal costs were listed and justified in a typical grant application. Although she was clearly attempting to interject a sense of irony into the discussion, her example does illustrate one extreme in the debate, one that sees animals as a form of furniture, there for our use and benefit and deserving of only minimal and indirect ethical concern. At the other extreme are those who see nature as a virtual democracy, with all or most animals deserving rights that protect against unwanted intrusions by humans, no matter how beneficial to humans the intrusions might be. Although these extreme positions continued to be forcefully advanced, they have begun to give way to what has been referred to as the “troubled middle.” (Gluck, et. al. Applied Ethics in Animal Research: Philosophy, Regulation, and Laboratory Applications, Purdue University Press, 2002)

Study Questions

Think about Bruce Fuch’s question--how would your reaction differ if someone came into your lab and destroyed "your" mouse vs. "your" test-tube?

a. Would your reaction be different? Why or why not?
b. Apart from the obvious, that mice feel pain, why do you believe that different people would have different reactions? What do you think are the reasons for these differences?
c. Would your reaction be different if your research animal were a dog? A cat? A pig? What about fruitflies?

Early Scientific Research and the Role of Animals

Many of the current widely used books on research integrity in general note how the scientist is part of the greater society in both activity and values. (see Macrina, pp. 17-20, Resnik, pp. 5-9, Bulgar, et. al. pp. 3-17, 313-319, Barnbaum and Byron, pp. 1-14.) The argument over whether animals are tools for our use or other species with inherent value such that we wrong them morally by our use, is a very old one. Richard D. French used the argument between the practitioners of experimental science and anti-vivisectionists as an example of how this argument is part of the interaction between science and society.

What are the multifaceted social and cultural changes that interact to form lay attitudes toward science? How can the lay community, which funds science, insure that public values and priorities are scrupulously respected without so encumbering research as to vitiate its value? How can the scientific community respond to public aspirations and preoccupations while maintaining its own integrity? Is its past strategy in this regard still viable? The case study presented here is intended not so much to answer these questions as to highlight their pertinence and complexity. (French, Antivivisection and Medical Science in Victorian Society, Princeton University Press, 1975, pp. 8-9)

In this section we will give a very brief summary of the history of animal research in experimental science over the last 500 years, giving a context for the current debate going on among both scientists and the lay public; now, just as then, there are all sorts of opinions along a spectrum.

Before 1500, society was essentially agrarian. Animals were part of the community, albeit here for our purposes. The world was experienced as a holy place, an arena for the interplay of the divine and the natural world. Science was called natural philosophy and studying science was essentially a religious action since it was studying the work of God. Facts therefore had a divine dimension; nature was an expression of divine will. The local priests had the job of ministering to their parishes’ animals, emphasizing that the place of animals was within the context of the church.

At the same time, animals were also property; animate but owned and interestingly enough were one of the earliest expressions of wealth and status. Jerrold Tannenbaum, a lawyer who has written extensively in the area of veterinary ethics, comments that the beginning of the idea of property was with animals: “…a seminal kind of personal property….property not as things but as a relation between owner and property” (Tannenbaum, p.137, 140 in Hatton,1993) Individual animals were important as part of the local community using their products and were part of the divine order which had man at the center.  Research into the natural world at that time was through observation. Before the 1800s, the scientific method consisted of meticulous reporting of direct observation of the natural world. “Natural scientists of this period were particularly concerned not to impose themselves on their work. Rather, they believed that their responsibility was to report what they saw as dispassionate recorders of fact and offer purely rational interpretations of these observations.” (Heitman, in Bulger,, 2002, p. 22)  In Rome, Galen, (129-199 AD) described parts of the anatomy using monkeys and pigs, thinking these animals close enough to human as to be analogous to the human body. In the Middle Ages, since the church condemned the dissection of human corpses, dead animals were used instead; again, pig circulation seemed to be similar enough so that the animal body could stand in for the human body. The context of research was that of examining the orderly world of a divine creator.

The fifteenth century, the Age of Enlightenment, was a period of vast changes in our perception of the natural world. Copernicus (1473-1543) and Galileo (1564-1642) began the paradigm shift, showing through observational data that instead of the earth being the center of the universe, the earth (and thus human beings) were only part of a much more enormous system. This discovery shook the idea of the church on earth as the locus of divine power. As research into the natural world continued, it was seen less as a worshipful endeavor to understand the actions of the divine, but rather an expression of human reason that sought to make sense of the world in order to improve the human situation. Vesalius (1514-1564) revived the ancient practice of dissecting human corpses to understand the body and held public demonstrations, usually using dogs. A contemporary of his, Harvey (1578-1657) did further research on circulation, respiration and blood pressure, giving public demonstrations with live deer. The assumption that one biological system could stand in for another seemed obviously to be true, blood was blood, bone was bone and animals ate, reproduced, walked and slept just as humans did.

By 1600, the schism between “research into the natural world” (science) and “the natural world as a subjective experience” (“faith”) was gathering strength. Bacon (1561-1626) introduced induction as the experimental method, further separating the study of science from metaphysics, since observation had been the method of priestly studies. Descartes (1596-1650) continued the trend of separating the physical body from the non-corporal mind—only the mind was capable of a soul—and although he personally did few experiments, his influence in terms of the mind/body duality continued. Descartes, and others of his time, were trying to reconcile the old ways, religion, with the new way of science. Thus the argument over having a soul or not was critically important – to reject the role of the divine was not acceptable. The solution was to separate out the two, to leave spiritual matters to God and the church as long as the church agreed that the physical world was the provence of the state, with science as the representative method of knowledge. And the idea of using animals as instruments was a familiar one: the bible documented the use of animals as sacrificial intercessions with the divine and the open entrails of newly killed animals had been used to foretell the future.

Practically speaking, to live without using animals would not have been possible, they were the sources for food, clothing and labor. The point wasn’t whether the animal suffered pain: there was no knowledge of anesthetics at this time and physical pain was part of daily life, for both people and animals. Early scientists were aware that animals felt pain: Galen was noted to have said that he used pigs ”…to avoid seeing the unpleasant expression of the ape…”(Monamy, p 9)

The dilemma was how to reconcile that pain with the need to further understand the natural world in order to improve the human situation. Descartes held that since animals were incapable of rational thought, though they felt pain, their awareness of pain was not the same: “Descartes held that animals do not suffer in the way that humans do because they cannot understand pain rationally. For Descartes the absence of rational ability left animals in a lower category than human beings.” (Heitman, in Bulgar, et. al. 2002, p.184) The argument over whether animals had souls was a solution to the dilemma; since only rational beings could have souls, it followed that those without souls were not on the same level as far as the divine spark was concerned and therefore it was decided that animal pain did not count in the same way as did human pain.

To Descartes, the body was not what distinguished humans from other animals. On the level of the body, humans and animals were very similar. His revelation of “Cogito, ergo sum” defines the mind as the essence of humanity. Since humans could think, they necessarily had knowledge of God (Descartes’s second clear and distinct idea), and therefore they possessed immortal souls. Soul and mind were inextricably intermingled, perhaps even identical. The essence of the world, to Descartes, was this dualism of mind and body, the complete separation of matter and spirit. (Guerrini, p.37 in Gluck, et. al. Applied Ethics in Animal Research: Philosophy, Regulation, and Laboratory Applications, Purdue University Press, 2002)

This solution, that the body and mind (soul) were separate became bedrock for the new science. The church was able to continue as a social force, religion and piety could have their place. But the power of traditional religion over the public was no longer as strong since science was now taking over for many as a source of authority. This tension between the locus of power in society, the religious or the secular, is a continuing issue for us in contemporary society. (And an old issue as well, if we recall an answer to a question: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Cesaer and render unto God the things that are God.”) This separation between church and state left the arena open for scientific investigation to continue: as part of the shift in power, animals were no longer within the domain of the church. Animals were biological bodies. They were no longer brought to the priests or herbalists, but to the scientists and in particular, to a newly growing professional group, the veterinarians. Power is about what you can own or get, and animals were taken as a kind of prize in this struggle for power between the church (tradition) and the secular society (the new tradition.)

Newton, (1642-1727) in another watershed similar to the Copernican revolution, set forth The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, with the view that natural laws, created by God used the language of mathematics. Thus to understand the natural world, precise analysis of phenomenon were the method of choice. Boyle (1621-1691) continued in a similar vein, setting forth laws for chemistry. More and more, the scientific method involved inspecting phenomena to ascertain the mathematical laws at work in the system being studied. Although using animal bodies as “biological systems” made sense, not all scientists were able to experiment on animals unmoved.

Boyle had used kittens in a public demonstration of a vacuum and “spoke of excluding a kitten that has survived one air pump experiment from further trials because …it was too severe to make him undergo the same measure again.” (quoted in Monamy, p. 16). It is interesting that the animal is not called “it” but “him”, an individual being. Hooke, using dogs for research into blood circulation wrote to Boyle that he was unable to repeat a particular procedure, “because it was cruel.” (Monamy, p. 16) As a detail perhaps of interest, Newton is credited with inventing the “cat door,” obviously still in great use today. “No less a scientist than Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) was reputed to be a fervent animal lover and was credited with the invention of special doors or flaps for cats to enter houses…” (Ryder, 1998, p. 15)

During the Scientific Revolution, as universal laws replaced personal intercession by the Saints or God the importance of the individual and subjective experience was no longer as important as seeing how a person (or animal) fit into the larger scheme of things. Science worked objectively, not in terms of who you were—that didn’t matter, the laws of science were above the laws of the individual. The continuing inquiry as to the “right relationship” between animals and people was of concern to the philosophers as they, like the scientists, tried to reconcile a new mixture combining the old religious traditions with the new knowledge gained from science. The Scottish philosopher, David Hume (1711-1776) disagreed with the Cartesian notion of animals being incapable of reason.

Hume attributed rationality, or at least the capacity to reason, to some animals, on grounds that these animals are significantly like humans (sic) in the principles of their nature, their patterns of learning, and their powers of inference. Hume cited, as  evidence of thought, the adaptivity of many animals in obtaining food, their ingenious strategies, and their use of tools. But he attributed more to animals as well. In  A Treatise of Human Nature, he included whole sections on not only reason in  animals but also love in animals, and pride in animals. (Orlans, The Human Use of Animals: Case Studies in Ethical Choice, Oxford University Press, 1998 p. 10)

The 1700s were the period when biology began to come into its own as a field of study, with an emphasis on the scientific basis of biology. Increasingly, there was the sense that the natural world could be examined rationally as opposed to the idea that the world was was an expression of divine will. Building on the ideas of Bacon and his method of objective induction (as opposed to alchemy, superstition) Magendie (1783-1835) established modern physiology, discovering the co-functioning of organs. His student, Bernard, (1813-1878) is known as the father of experimental physiology; he proposed that a valid experiment was one in which only one parameter at a time could be changed. Only in this way could objective results be achieved. Again, they were fighting the old established tradition of religious belief in supernatural powers and divine origins. 

Bernard also was equally critical of clinical data calling it unreliable; his view was that only in the laboratory could true objective knowledge be obtained. For Bernard, clinical medicine or “statistical” medicine as he called it, was open to intuition, superstition and non-substantial claims. A contemporary word for what Bernard found abhorrent might be “anecdotal.” His goal was to make the scientific understanding of biological systems on a par with the scientific understanding of chemistry, physics and mathematics. He emphasized the dynamic nature of the body, be it human or animal, calling this energy the “vital force,” insisting that the only way to properly understand this phenomenon was by direct investigation of the living system in its natural state: alive.

To sum up, if we wish to find the exact conditions of vital manifestations in man and the higher animals, we must really look, not at the outer cosmic environment, but  rather at the inner organic environment. Indeed, as we have often said, it is in the study of these inner organic conditions that direct and true explanations are to be found for the phenomena of the life, health, sickness and death of the organism. (Claude  Bernard, An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine, 1865, (Dover Publications, re-publication: 1957) p. 98)

Two of Bernard’s contemporaries, Pasteur (1822-1896) and Koch (1847-1910), building on past discoveries, were able to isolate causes of disease and actually begin to effect cures based on scientific data. The fact that these new cures worked was a revelation that cannot be overestimated. It was proof that applying scientific principles worked. A sobering statistic is this: in Victorian Britain, life expectancy was 42 years. (Monamy, p. 14) As science began to improve life conditions for many, the public began to have a burgeoning faith in this "new science."

In 1847 William Morton discovered the property of ether as an anesthetic agent and although not all researchers took advantage of this discovery on behalf of their animals, others did so, including Bernard, and this made vivisection more palatable to many. Because surgical techniques could now be improved and the animals helped to suffer less, animal experimentation began to be a method of choice in medical research.

It was precisely the triumphs of bacteriology, immunology, and pharmacology,  producing therapeutic tools of unprecedented power and discrimination, that finally provided convincing proof of the practical medical utility of vivisection as a research methodology. To a lay public increasingly preoccupied with bodily health, such a  demonstration was extremely persuasive, as it was to most of those rank and file medical practitioners who had hitherto been indifferent or skeptical toward the claims of experimental medicine. On the simplest reading, the decline of anti-vivisection was in direct proportion to the success of the experimental approach, and it was symbolized by the tremendous resources placed at the disposal of medical research by a grateful public. (French, p. 405)           

Suddenly, the problems of humanity could be solved. Although the locus of power had shifted from the church to science, the prevailing view of the church, that God had given man dominion over animals gave credence to the idea that animals were a tool for us to use. This is similar to the idea of animals as property, an old tradition with agrarian society and it continued unchanged even as animals began to be used for a different purpose than the traditional ones of food and clothing. It seemed to be a logical extension of the idea of domesticating a particular animal for use; cattle could be tamed, fenced and owned. An animal was the property of the scientist—and the idea of a supply of sorts began to form.

Another question presents itself. Have we the right to make experiments on animals and vivisect them? As for me, I think we have this right, wholly and absolutely. It would be strange indeed if we recognized man’s right to make use of animals in every walk of life, for domestic service, for food, and then forbade him to make use of them for his own instruction in one of the sciences most useful to humanity. No hesitation is possible; the science of life can be established only through experiment, and we can save living beings from death only after sacrificing others…(Bernard, p. 102). The science of a life is a superb and dazzling lighted hall which may be reached only by passing through a long and ghastly kitchen. (Bernard, p. 15)

Since it had been decided that animals have less moral standing than humans due to their lack of a soul, for many people, animal suffering in the service of human beings was acceptable. Animals had long been used for food, clothing and labor and their use as scientific tools seemed part of the same tradition.

Study Questions

1. "What is the difference between the ability to feel pain and the ability to suffer? Do you agree with this distinction? Why or why not?" (Shamoo and Resnik, 2003, p. 229)

2. What strategies can scientists use to reduce pain? Is it possible to prevent research animals from experiencing distress?

The Darwinian Revolution and the Increasingly Complex Nature of the Problem

Even though the general opinion was that animals were here to serve human beings, there was opposition to vivisection during the time of Magendi and Bernard. In France, authors Victor Hugo and Voltaire were highly critical of animal experimentation and in Germany, the composer Wagner also voiced criticism. This brings up another trend in society that became more pronounced as science gained power in society: the romantic, artistic sensibility that abhorred science, the emphasis on object reality and seeing animals and people as cogs, as instruments, as examples of mathematical laws. French comments on this, noting, “Victorian England was profoundly shaken by the emergence of science as a major influence and a leading institution. The concern was multidimensional: what was the appropriate cultural role for science, what were its religious implications and institutional prerequisites?” (French, p. 408)

The two different approaches to understanding the natural world were echoed in the societal debate. The old way, the way of “observation” and non-interference was pitted against the “modern” experimental method. This method demanded intrusion by the scientist as one variable at a time was changed and then the “system” examined for the result of that change. The latter was seen as an objective measurement of reality, not susceptible to subjectivism. The goal was to be able to fix a broken or poorly running natural system by learning how it ran when well.

Just as the populace disagreed about the role of animal experiments in the “new science” so did the scientists themselves. Pasteur reportedly had some discomfort over using animals, and rarely did vivisection. (Rudacille) Interestingly enough, Descartes himself did not do a great deal of vivisection either; this was undertaken by others of the day that used his philosophies to strengthen their position. (Guerrini, Resnik)  British scientists viewing French scientists at work expressed horror at seeing public demonstrations of experiments upon unanesthetized animals and a certain undercurrent of national war went on, with the British criticizing French practices. And yet, though not on the scale occurring in France or Germany, there was an increase in experimental science using animals in Britain. Rudacille notes that the difference was in part due to the established philosophic tradition in Britain that had already begun to discuss the morality of human treatment of animals.  Welfare concerns over treatment of horses and cattle was particularly intense and in 1821 the House of Commons passed the Martin Act, the first animal protection legislation.

Contemporaneous with the increase in scientific discovery, was the continuing evolution in ethical thinking in Britain as people attempted to make sense of the new discoveries and reconcile them with traditional moral thought. John Locke (1632-1704) a doctor as well as a philosopher, studied animals and said that causing them to suffer was immoral. David Hume (1711-1776) and Jeremy Bentham, (1748-1832) refuted the Cartesian position of animals as mechanistic bodies. They both saw basic similarities between human beings and animals. Bentham, a contemporary of Magendi asked a different question than “Do animals have minds/souls?”

Unlike the French philosopher, [Descartes} who found rationality expressed in language the hallmark of a morally significant subject, Bentham said, in a phrase  that was to serve as a rallying cry for the modern animal protection movement,  “The question is not, Can they reason? nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?  This crucial distinction, which shifts the focus of moral significance from the  ability to reason to the ability to feel, may at least partially explain the gulf that has often existed between scientists and artists on this matter… (Rudacille, p. 28)

The Cartesian view, with its emphasis on a separation between the mind and the body (similar to the idea of the separation of the church and the state), set the stage for study as an exercise in objectivity. Instead of equating the pursuit of knowledge as a form of communion with a divine creator, the search for understanding the natural world was seen as noble in itself and separate from the idea of values. This was not the first time in history that the dilemma of the will to knowledge raised ethical questions. As John Gluck and Tony DiPasquale comment,

Human investigations into nature and the incredible array of benefits produced by science have been accompanied throughout history by messages of caution. These cautions warn us of ethical difficulties and dilemmas that are revealed in the very acts of discovery responsible for the benefits. It could even be said that the road to  benefits is paved with harms….Saint Augustine in the fifth century described this notion as libido sciendi, the problems produced by the lust to know. The message  is clear; broad yet ethically focused thinking rarely occurs in the context of full passion.(Gluck, et. al., p. 1)

Into this increasingly volatile mix of scientific work and social consciousness, Charles Darwin’s publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859 caused a great upheaval, similar to the paradigm shifts of Copernicus and Newton. Darwin’s discoveries intimated there to be less distinction between animals and human beings than had ever been imagined. This revelation increased the separation between the world of the church and the world of science even further.

Interestingly enough, Darwin’s approach harkened back to the “old method” of careful observation and cataloguing. His mindset was to examine the world in minute detail as an expression of a natural law, as did the priests in earlier times in their search for an understanding of the divine order. And yet he was also in the tradition of Newton, looking for the universal laws in natural systems. Darwin did not interfere with the world in his attempt to understand, but he did see phenomena as an expression of an order that was not divine in origin.

Darwin himself did not practice experimental research on animals; although he noted that the search for knowledge was critically important, he quite early on expressed concerns about the effects of this research on the animal. If animals were close to us in terms of a nervous system, then the concept of an animal’s pain and suffering needed to be addressed in a new way.

A separate issue, seemingly contradictory, was that if animals were at the same time not similar to human beings due to species developing differently, then it became necessary to examine the tradition of using animals as a proxy for people. If the different species were really different from each other, then what would be the appropriate model for a human being?

The real scientific challenge to a clear moral distinction between animals and human beings came from Charles Darwin’s (1809-1882) theory of evolution. In The Descent of Man, Darwin observed that the differences between humans and animals were a matter of degree, not of kind. His work implied not only that animals do suffer, but that their suffering is morally significant. (Heitman in Bulgar, et. al. 2002, p. 185)

One result of Darwin’s work was an increase in the study of animals, in particular animal behavior, with the idea that if we could understand animal behavior we would better understand human behavior. Though at first this seems similar to what had gone before, the idea of an animal as a proxy or substitute for man, for many researchers, the study of animals became valuable in and of itself, whether or not results could be extrapolated to human beings. Writing in 1882, George Romanes noted that the ability of an animal to make a choice indicated a level of consciousness that was beyond that of instinct, and he made learning to be the litmus test of levels of awareness. (Boakes, 1984, p. 28) Although the researchers into animal thinking and behavior went against the Cartesian notion of animals as automata, they did follow the Bernardian paradigm of creating rigorous experimental protocols, looking for objective data, mistrusting anything that seemed anecdotal in nature.

This view of animals in experimental research is exemplified by Ivan Pavlov, (1849-1936) the Russian scientist known for his pioneering work on psychology, with the dog as a model. Pavlov spent many years as a physiologist. He was committed to the Bernardian method, careful experimentation. His innovations included how his laboratory subjects were cared for.

An outstanding feature of the new laboratory at the Institute for Experimental Medicine was that it had excellent facilities for keeping dogs. It seems also to have contained the first surgery in the world that was specifically designed for animals and in which anaesthetic and aseptic conditions were used from the very beginning. With ample space for housing and plenty of animal caretakers the dogs were treated like favored pets. (Boakes, 1984, p. 118)

Pavlov’s governmental support helped him in his long and fruitful career; researchers in Europe, Britain and America did not usually have the financial and practical resources for extensive animal studies. This changed when the laboratory rat came into “being.” Although first used for rat baiting, the mutant albinos were often kept for breeding or pets and as they became progressively tamer people discovered they could be quite gentle if properly handled early in life.  “By 1860 the rat had begun its career as a laboratory animal in France, where it was occasionally used in studies of breeding. This provides the first example of a species being domesticated for entirely scientific purposes.” (Boakes, 1984, p. 143)

Scientists immigrated to the United States at the turn of the century in response to a massive growth in scientific work in this country. At the end of the civil war there was a rapid increase in industrialization in tandem with an increasing respect for science and technology. Johns Hopkins University was founded in 1876 to be a center for scientific activity and along with  Harvard and the University of Chicago, became one of the major centers for scientific research. The laboratory rat became the biological tool of choice. They were reasonably cheap, easy to house and care for and reproduced rapidly. By the end of the 1920s the lab rat was central to almost all psychology department labs. Animal experimentation was part of the general science establishment, and although there were concerns and questions, it seemed to most Americans that science and technology could solve anything. The domestication of the rat for a research tool was the first step in what was to become an offshoot of using animals for research—changing the animal itself into a better tool for a specific use.

Study Questions

1. If it turns out that from an evolutionary point of view that we are closer to dogs than cats, should dogs have a greater moral standing?

2. If you were asked to euthanize an experimental animal would you find it easier to euthanize
a. a rabbit or a mouse?
b. a cat or a dog?
c. a rat or a pig?
d. a dog or a chimpanzee?
e. a mouse or a rat?

3. Rank the animals in #2 in the order in which you would find euthanasia easier (first) to more difficult (last). What are the reasons for your ranking?

Animal Subjects in Research:  Simple Tool, Complex Model or Members of Vulnerable Populations?

As one scientific discovery after another lead to medical breakthroughs and the standard of living improved due to public health measures, it seemed that science and technology could do no wrong. In fact, science replaced the church as the authority and locus of power in the 20th century. There was increased government support for scientific endeavors and the scientist became a respected professional. The 1876 Cruelty to Animals Act in Great Britain was the first attempt to set down some sort of legal regulations for the use of animals; registration of all research animals was mandated. “These records show that the number of procedures involving research animals increased from 311 in 1880 to over 95,000 in 1910. “ (Monamy, p. 12) As the use of anesthesia increased and animal experimentation seemed more and more linked to direct applications for human benefits, the public increasingly supported the scientific use of animals.

The use of animals as experimental subjects continued throughout the 1940s and 50s, especially in the United States where there was a great deal of philanthropic money available for scientific work. As commercial products, the results of scientific application flooded the American market, more and more animals were needed for toxicity testing; this testing was a legal requirement set by the government to protect the public.  Increasingly, the research animals of choice were rodents, but dogs and cats were also used, particularly strays. At this point, more and more of the American populace lived in cities and pets had become more familiar to the average person than the cow or pig used for food. In 1952 Christine Stevens founded the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI). Although the first mission of the AWI was to discontinue the steady stream of dogs and cats from humane societies to research labs, within a short period of time, the Institute's focus shifted to a general goal of encouraging and supporting a higher level of animal care in research facilities.

The 1960s, 70s and 80s were a time of great ferment over the question of animals in research. The Laboratory Animal Welfare Act of 1966 was the first in a series of legislation in the United States to protect animals in both science and agriculture. A major focus was the selling of animals to research laboratories. A series of amendments to the original law established further regulations regarding anesthesia (1976), increased requirements in 1985 (e.g. the establishment of Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees) and in 1989 and 1991 laboratory standards concerning enrichment and exercise. Just as the impetus behind the 1966 legislation was a public concern over the use of stray and abandoned pets, public attention to non-human primates in research led to some of the 1980s legislation.

Contemporaneous with the increased legislation in the late 20th century was the increasing amount of research into alternatives to using an entire animal for experiments. In 1950 George Guy at Johns Hopkins University developed the first in vitro cell line for practical use and in 1959, as we noted in the first page of this Tutorial, Russell and Burch published The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique, the first formal statement of "The Three R's concept of Replacement, Reduction, Refinement.

Looking at history, as French has said, gives us a sense of patterns, and in this case, the 20th century concerns of both scientists and lay public combined to create changes in how animals were treated. They were still research tools, to be sure, but increasingly, they were no longer just a number tagged to a body or tattooed to an ear.  Just as the early vivisectionist’s work showed that the nervous system in an animal was capable of pain, the ethologists working in the field as well as the lab, showed that animals had interior lives. This added to the philosophic discussions about the moral standing of animals.

There were other factors coming into play at this time that added to the complexity. In terms of the social context, there was much less direct contact between people and animals as society became more urban; meat was purchased in packages at a local store and pet dogs and cats were becoming more like family members than animals to be utilized. When people were born and died in rural environments, they were more familiar and comfortable with the role of animals as instruments to serve human beings; by the 50s and 60s society was very different. The rise of veterinary medicine as a profession contributed to this in an interesting fashion. Of course veterinarians ministered to the farmer (and increasingly, the farmer was a corporation with perhaps thousands of animals) but more and more the veterinarian could specialize in only dogs and cats, seeing one patient at a time, reinforcing the identity of the pet as a "companion animal." In this case, not only were some animals seen as individuals, they began to take on the role of members of the family.

This tension between thinking of an animal subject as either a member of a group or as an individual was echoed in some of the emerging philosophic debate about animal research during the 1970s and 1980s. The debate organized itself around two different ideas. Peter Singer followed the tradition of Hume, Bentham, Mill and the Utilitarian approach. For Utilitarians, what makes an action good are the overall consequences in terms of pain or happiness, saying that research on an animal or a group of animals would be justified if a greater overall good would result. From this vantage point, the “cost-benefit” analysis of an experimental protocol made sense. “We by no means claim that the use of experimental animals is desirable but is there a case for saying it may be acceptable? This may be so if we choose to regard restricted animal suffering in research as a lesser evil than allowing a continuation of suffering that could be prevented by science." (Dolan, 1999, p. 214.)

Bentham asked why not include animals in our circle of moral concern, saying, "The question is not Can they Reason? or Can they Talk? but Can they Suffer?" (Bentham, 1848-1832) Singer took the classic Utilitarian (and Bentham's position) further, saying that it was immoral to place human concerns above that of other species. Because, he said, animals could suffer, they deserve equal moral consideration in terms of their interest in not suffering.

Tom Regan approached the matter differently, saying the key point was the principle of inherent value of an individual animal. Animals are “subjects of a life” to use Regan’s term, and as such, need to be morally considered not as means to an end, as objects or tools, but as ends in and of themselves. A non-consequentalist approach to ethics, one emphasizing obligations or duties (in this case, our obligation to respect the rights of individual animas to be left alone to live out their lives) is called deontological. Regan’s philosophy resonated with many who were experiencing animals as members of their family and fit in with increasing emphasis on individual rights in our society. Both views found favor with many members of the public who were uncomfortable with the increasingly science and technology oriented nature of 20th century society. Just as in the 1800s, the debate over animal research reflected societal concerns about the role of science. Again, animals were caught in a tug of war between opposing viewpoints.

During this same period of time, scientists (as in Bernard’s time) were also questioning the proper use (or non-use) of animals in research. As experimental techniques became increasingly sophisticated, they began to look at protocols to be sure their results were as objective (as did Bernard) and robust as possible. As more and more became known about the subtle internal environments of animals, it was clear that imbalances in this homeostasis would affect experimental results. Increased attention was paid to the outer environment of the research animal, including housing, care and psychological states. Much of this knowledge was the direct outcome of the ethnologists’ work with animals as well as the increased sensitivity of both the scientists and the animal caretakers.

Darwin’s emphasis on individual differences in a group (“systematic underlying variability”) was played out in a laboratory setting, as individual animals reacted differently. As stated in a recent manual Principles of Laboratory Animal Science, “Both the appraisal and the available coping mechanisms will depend upon the genotype and the phenotype of the individual. Not only the reaction to a stressor will vary, but also the type of reaction seems to differ among individuals.” (Van Zutphen, et. al. 2001, p. 91). The legislation of the 1960s, 70s and 80s had a goal of improving the environment of lab animals enough to bring them into a state of well being, rather than simple maintenance. This was seen as scientifically important; if the data were skewed due to animal stress then the research was worthless.

Another concern was one at the very heart of animal experimentation: what was the goodness of fit between the animal model and the human being? Animals are used for several reasons; 1) to provide biological products, e.g. pregnant mares provide hormones; 2) as biological “sentinels,” e.g. toxicology studies, (L.F.M. Van Zutphen, et. al, 2001, p. 198); or 3) as living biological systems, e.g. basic research and pharmaceutical development. For all three of these tasks there was the need for an animal that reacts in a specified manner, particularly a repeatable manner. Thus the maintenance of a standard homeostatic environment becomes key: the variables must be constant.

But how were models chosen—what determined whether a mouse or a rat or a dog or a primate would be used? Again, Darwin’s work was relevant.

When selecting an animal model for use, it is important to consider the desired range of generalization of the results to be obtained. The rationale for extrapolating results to other species is based on homology. Homology refers to the evolutionary similarity between morphological structures and physiological processes amongst different animal species but also between animals and man. Despite the fact that wide divergences have occurred during evolution, there are still many similarities amongst the varied animal species and between animals and man. When embarking upon the study of specific features, it is necessary to select the species or strain that displays total conformity with regard to the specific anatomical or physiological features with the species to which the results are to be extrapolated.” (A.C. Beynen and J. Hau in L.F.M. Van Zutphen, et. al., 2001, p. 201)

Beynen and Hau note that caution should be exercised when extrapolating from animal model to human being, adding that ultimately, the results will have to be verified in studies with human subjects. We will talk about the idea of the animal model in more detail, albeit in an introductory fashion, in Tutorial 4, Animals as Models.

As increased technological skills has resulted in alternatives to a whole, live animal in some cases, the discussions have become more and more complex. Many scientists feel that the only valid model is the intact biological system. This chaotic system, they say, is the only one capable of reproducing the complexity, variety and randomness necessary for valid data. But the argument has become much more complex, philosophically, legally and technologically in the 21st century. Concerns over environmental conditions, habitat loss and endangered and dwindling animal populations have been major subjects of media reports and public conversation since the 1980s.

Increasingly, both philosophers and scientists come together to openly discuss the many dilemmas that animal subjects in research bring up. The Hastings Center is a well-known research and educational organization that focuses on ethical problems in biology, medicine, and the social and behavioral sciences. The May/June 1990 issue of the Hastings Center Report was a special supplement entitled “Animals, Science and Ethics” and it was the result of a two- year project. This 32-page report covered a wide range of topics including ethics, legislation, IACUCs and a discussion of scientific inquiry. Traditionally, the Hastings Center had focused on human subjects in research.

In May of 1998, The American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine (ACLAM) published a monograph of a symposium that had taken place in October of 1996 at the Sundowner Inn in California, another example of philosophers and scientists coming together. The catalyst for the meeting was public concern over the use of primates in space research by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). One of the papers in this monograph referred to a discussion about ethical guidelines, calling them the “Sundowner Principles.” These principles, such as Respect for Life and Non-Maleficence, which are meant as ethical guidelines for treatment of animal subjects sound strikingly similar to some of the principles in the Belmont Report, a document protecting human research subjects.

Two recent books on research integrity promote the ethical principle that since animals have intrinsic worth it is up to the researcher to justify using them. Adil E. Shamoo and David B. Resnik discuss the three R’s and propose adding a fourth and fifth R. The fourth would be Relevance. “Research protocols that use animals should address questions that have some scientific, medical, or social relevance; all risks/harms to animals need to be balanced against benefits to humans and animals.” (Shamoo and Resnik, 2003, p. 226). The Fifth R is Redundancy avoidance. ”Avoid redundancy in animal research whenever possible—make sure to do a thorough literature search to ensure that the experiment has not already been done. If it has already been done, provide justification for repeating the work.” (Ibid, p. 226) All of these "5 Rs" are embodied in United States regulations since 1985: some have suggested, thus, that a "6th R" be added to the list, that of Regulations.

Shamoo and Resnik also stress the need for appropriate choice of animal models, emphasizing an inherent challenge to researchers using animals. If the animal is close enough to the human for extrapolation, than there are significant moral problems to using that animal as an instrument. They also draw a parallel between the ethical principles protecting human subjects and animal subjects, similar to the Sundowner Principles. “Two of the guiding principles in human subjects research are beneficence and respect for persons….Moral objections to animal research include the argument that research protections pertaining to human beings should be extended to animals.” (op.cit., p. 217.)

Deborah R. Barnbaum and Michael Byron open their chapter on animal subjects with comparing consent issues between human subjects and animal subjects, noting that although animals are unable to consent, they most likely would not agree to take part in research since generally they are harmed by it. They also discuss the “goodness of fit” dilemma, commenting on the problem that if animals are similar enough to a human being to be a valid model, then moral questions are raised about using them. The authors compare animals to other scarce resources, saying,

Just as animal research subjects may be looked upon as valuable resources that should be handled with due respect and consideration, other resources,  such as environmental or man-made resources should be used responsibly. The  responsible use of these resources requires researchers to first recognize others who have an interest in protecting these limited resources. Other researchers, the public, and the environment itself may be among those with interests in protecting these resources. Thus, researchers should look to these parties, determine their  interests in limited resources, and make responsible choices accordingly.” (Barnbaum and Byron, 2001, p. 199)

This is very different from seeing an animal as a tool, an inventoried component of a protocol, listed in the Materials and Methods section of a report.

Nikola Biller-Andorno, a physician, shifts the question, much as Bentham did when he asked not about mind or soul, but about the ability to feel pain.

I want to shift the question from the passive “Can they be harmed?” further to  “Can we harm them?” thus reconnecting moral reflections on the “moral patient” with the situation of the moral agent. …We can thus wrong other beings by unjust  instrumentalization, regardless of whether it directly hurts their physical integrity. Our  moral relationship to nonhuman beings therefore has a justice perspective as well as a care perspective.” (Biller-Andorno, in Gluck, et. al., 2002, p.35, 36)         

One of the questions currently being asked is, how do we define “research integrity?” We would like to propose that the most contemporary definition of research integrity with animal subjects is to consider them not as tools, instruments for our use, but as individual members of vulnerable populations, populations at risk.  If we decide to use them in research protocols they need to be protected in a fashion somehow analogous to human subjects, as called for in the Belmont Report. In some cases, this change in view is already apparent--e.g. the increasing attention to environmental enrichment--and a case could be made that there is a general movement in this direction, by both scientists and the public at large.

Study Questions

1. Strachan Donnelley of the Hastings Center coined the term, "troubled middle" for researchers who use animals as research subjects and yet have ethical concerns about doing so. What does this term mean to you? Is it a useful term or not? Does having ethical concerns necessarily mean that you are "troubled?"

2. If you were to use an endangered species of non-human primates for research what would concern you more, their endangered status or their level of awareness? Or, if the primates were given humane care, would you have no concerns? Would the topic of the research study influence your decisions?

Suggested Introductory Resources for this Section

Books on Research Integrity in General

Barnbaum, Deborah R. and Michael Byron, Research Ethics: Text and Readings, Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2001

Ruth Ellen Bulger, Elizabeth Heitman, and Stanley Joel Reiser, The Ethical Dimensions of the Biological and Health Sciences, 2nd Edition, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002

Francis Macrina, Ed. Scientific Integrity: An Introductory Text with Cases, Washington, DC,ASM Press, 2001

Adil E. Shamoo and David B. Resnik, Responsible Conduct of Research, New York: Oxford University Press, 2003

Books on Animal Subjects in Research

John P. Gluck, Tony DiPasquale and F. Barbara Orleans, Editors,  Applied Ethics in Animal Research: Philosophy, Regulation, and Laboratory Applications, West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 2002

Vaughan Monamy, Animal Experimentation: A Guide to the Issues, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000

F. Barbara Orleans, In the Name of Science: Issues in Responsible Animal Experimentation, New York: Oxford University Press, 1993

Ellen Frankel Paul and Jeffrey Paul, Editors, Why Animal Experimentation Matters: The Use Of Animals in Medical Research, New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2001

Tom Regan, The Case for Animal Rights, University of California Press, 1985

Deborah Rudacille, The Scalpel and the Butterfly: The War Between Animal Research and Animal Protection, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000

Peter Singer, Animal Liberation, 2nd Edition, HarperCollins Publisher, 2001