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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Christian Assessment of Animal Experimentation

Dear all,

Came across some interesting articles on Christianity and Animals in my research on animal testing.



A Christian Assessment of Animal Experimentation
by The Reverend Professor Andrew Linzey, PhD, DD, an Anglican priest, a theologian, a writer, and is internationally known as an authority on Christianity and animals.

See Christianity & Animals for more articles on this subject

The range and variety of the use of animals in experimentation is enormous. At almost every level of scientific investigation there is some recourse to the ‘animal model.’ Coming to grips with the sheer diversity of use on one hand, and the ramifications of sustaining this use which involved the breeding, selling and captivity of millions of animals world-wide on the other, is a daunting business. Animals are used in product testing, behavioural research, for instructional purposes, in vivo tests for the pharmaceutical industry, in emergency medicine, in long-term medical research and in biological research.

In product testing alone, animals are used to test the safety of a staggeringly wide range of products including: oven-cleaners, hair-sprays, skin-fresheners, anti-perspirants, nail polish, lubricants, dyes, fire-extinguisher substances, deodorants, facial make-up, floor-cleaners and brake fluids.1 We scarcely appreciate how the world in which we live is affected at almost every level by the use of animals in scientific inquiry, from psychological theories of dependence developed by subjecting animals to various forms of emotional deprivation on the one hand, to the utilization of animals in crash tests to ‘analyse the adequacy of seat belts, helmets and shoulder harnesses’ on the other.2

Reviewing my earlier work, Hugh Montefiore criticised me for failing to sufficiently consider the benefits of animal research.3 In this section therefore I want to get to grips with this central issue: Can the ends justify the means?

Perhaps the most radical attack on the institution of animal experimentation was made in a little known essay written in 1947 by C. S. Lewis. Lewis, never a person of moral compromise, does not mince his words:

Once the old Christian idea of a total difference in kind between man and beast has been abandoned, then no argument for experiments on animals can be found which is not also an argument for experiments on inferior men. If we cut up beasts simply because they cannot prevent us and because we are backing up our own side in the struggle for existence, it is only logical to cut up imbeciles, criminals, enemies or capitalists for the same reason. Indeed, experiments on men have already begun. We hear all that Nazi scientists have done them. We all suspect that our own scientists may begin to do so, in secret, at any moment.4

Lewis’ argument may appear contentious in at least two ways. In the first place, is it true that Christian doctrine maintains a ‘total difference in kind’ between man and animals? We have seen how precisely the opposite should be the case; that the biblical material requires us to view humans and animals as subjects of common creation bound together in the same covenant relationship. The difference ‘in kind’ must surely relate to the moral obligations present in humankind which are absent in animals, and which elsewhere Lewis defends as the major difference between humans and non-humans.5

In the second place, the notion that ‘no argument … can be found’ for experimentation on animals which does not also justify experimentation on humans will strike many as absurd. Is it not precisely the moral difference between animals and humans which justifies their respectively different treatments? Anyone who does not already oppose animal experimentation will surely regard these lines as anti-vivisectionist propaganda. And yet could it be that Lewis was right?

On 15 May 1941, Dr Sigmund Rasher, who was the Nazi Medical Officer of the Luftwaffe, wrote to Himmler concerning his experiments on the psychological and physiological troubles involved in high-altitude flights:

I have noticed with regret that no experiments on human material has yet been introduced here, because the tests are very dangerous and no volunteers have offered their services. For this reason I ask in all seriousness: Is there any possibility of obtaining from you two or three professional criminals to be placed at our disposal? These tests, in the course of which the ‘guinea pigs’ may die, would be carried out under supervision. They are absolutely indispensable to research into high-altitude flying and cannot be carried out, as has been so far attempted, on monkeys, whose reactions are completely different.6

Notice how it was the apparent failure of experiments on animals which led directly to the request for human subjects. A request, incidentally, that Himmler was ‘delighted’ to comply with.7 But, it may be protested, it is wholly wrong to compare the Nazi scientists of yesterday with the humane, morally scrupulous animal researchers of today. After all, the Nazis were Nazis, they only represented an aberrant, if morally shocking, episode in the history of experimental science. But is this true?

‘I sometimes felt sorry for the logs of wood. I wondered, is it right to do such things to them?’8 The speaker is Naoji Uezono, leader of the vivisection team of the 731st Japanese regiment during the Second World War.

The ‘logs of wood’ (maruta) were some three thousand Chinese, Russian, Mongol and American prisoners of war. These human prisoners were subjected to ‘injection of plague, cholera, typhus and other germs, the freezing of limbs, the infecting of syphilis [and] the prolonged exposure to X-rays’.9 If people wonder why details of these experiments are not so well known as their Nazi counterparts, the answer is even more grotesque. An arrangement was made whereby the vivisection team would be granted immunity from prosecution, if the useful results of their researches were handed over to the Americans. The ‘freezing experiments were so thorough that the team leader became the world authority on the science of human adaptability to [the] environment’.10

Dr. Edwin Hill, a US Army scientist, said in 1947 that the important information ‘could not be obtained in our laboratories because of scruples attached to human experimentation’.11
But, it may be objected, these experiments happened during ‘wartime’. We agree that awful, sometimes terrible, things happen in war. But is ‘human material’, as Dr. Rasher puts it, safe during ‘peacetime’? Was Lewis wrong when he argued that humans could find what they regard as ‘inferior’ humans to experiment upon, once the logic of using animals becomes widespread

During the last twenty years or more, scientists working in the area of human genetics have developed in vitro techniques of human fertilisation. This has given the opportunity for emperimental work on embryos, and at the present moment it is possible for scientists to create embryonic ‘material’ for the sole purpose of research. The majority of the Warnock Committee in the United Kingdom recommended that ‘Legislation should provide that research may be carried out on any embryo resulting from in vitro fertilisation, whatever its provenance, up to the end of the fourteenth day after fertilisation …’12 These experiments, under the legislation proposed, would be formally legalised and experimenters licensed for their work. The majority of the Committee did not regard an embryo ‘as a person, or even as a potential person’.13

Experimentation could be justified because respect for the embryo ‘cannot be absolute, and may be weighed against the benefits arising from research’.14

What then is the moral status of the embryo? The Committee argued that it should have a ‘special status’ and that ‘it should be afforded some protection in law’.15 But this protection is not that which extends to other adult humans; so long as it is ‘spare’ it can still be used and destroyed for research purposes. In short: the embryo is a ‘sub-human’; it fares little better than the animals, but only a little. Its practical status is hardly distinguishable from the ‘inferior’ humans of which Lewis wrote.

It must be remembered that these developments have taken place against the institutionalised, routinised use of millions of animals for experimentation every year in the world today. In the United Kingdom the number of animals so used has grown from less than a thousand in 1876, when the first Act legalising animal experimentation was passed, to annual figures in the region of two to four million. Figures for the United States range from around seventy to a hundred and twenty million. Animals as a matter of course have been subject, and still are subject, to burning, scalding, starving, mutilating, depriving and in almost every other way, harmful experiments. It must be very difficult for anti-vivisectionists not to have a sense of déjà vu when listening to debates about the use of embryos in experimentation. The talk of licensing, essential controls, advisory committees and inspectors all have a familiar ring. The battle was lost for animals when, after years of such discussion, two Royal Commissions, and despite royal and archiepiscopal patronage of the anti-vivisection cause, amended legislation in the end allowed the infliction of ‘severe pain’.16

It may be protested that the foregoing amounts to scare tactics which obscure the important distinctions that should be made between the cases of humans, embryos and animals. But the distinctions that may be drawn in this area seem to work for animals rather than against them. Unlike embryos (although we cannot be certain at present) animals are sentient. Like embryos, but not some adult human beings, animals cannot give or withhold their consent to procedures inflicted upon them. Where are the morally relevant distinctions which justify experimentation upon primates (in for example outrageous head-injury experiments) but which cannot justify experimentation upon embryos or even adult humans?

What characterises all these experiments, whether on criminals, prisoners of war, embryos or animals, is that they are defended on the basis of benefit. Dr Rasher was sincerely convinced that research on criminals was ‘absolutely indispensable’ in order to increase understanding of the problems involved in high-altitude flying. The Warnock Committee was convinced (surely no less sincerely) that respect for the embryo must be ‘weighed against the benefits arising out of research’. And many experimenters are no less convinced today (and equally sincerely) that experimentation on animals is essential. Even a distinguished scientist like W.D.M. Paton can justify ‘nicotine injections into monkeys with brain electrodes’ because ‘these experiments showed that nicotine produces a state of brain arousal resembling normal arousal more closely than does that produced by caffeine or amphetamine’ and are therefore ‘important for understanding the smoking habit’.17

Some people, even those who seek reform of animal experimentation, still justify some experimentation on the basis of benefit. ‘If one, or even a dozen animals had to suffer experiments in order to save thousands, I would think it right and in accordance with equal consideration of interests that they should do so’, argues Peter Singer. ‘This, at any rate, is the answer a utilitarian must give,’ he adds.18 But even if utilitarianism is a satisfactory moral philosophy (which some of us would doubt), it fails to grapple with the fact that it is always possible to justify experimentation on the grounds of utility, if only for the reason that nothing can be proved to be useless. It is simply impossible to deny the utility of experiments on humans, sub-humans or animals. Like Lewis, I simply find myself unable to find any justification for experiments on animals which do not also justify experiments on humans, ‘sub’ or otherwise.
‘Once you grant the ethics of the vivisectionist’, argued George Bernard Shaw, ‘you not only sanction the experiment on the human subject, but make it a first duty of the vivisector’.19
Some may still regard this Lewis/Shaw argument as propaganda. But its logic is accepted even by those who publicly deride any notion of animal rights. Raymond Frey, that dedicated opponent of rights theory, has sadly to conclude that ‘we cannot, with the appeal to benefit, justify (painful) animal experiments without justifying (painful) human experiments’.20 Frey accepts this even though he justifies experimentation on animals. Again: ‘The case for anti-vivisectionism, I think, is far stronger than most people allow’, he writes.21 Alas, Frey does not seem to regard it as sufficiently strong to oppose experiments on animals or humans.

Now, I do not believe that the vivisectors of animals and embryos of today, any more than the vivisectors of criminals and prisoners of yesterday, are particularly awful or terrible people. Those who are so eager to demonstrate their abhorrence of animal experimentation that they accuse the whole system of ‘greed, cruelty, ambition, incompetence, vanity … sadism, insanity’ are wide of the mark.22 There is reason for thinking that some experimenters are sadistically inclined or at least grotesquely callous. This is shown, I think beyond doubt, by the stolen film, produced by the experimenters themselves in the United States, which pictures researchers laughing at the suffering of severely brain-injured primates.23 But by and large it is wrong to accuse scientists of sadism. Doubtless sadists exist in every profession and perhaps all humans are prone to sadistic impulses in some way. Self-righteousness, however, is not a satisfactory response to collective sinfulness (or indeed to any form of sinfulness) and it is hard to believe that anyone is morally pure when it comes to the exploitation of animals.

But why precisely then do we hold animal experimentation to be sinful? The straightforward answer is that the philosophy which justifies it inevitably justifies other evils. Once our moral thinking becomes dominated by crude utilitarian calculations, then there is no right, value or good that cannot be bargained away, animal or human. Some will find this a hard judgement. Doubtless there is a case for some utilitarian calculations in moral thinking. There are times when it seems right to calculate the consequences in a relatively straightforward way. And there are some Christians who, however scrupulous with their use of animals, feel strongly the pull of appeals to benefit.

But even if we accept that some albeit limited experimentation was justified in particular and special circumstances, could we accept the institutionalisation of this practice? Antony Flew made the point some years ago when discussing the practice of torture. He writes as one who holds that the torture of suspects may be justifiable if the benefits seem overwhelming. But he also makes the point that it can never be acceptable as ‘an institutional legal or social practice’.24 In other words, to make an institution of torture would still be wrong from what he calls the ‘deontological’ as well as the ‘consequentialist’ approaches.

There was a time after the publication of my first book Animal Rights (SCM Press, 1976) when I held for a while that some form of experimentation might be justified. It seemed to me inevitable that some appeals to benefit have moral claim upon us. But the intervening years have also confirmed my earlier view that the institutionalisation of experimentation presents us with nothing less than the massive subjugation of millions of animal lives who are bred, sold, confined and used on the presupposition that they have only utilitarian value. ‘Evil’ is the only appropriate moral category I can find which expresses the enormity of the immorality that this involves. If we do not often use such ‘calmly stern language’ it is perhaps, as Lewis indicates, that ‘the other side has in fact won’.25

To oppose such a widespread, highly organised and well-represented institution as that of experimental science is indeed a bold step, and even within the animal movement there are those who would prefer not to confront the issue directly. But in such an area where millions of animal lives are at stake it would be wrong to turn away from the moral vision that the acceptance of animal rights demands of us. As Lewis crisply reminds us, even our vision of our own humanity is at stake:

And though cruelty even to beasts is an important matter, [the vivisectors’] victory is symptomatic of matters more important still. The victory of vivisection marks a great advance in the triumph of ruthless, non-moral utilitarianism over the old world of ethical law; a triumph in which we, as well as animals, are already the victims, and of which Dachau and Hiroshima mark the more recent achievements. In justifying cruelty to animals we put ourselves also on the animal level. We choose the jungle and must abide by our choice.26

What then must we do? If our moral vision requires us to turn away from the institution of animal experimentation, in which direction should we move? Of the many ways of liberation, four seem especially appropriate.

The first is legislation. Ideally I would like to see applied to animal subjects the provision of the Declaration of Helsinki, adopted by the World Medical Assembly of 1964, which held that ‘the interest of science and society should never take precedence over considerations related to the well-being of the subject’ in experimentation.27 In other words, we need legislation forbidding the use of animals as experimental material. Until that day, we must work progressively for reform. One way is to highlight those areas of experimentation which even some researchers would like to see diminished or proscribed.

These include: the use of animals for product testing, tests of obvious brutality such as the Draize test or the LD50 test, experiments which involve severe pain, the reuse of animals which have recovered from anaesthesia, or experiments on certain species of animal such as primates. In addition, the conditions under which animals are kept prior to experimentation frequently leave much to be desired. Acceptance of the minimal guidelines for animals kept in captivity advocated by the Animals and Ethics Report (Watkins, 1980) would be a major breakthrough.

In the United States opposition to ‘pound seizure’ where unwanted animals are automatically transferred to laboratories is growing but urgently needs the support of legislation.28 In a whole host of ways, the plight of laboratory animals needs to be kept on the legislative agenda. If more inspectors, increased animal welfare representation on advisory and ethical committees and further systems of licensing will actually bring more scrutiny and control then they should be welcomed. Since the issues involved in animal experimentation concern the whole community and not just the experimental scientists themselves, it is only right that all interested sections of the community should have some voice. Legislative proposals, even if unsuccessful, help to focus the mind wonderfully by encouraging discussion and debate of otherwise neglected issues.

The second is dialogue. There are some experimenters who are simply not interested in
dialogue about the morality of experimentation. Conversely, there are also some animal rightists incapable of dialogue. But not all experimenters or animal rightists are of this sort. Indeed my experience has been that there are a number of scientists deeply troubled about experimental techniques and some animal rightists who are willing to grapple with the complexities which the issue involves.

This dialogue needs our urgent support. I vividly remember attending a conference on alternatives to the use of animals some years ago and finding myself in discussion with a laboratory technician working in the field of cancer research. We discussed the rights and wrongs of experimentation at some length. Some years later, I found to my amazement that this same person had given up her job, exposed the conditions under which animals had been kept in her laboratories and become a leading light in the anti-vivisection movement. Of course one chance meeting and spirited discussion was not by itself the cause of moral conversion, but dialogue always contains with it the possibility of change — on both sides, of course. The more both sides move away from stereotyped pictures of each other, either of sadistic scientists with hands dripping with blood on one hand, or of sentimental anti-vivisectionists who have no knowledge of the facts on the other, the better it will be for human tolerance as well as the cause of animal rights.

The third is alternatives. Already in Britain the government has given a small amount to funding of specific research devoted to developing alternatives to animals. The majority of the work, however, is financed by public charities including the Dr. Hadwen Trust for Humane Research, the Humane Research Trust, the Lord Dowding Fund for Humane Research and FRAME (The Fund for Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments). All these bodies should be supported and their admirable work encouraged. Even the Research Defence Society helped sponsor an important publication on Alternatives to Animal Experiments which, while defending the need for research involving animals, offers a useful compendium of viable alternatives. That anti-vivisectionists have spent so much of their money trying to develop alternatives to animals should give the lie once and for all to the notion that opposing animal experiments involves opposition to all forms of experimental science. Scientists need to be encouraged through voluntary self-restriction, as Catherine Roberts indicates, to avoid animal use.29 Through dialogue and the utilisation of alternatives, the moral consciousness of scientists can be raised.

But in the end, as Brigid Brophy observes, ‘necessity will mother invention’.30 We would be in an entirely different situation today if the consensus among scientists in previous years had opposed animal experimentation in principle and therefore made the development of alternatives an urgent necessity.

The fourth is choice. It is frequently argued, especially by pharmaceutical companies, that public concern for safety demands animal tests. But the truth is as the Animals and Ethics Report concludes: ‘Commercial competition leads firms to market new products differing only minutely in formula from the old, but because of the change in formula they require testing on animals’.31 There is a whole variety of substances known to be safe and a whole range of products including cosmetics and toiletries which can be produced that do not require testing on animals. Again let the matter be put to proper consumer choice. Let us have in our department stores those cosmetics developed with the aid of animal tests and those products by, say, Beauty Without Cruelty.

So long as the items are accurately labelled and marked, let us see if it is true that consumers will only buy animal-tested products. If competition is to be the justifying criterion for animal tests, let us have a little consumer competition to gauge the truth of the manufacturer’s claims. As a rule we far too easily accept the view of manufacturing industry about what the public wants. Animal rightists should invite multi-nationals to spend just a small part of their annual turnover on the production of goods which require no animal testing and let the consumer choose.

Yet it would be wrong to suppose that industries which finance animal tests or even the scientists themselves should bear the full weight of responsibility. The questions posed by the Animals and Ethics Report deserve a hearing:

Basic to the question of the validity of experiments is the type of society man actually wants and the cost to himself of achieving it. Do we as a society, for example, really want research to be continued into such devastating ways of killing our fellows as those involved in biological weapons of warfare? Are there any ills we are prepared to bear rather than resort to experiments on animals? Are we, for example, through blind obedience to ‘technological progress’ continuing to create problems that perpetuate the necessity for animal experimentation, or are we actively creating a society in which the necessity for experiments on animals will be drastically reduced?32

One Christian answer to these questions has yet to be heard. It is that, deeply conscious of our divinely given stewardship over creation and our special bond of covenant with animals in particular, we should elect to bear for ourselves whatever ills may flow from not experimenting on animals rather than be supporting an institution which perpetuates tyranny. This may be a hard option for many, but it is as arguably a Christian response as many of the others which claim that appellation. If it is the good shepherd as opposed to the hireling who actually lays down his life for the sheep, perhaps the good steward is the one who desists from any path of injury in deference to the prior right of God in creation.

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