Any major technological innovation leads to the creation of a vacuum in social ethics which necessitates the reconsiderations of society’s moral stand regarding particular issues. The development of genetic research has led such a reconsideration to take place specifically in the use of animals in genetic research. In lieu of this, this paper aims to present the contrasting views regarding the use of animals in genetic research. I will argue that the use of animals in genetic research is inhumane and as such animals should not be used in genetic research.
Nordgren (2001) notes that the issues surrounding the use of animals in genetic research developed from two different sources: (1) “an ethical awareness of animal well-being” which has emerged from science and (2) criticism on the use of animals coming from different movements outside the scientific community (p. 202). The first source recognizes the usefulness of animals in the development of scientific knowledge. The later, on the other hand, argues that animals also possess dignity [lower kind of dignity] like human beings (Nordgen, 2001, p.205). The contention between the two groups lies in their views regarding the moral standing of animals.
The views of those who uphold the use of animals in genetic research are based upon the following assumptions.First, research on animals has enabled biomedical advance which has been useful for the treatment of physical and mental illnesses. Second, the primary obligations of human beings are to their fellow human beings.
Third, animals are not persons and lastly, human beings hold the position of deciding their relationship to animals (Gluck and Bell, 2003, p.9). The views of those who hold the later view, on the other hand argue that the use of animals in genetic research leads to (1) our failure to recognize the existence of animal morality or (2) our tendency to favor our species (Gluck and Bell, 2003, p. 6-8).The notion of animal morality is based on the assumption that animals possess a certain level of consciousness and hence are capable of distinguishing the difference between right and wrong. In this sense, genetic research is immoral if it is conducted upon animals who possess consciousness. The problem with this view, however, lies in the necessity to determine the level of consciousness that an animal is in possession of.
The later view, on the other hand, is based on the argument of speciesism. Speciesism refers to the “unjust and discriminatory attitudes towards species other than our own” (Cigman, 1981, p.47). According to the adherents of the aforementioned claim, special value is derived from membership as opposed to “any particular features that individual members of the species possess” (Boddington and Podpadec, 1999, p.281).Singer (2004) claims that speciesism is characterized with the belief that it is justifiable “to treat a member of another species in a way which would be wrong to treat our own” (p.288).
In this sense, arguments against speciesism does not so much provide the denial that animals and persons are in all respects identical and therefore entitled to identical treatment. On the other hand, such arguments state that it is rather the possession across species of certain morally relevant capacities that necessitates their equal treatment with human beings. In this sense, speciesism may thereby be seen as a failure to acknowledge the equal capacities of persons and animals to experience suffering and the moral equality, which is a corollary of this fact. As such, speciesism bears at least a superficial resemblance to sexism and racism, the error of which consists in the failure to understand the tautology that all human beings are human being.
As I see it, equal capacity to suffer is the only reasonable ground for moral equality; it has been shown, moreover, that many species are in possession of nervous systems of comparable complexity to those of humans, and that they therefore suffer pain of comparable intensity. In opposition to this, adherents of speciesism state that the ascription of morality towards other species [other than Homo sapiens] fails to note that morality is independent of membership within a species. Scruton (2006) notes, “It is rather the difference between a moral being, who lives as the subject and object of judgment, and a non-moral being, who merely lives” which should be considered in the issues surrounding the use of animals in genetic research (p.50).
In addition to this, Scruton further claims that the distinction that should be assessed is the “distinction between the moral and the non-moral being” in the entities considered (2006, p.50). If such is the case, the distinction that should be considered in the ascription of morality should not necessarily delve on the physical aspects of existence. Scruton claims that the distinction is “metaphysical rather than merely natural” (2006, p.51).
In that sense, animals may not be said to be in possession of morality. However, as I see it, this does not imply that animals should be treated inhumanely in the process of research. There is still a necessity to follow ethical standards in the process of conducting genetic research