Human Exceptionalism

UK Right to Reduce Animals Used in Research

Human exceptionalism strongly supports animal welfare–just as it opposes animal rights.

The UK has recently issued a report about how it intends to reduce the number of animals used in research–as it properly defends such experimentation as necessary for scientific advancement and the improvement of human lives–a perfectly consistent approach with HE values.

The report is long, but allow me to pull out a few items to illustrate important ways that animal welfare differs from animal rights in this field. 

1. Welfare promotes human good: Animal research is absolutely necessary for scientific advancement and the amelioration of human disease:

The use of non-human primates in Parkinson’s Disease research has been invaluable in identifying the subthalamic nucleus as a surgical target for deep brain stimulation in human patients. This work was initially carried out at the University of Oxford and has since progressed through human trials to become an effective treatment for reversing the debilitating tremors experienced by Parkinson’s patients

2. Animal welfare does not treat animals as equals: Just as animals are not equal to us, so too, our duties to some animals are higher than to others. In other words, it requires a proper analysis of the uses of animals’ scientific usefulness, a determination of their differing capacities to suffer, etc:

As the research potential offered by genetically altered rodents and fish has increased, so the number used has risen significantly and this is reflected in total numbers between 1995 and the present. However, the trend for many other species – for example dogs, cats and non-human primates – has generally declined over the same period since much work previously done in these species can now be done on speciies of perceived lower sentience such as mice or fish.

3. The UK continues to promote the “three Rs,” e.g., reduction, replacement, and refinement:

The NC3Rs champions animal welfare and high standards in animal research. It has funded research to improve the assessment and alleviation of pain in laboratory animals, and to ensure that rats and mice are killed as humanely as possible at the end of studies. The Centre reviews all applications submitted to the major bioscience funding bodies that involve the use of non-human primates, cats, dogs or horses, identifying opportunities to further implement the 3Rs. It also hosts an annual meeting for scientists, vets and animal care staff who use non-human primates to discuss welfare issues; recent meetings have included topics such as training animals to cooperate with procedures such as blood sampling in order to minimise any stress they might experience and the use of imaging technologies.

Do you see how superior and more nuanced the welfare approach is than the “rights” ideology? Under the latter, the mice are the same as the monkeys, are the same as people, e.g., no use of animals in research and a collapse of an entire scientific sector.

That would not only cause us great harm, but would impede research that helps us improve animal welfare and our understanding of the natural world.


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