Research Tools

AuthorLesli Bisgould
ProfessionAdjunct Professor, Faculty of Law
You do not settle whether an experi ment is justif‌ied or not by merely
showing that it is of some us e. The distinction is not betwee n use-
ful and useles s experiment s, but between barbarous and civ ilized
behaviour. Vivise ction is a social ev il because if it advance s human
knowledge, it does so at the exp ense of human character.
George Bernard Sh aw1
It is in the realm of rese arch that the implications of animal s’ legal status
as property are brought into greatest relief. In medical, scientif‌ic, and
commercial exper iments using live animals, sometimes refer red to as in
vivo research or “vivisection,” hurting animal s is an intrinsic part of the
activity; in th is realm, it is prima facie acceptable to knowingly cause
pain, suffering, injur y, disability, disease, fear, and stress and to require
animals to live in unnatural, uncomfortable, and lonely conditions.
Research is t he most challenging subject for some people who have
ethical concerns about the tre atment of animals and it is sometime s
seen as an unfortunate necessity: how can anyone support leaving any
stone unturned when it comes to seeking the cure to human diseases
that so deeply affect us and our loved ones? Yet when scrutinized, the
subject raises the most dif f‌icult problems in respect of justifying the
instrumenta l use of animals.
1 Preface to The Doctor’s Dilemma (1911; repr, New York: Penguin Books, 1957).
Part A is an introduction to the is sues surrounding the use of ani-
mals in experimentation. Part B describes the peer-review system of
oversight administered by the Canadian Council on Animal Care. Part
C reviews the relevant legislative schemes. Part D considers particular
implication s of biotechnology and intellect ual propert y.
Animals are used in research conducted in and by universities, hospi-
tals, federal and provincial government departments, and phar maceut-
ical, biotechnological, and other commercial operations. They are used
for a wide variety of purpose s (which include but are not limited to the
pursuit of ways to prolong human lives), all of which are generally cat-
egorized under three headings: teaching, testing, and research.
In teaching, students from prim ary grades through university are
required to watch demonstrations or actually participate in vivisec-
tion (of living) or dissection (of dead) individual anima ls. In testing,
animals are used in drug and toxicology studies for medical, pharma-
ceutical, or other commercial purposes. Some animals have chemicals
applied to their eyes or skin in order to test new cosmetics or personal
care, household cleaning, and industr ial products. Sometimes animals
are force-fed toxic substances to see what level causes reactions l ike
convulsions, paralysi s, tremors, bleeding from bodily cavities, or death;
they can be put in chamber s where they are forced to inhale heavy con-
centrations of substances like hair spray, disinfectants, and industrial
chemicals. They are used widely for pharmaceutical tests and even for
military purposes, like testing chemical and nerve gas.
Animals a re used in both pure and applied research. Commercial ag ri-
cultural research aims to create turkeys with more white meat or juicier
thighs, chickens who fatten fa ster or have no feathers, and dairy cows
who give more milk. In medical research, they are used to develop and
test surgical procedures and devices. They can be given disea ses, burned,
maimed, electrocuted, shaken, paralyzed, blinded, and deprived of food,
water, and companionship. They can be forcibly addicted to substances,
sometimes by being restrained for hours a day and subjected to electric
shocks or food deprivation to encourage them to self-administer drugs or
alcohol. They can be used in psychological studies rel ated to learned help-
lessness, maternal deprivation, social isolation, stre ss, and depression.
Although humans would be the best models for studie s related to
human disea se and matters affecting the human body, ethical concerns
Re sea rch To ols 203
preclude the use of unconsenting humans in experiments.2 The use of
consenting humans i n research is prohibited for the kinds of th ings
that are done to animal s, and, where it is permitted, it is subject to
controls and extensive ethical debate.3 It is t herefore inaccurate to say
that we will not leave any stone unturned i n the quest to cure hu-
man disea ses. However important such cures are, some things are even
more precious: an individual’s right to her own life, libert y, and bodily
integrity takes priority over the knowledge that might be gained i f she
were used instrumentally for the benef‌it of others.
When we then turn to anim als to be surrogate models for the hu-
man body, we create a logical contradiction: researc h is done on animals
on the basis that t hey are like us (and therefore the results of experi-
ments done on them will be mean ingful to us), but it is justif‌ied on the
basis that they are not like us (and therefore it presents no ethical bar-
riers). That contradiction is a premis e of the practice and it is the basis of
much of the objection to it.4 However, the contradiction is obscured in
2 This statement i s subject to qualif‌ication. Fir st, children and some adults l ack
the capacity t o give informed consent and the y can be involved in experi-
mental studie s; however, substitute consent must be given on b ehalf of such
persons by some one concerned for their interest s. It is also true that apa rt from
well-known at rocities committed in the S econd World War, marginal ized and
otherwi se disempowered human b eings have been used in ma ny experiments,
in many place s in the world, without their conse nt and sometimes even without
their knowledge. Howe ver, such acts are gener ally deplored and those who
engage in them str enuously seek to protect them from public awar eness. See:
Andrew Goliszek, In the Name of Science: A Histor y of Secret Programs, Medical
Research and Human Ex perimentation (New York: St Mar tin’s Press, 2003).
3 Canadia n Institutes for Health Res earch, Natural Science s and Engineering
Research C ouncil of Canada and Soci al Sciences and Humanit ies Research
Council of Cana da, Tri-Council Policy State ment: Ethical Conduct for Research
Involving Humans, 2d ed (December 2 010), online: ww pdf/
4 Animal r ights philosophy poses t he question: what are the morally r elevant
difference s that justify subjecti ng sentient animals to t reatment for the benef‌it
of humans which i s unacceptable for humans the mselves? Otherwis e put: if the
very factors wh ich are the basis for rejecting t he use of humans in expe riments
(such as loss of liber ty or loss of life, and the pain a nd fear they will suffer) wi ll
be exper ienced by those who are being use d instead, how is the dif ferential
treatment ju stif‌ied? These questions are e xplored in Gary L Francione, Anima ls,
Property and th e Law (Philadelphia: Temple University Pre ss, 1995) at 165–84
[Francione, Law]; William Paton, Man and Mou se, 2d ed (New York: Oxford
University Pre ss, 1993); Bernard E Rol lin, The Unheeded Cry: Animal Conscious-
ness, Animal Pain and Scie nce (Oxford: Oxford Univer sity Press, 1990); Gill
Langley, ed, Animal Ex perimentation: The Con sensus Changes (New York: Chap-
man & Hall, 1989); Carl Cohen, “The Ca se for the Use of Animals in Biome d-
ical Rese arch” (1986) 315 New England Journal of Medic ine 865; and Richard

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT