What influences animal testing

Ethics & Animal Testing

Ethical consideration when planning animal experiments


  • Ethics (or moral philosophy):
    Theory of Morals and Virtues.
    Doctrine of Correct Action.
    Search for the meaning and justification of values ​​and norms
    (What is a person allowed to do, what is "good - bad", "right - wrong").
    Every ethic is based on premises, that is, on requirements that have been universally recognized and from which rules of conduct for individual cases can be derived.

  • Moral:
    System of rules, moral norms and values ​​that affect human social behavior and that underlie society.
    Sum of the - ethically justified - structures of order and meaning that are conveyed through tradition or convention
    “What you don't want to be done to you, don't do it to anyone else”.

  • Bioethics is a sub-discipline of ethics. She examines moral questions when humans intervene in human, animal and plant life.

  • Animal ethics ist a sub-discipline of bioethics. Its subject is the moral questions that arise from the use (exploitation) of animals by humans.
    Central questions of animal ethics are: Can humans use animals for their own interests? Do actions against animals need justification?

  • Pain: uncomfortable physical and emotional sensation caused by tissue damage.

  • Suffer: all emotionally uncomfortable perceptions that arise from pain, fear, boredom, loneliness, illness etc.

  • Anxiety: negative emotion in an apparently existence-threatening situation that is felt to be hopeless.

  • Damage: Injuries (tissue) as a cause of pain. Removal of tissues / organs, amputations, induced loss of function. Ontogenetically, death is the greatest possible harm.

  • reasonable reason: ethical justification. Reason why the implementation of the project (.. the killing, the animal experiment ..) is the "lesser evil" compared to the omission.

  • Law is the binding writing of a moral norm in order to ensure a lifestyle that is responsible towards others; essentially it is always a matter of balancing interests. In contrast to morality, legally enshrined rights and obligations are enforceable. That is why there is a struggle for animal welfare to be given the status of a basic right ("equality of arms").

The human-animal relationship
Humans use animals for their own purposes in a variety of ways:

  • Food industry / factory farming
  • Hunting / fishing
  • Sports & Freetime
  • Zoos / circus
  • Pets; "Torture breeding" in dogs and cats, keeping exotic species
  • Animal experiments (one or two laboratory animals per German citizen are sacrificed for life science purposes)
  • Partner replacement
  • Use of animal habitats (nature conservation)

Human attitudes towards animals are influenced by:

  • Culture

  • religion

  • education

  • Personal experience

religiously based animal protection e.g. in the Far Eastern religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism.

The way in which animals are used is still predominantly shaped by an anthropocentric view of the world. It developed under the influence of monotheistic religions (e.g. Christianity, Islam) and under the assumption that reason is a privilege of humans. Anthropocentric ethics is based on the premise that creation is centered on humans:

  • human welfare is the only possible subject of moral considerations

  • animal welfare is not morally relevant

If there were any animal protection ideas against this background, they were again anthropocentric:
Animals are not protected for their own sake, but because human morality is weakened or destroyed through cruel treatment of animals (I. Kant, 1724 - 1804; a person who is cruel to animals will also act cruelly to humans ).

The anthropocentric view of the world is justified with a supremacy of humans and their special humane qualities:

  • Endurance

  • Will to live

  • awareness

  • reason

  • soul

  • Individuality, sense of self

  • Self-reflection, self-esteem

  • Would

  • language

However, it is evident that these abilities are very different in humans or in embryos, fetuses, coma patients, the mentally ill, and may not be developed at all, while they can also be found in many animals.

  • Shouldn't it then be morally permissible to conduct experiments on embryos, fetuses, people in coma or the mentally ill?

  • Why is it considered humane to euthanize suffering animals while denying terminally ill people the right to euthanasia?

The scientifically unfounded appeal to human primacy is known as speciesism.

  • Privilege your own species

  • mere membership of the species Homo sapiens is morally relevant

Art-egoism as an ethical concept ultimately led, among other things, to the exploitation of nature and the environment, i.e. it turned out to be risky for human existence.

Most people intuitively see more than just one thing in animals and consider animals to be worth protecting.

Above all, however, against the background of scientific knowledge, the supremacy of humans over animals in anthropocentric ethics can no longer be justified. In all areas of medical and biological research one finds enormous similarity, if not agreement, between humans and animals

  • Morphology and function of organs

  • physiology

  • Molecular Biology and Genetics

  • Behavioral patterns

and this on the basis of a common ancestry.

This similarity justifies the transferability of knowledge between animals and humans. In 70 to 80% of cases, animal experiments can be used to predict the effects of drugs on humans or to define health risks associated with exposure to chemicals.

Fellow creature

  • Analogous to organic development, the development of sensibility and consciousness is also subject to an evolutionary process.

  • Homologies and analogies of neural structures and, above all, behavioral experiments (reward) prove that animals can feel pleasure and pain.

  • Measures that cause pain and suffering in humans can also do the same in animals.

The more animal experiments on a certain species are based on their similarity to humans, the more these experiments are prohibited. Recognizing the common development of humans and animals and their participation in the same world means recognizing animals as our fellow creatures.

Moral relevance of animals
Modern ethical approaches therefore assume that a principle of equality must be the basis of an ethical theory for dealing with animals:
equal interests of living beings must be given equal consideration
equal consideration of interests does not mean equal treatment
(because there are differences between humans and between humans and animals)
(essential justice)

This principle initially shifts the question of the moral relevance of animals to the new question of what the interests of animals are and what interests are equal or unequal in relation to humans.

It seems impossible to clarify this problem through the search for typically "humane" qualities. The existence of consciousness, self-esteem, dignity, reason, soul etc. in animals can be assumed, but can hardly be proven from a scientific point of view. These qualities cannot be measured objectively and animals can only provide information about themselves to a very limited extent.

There is currently consensus that

  • Great apes, whales and dolphins can be ascribed an interest in survival and an interest in not having to fear death,

and that

  • These animals, which, in a similar way to humans, have self- and future-consciousness, should not suffer any suffering except in their own interest.

Pathocentric Ethics
The discussion about animal ethics was spurred considerably when an attempt was made to derive action standards no longer from clear differences, but from the similarities between humans and animals:

  • All living beings are interested in a "good life".

  • The minimum requirement to be able to differentiate quality of life is the ability to feel pain and suffering.

  • The existence of the ability to suffer is seen as the lowest common denominator for the justification of an ethics of action towards living beings.

It follows:

  • The right to protection that animals enjoy is based on their ability to suffer.

  • Loss of the basic conditions of a good life leads to suffering. That is why man is morally obliged to show consideration for all beings who can suffer.

  • An interest not to suffer can be ascribed to a suffering animal without at the same time ascribing to it the ability to form judgments - for example about the quality of its suffering.

  • In the case of animals, killing may weigh less than inflicting suffering. With humans possibly the other way round, because they can put suffering into perspective (hope for improvement afterwards). Moral evaluation requires clarification as to whether animals have a sense of the future.

The moral right to freedom of science and research should therefore be restricted where the exercise of this right is associated with the infliction of suffering (e.g. in experiments with humans or animals). The moral here goes beyond the currently applicable law.

Animals, human embryos or people in a coma who cannot suffer initially fall out of the concept of pathocentric ethics. Here moral-analogous respect comes into play, possibly from a basic religious attitude (human life is absolutely sacred) or, for example, as a form of general respect for nature (emotion-based ethics; fear of destroying something living).

The conflict of interest
With the recognition of co-creativeness of animals, it is also recognized that animals have independent interests:

  • Right to life and integrity

  • Respect for individuality and uniqueness

  • Respect for one's own worth and dignity

This is opposed to - also ethically justifiable - interests of humans towards animals:

  • Food acquisition

  • Knowledge acquisition, knowledge increase

  • Exercise of interpersonal responsibility (medicine)

  • Securing one's own existence (pests ...)

  • (socially accepted: leisure, hobby)

Striving for the realization of human values ​​or interests is contrary to the basic ethical attitude of fellow creature and the dignity of animals.

Only compromise solutions lead out of the ethical dilemma in which one finds oneself here. The compromise solution consists in the relativization of interests and is of course ideologically or subjectively shaped.

The legally regulated animal welfare is based on this principle. It is an expression of the socially and mostly wanted appeal to our sense of guilt towards animals, which we use for our interests. The Animal Welfare Act defines the framework and conditions for the use of animals in our society. The basic moral attitude expressed therein is:

The human right to use animals is coupled with the duty to avoid abuse of this right.

Animal protection law is not static, but is still subject to constant discussion, which can be decisively influenced by the behavior of the animal users. In recent years, scientific societies and committees in numerous countries have drawn up ethical principles for the use of animals in experiments as a voluntary commitment. In the end, animal testing will always be seen as a terrible necessity.
Only ethical animal experiments (proof of indispensability and ethical justifiability in the sense of weighing up interests) can be approved at all.

Links to deepen the topic:

  • Humans and fellow creatures from an ethical point of view
    (Homepage of the association "Action Church and Animals e.V."; advocacy for more "co-creativeness for animals in our society")

  • Guidelines for Ethical Conduct in the Care and Use of Animals

Dr. Wolfgang Geise
Animal welfare officer at the University of Würzburg