Animal testing is often justified through utilitarianism, which states that the suffering of the few is worth the gain of the many. This is the stance taken by the California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC), and it is ethically unjustified.
An application of this philosophy leads to the intentional harm of non-human primates by human researchers and their undue suffering for potential medical breakthroughs.
When put in the context of medicine, it is easy to appeal to emotions for an answer. There is not one of us who has not directly or indirectly benefited from modern medicine. But to justify animal testing exclusively by what it does for humanity means taking a hierarchical stance on suffering and valuing one life form over another.
To start, we have to stop judging the value of a life based on intelligence. Too often it is thought that respect only applies to rational beings. It would not be accepted for an insane adult to be used for testing against their will, even if they too lack the ability to reason.
It would not be accepted because they would still experience suffering, much like non-human primates and any other animal with nerves.
Additionally, the results of animal testing can never accurately tell us how certain drugs or diseases will act in humans. Any results gained are nothing more than a flashy ‘maybe’, or at best, an arrow in the right direction. This means much of the animal suffering is for naught.
Outside of UC Davis, this is shown in the quest to cure AIDS, where chimpanzees are the animals of choice. No non-human animals contract AIDS in nature and primates are the only animals whose immune system can be infected with something similar, SIV.
Despite our similarities, there are enough physiological differences between us that human terminal illnesses are rarely contracted by or fatal to chimps. The information gained is fallible.
This is not to say that animal testing has not led to amazing things. The reason the topic is controversial is that rare successes have left a large impact on mankind. It is also not advisable to reject the knowledge we’ve gained on a basis of morality.
However, we are at a point where we can continue to make advancements in medicine without using animal-specimens. This is especially true at an institution like UC Davis, where research is renowned and well funded.
Instead of ignoring critics, CNPRC should take into consideration the ethical issues behind testing. Researchers should focus their energies on expanding the non-animal tools available, like cell cultures and computer simulators. This is the best path toward making animal testing obsolete and ending unnecessary suffering.
– Becky Peterson, Janelle Bitker, Robin Migdol