The ethical dilemma of animal testing: are animals equal to humans?

Are animals equal to humans?

People often say, “Dogs are a man’s best friend.” We always value and cherish dogs, and I wonder why we don’t do the same for other animals. Sure, dogs and cats are domestic animals, but what differentiates them from other animals? If we would never think to hurt our pets, why are mice, rats, birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and more used for research?

Animals have been used for research since the dawn of medicine. Early Greek physician-scientists such as Aristotle, Erasistratus and Galen didn’t view this as immoral. On the contrary –– they believed that humans were of a higher status than animals and used animal testing to further understand anatomy, physiology, pathology, and pharmacology.

Thomas Aquinas, one of the most influential Christian theologians of the Middle Ages, had a similar point of view. In his famous book Summa Theologica, Aquinas writes that God made animals for man and that animals can’t reason. This justified the use of animals for human purposes, whether it be eating or research.

René Descartes, a famous French philosopher, mathematician and scientist during the Age of Enlightenment, also believed that animals were mere “mechanisms” or “automata.” Descartes viewed animals as complex physical machines without experiences, souls and minds.

However, these notions started to change when Charles Darwin questioned animal testing, when he introduced his famous theory of evolution. Darwin advocated for animal rights because he argued humans come from monkeys and have evolved through natural selection. This changed his view on the relationship between humans and animals.

In recent years, animal testing has become an ethical debate. 

Some may justify the use of animals for research to make safer products for human use and consumption.

“For me, animal experimentation is an ethical dilemma. This is because we should not use animals for this purpose, but on the other hand, animal experimentation has brought great benefits to mankind,” said Coman Cristin, a veterinary and senior researcher at the Unit of Animal Experimentation Cantacuzino Institute in Bucharest, Romania.

I believe using animals for scientific purposes to be unethical and unnecessary. Just like dogs feel emotions, so do other animals, and no animals should be used for testing.

The ideas that animals can’t feel emotions is outdated. It is scientifically proven that animals have emotions. 

On July 7, 2012, a group of scientists signed the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness at Cambridge University in the U.K.

This declaration states, “The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviours.”

The statement further says, “Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”

It is estimated that more than 115 million animals worldwide are used in laboratory experiments every year. Not to mention, animal testing rarely guarantees a product’s safety for humans.

The Canadian Centre for Alternatives to Animal Methods (CCAAM) and the Canadian Centre for the Validation of Alternatives Methods (CaCVAM) were founded in 2017 and are based at the University of Windsor. These centres “aim to develop, validate, and promote non-animal, human biology-based platforms in biomedical research, education, and chemical safety testing.”

In a TED Talk titled “It’s time to think outside the cage,” Charu Chandrasekera, founding executive director of the CCAAM and CaCVAM, points out that 95 per cent of drugs tested and found to be safe and effective in animals fail in human clinical trials. Of the 5 per cent that are approved, half of those are withdrawn due to unpredicted side effects in humans.

Chandrasekera also highlights that diseases such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart failure, ALS, and Parkinson’s have been cured in mice, but not in humans. 

Also, drugs such as Raxar, Trasylol, and Rezulin have been withdrawn from the market due to lethal consequences in humans, but they were safe and effective in mice.

When asked if animal testing is necessary for scientific progress, Hope Ferdowsian, a physician with expertise in ethics and public health, and CEO of Phoenix Zones Initiative, said, “We can ask what is necessary? Well, a lot becomes less necessary when we use our imagination, and we push innovative methods forward.”

Ferdowsian also emphasizes a need to “push this old and outdated way of animal testing and research and more toward innovative ways that rely on, for example, human cell lines or computer modelling.”

Knowing this, shouldn’t animal testing be banned?

As previously stated, all animals have feelings. Why test on mice, rats, frogs, hamsters if dogs and cats aren’t used for animal testing?

Considering the new initiatives and alternatives, scientists and researchers should reconsider animal testing with the latest advanced science of the 21st century. More specifically, our relationship with all animals and the way we view them has to change.

After all, Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”



Graphic by Taylor Reddam.

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