Select Committee on Animals In Scientific Procedures Report


2.1  There is no doubt that the issues raised by the remit of the Select Committee, besides being practical, are also moral or ethical. They centre on the question of how human beings should treat other animals. Moral beliefs and sentiment differ about the answer to this question.

2.2  There are those who, following a suggestion by Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century, hold that all creatures capable of suffering are on an equal footing with human beings, regardless of "the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum".[39] These people hold that being sentient confers a moral right on animals that they should not be used by human beings for research whose purpose is mainly to benefit humans.[40] Some activists are prepared to uphold this view by violence.[41]

2.3  More commonly, there are those who hold that the whole institution of morality, society and law is founded on the belief that human beings are unique amongst animals. Humans are therefore morally entitled to use animals, whether in the laboratory, the farmyard or the house, for their own purposes. And this belief is sometimes combined with a further belief that there is a moral imperative for human beings to develop medical and veterinary science for the relief of suffering, among both humans and other animals. This moral imperative permits the use in research laboratories of animals, whose suffering must be weighed against the ultimate relief of suffering towards which research is directed. This is encapsulated in the weighing of harms and benefits (the "cost/benefit" assessment) in the 1986 Act.

2.4  The belief that human beings have the moral right, and in some contexts the moral imperative, to use animals in research, does not entail that animals may be bred and kept for human purposes with total disregard for their suffering. The deliberate or negligent causing of suffering to another, whether human or animal, is a moral vice, cruelty, which is sometimes a crime. Therefore we have a moral duty to avoid or minimise animal suffering wherever possible.

2.5  The unanimous view of the Select Committee is that it is morally acceptable for human beings to use other animals, but that it is morally wrong to cause them unnecessary or avoidable suffering.

39   Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789), chapter 17 "Of the Limits of the Penal Branch of Jurisprudence", section 1, footnote. The note concludes, "the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?". Back

40   This is the view taken by philosophers such as Peter Singer (whom the Committee met during their visit to the United States), and organisations such as the BUAV (Q. 393) and PETA (Q. 1172). Back

41   None of those who presented evidence to us said that they endorsed violence, though we did not receive written evidence from some of the more extreme animal rights groups. Back

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