Experiments on Animals

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For many centuries people have experimented on animals. There are two main reasons for doing this: first, to find out more about the animals themselves, and, secondly, to test substances and procedures to see if they are harmful (with a view to deciding whether or not they can be used on human beings). In the second category fall cosmetic products as well as medicines and surgical techniques. There is a growing consensus that it is not acceptable to test cosmetic products on animals. This debate is about whether we should experiment on animals for scientific and medical purposes. The debate about the pros and cons of animal experimentation (or 'vivisection') is one that elicits very strong emotions: animal rights activists have resorted to trespass, violence, death threats, and hunger strikes in their single-minded (and sometimes illegal) mission to end this practice.

Pros: Experiments on animals should be considered on a case-by-case basis. The proper principle to apply, however, is that the reduction of human suffering is our first priority and the prevention of animal suffering or death is secondary to that (although still important). So that if there is a decent chance that an experiment will result in an important medical breakthrough that will reduce human suffering and death then it is justifiable to allow animal suffering. Animal experimentation is the (sometimes distasteful) means to much greater ends.

Con:Animals have the right to be treated as beings of value in themselves, not as the means to human ends; this principle must be applies in order to guarantee the end of cruelty to animals. The application of this principle means that animals should never be experimented upon whatever the potential gain for humanity. To infect monkeys with the AIDS virus or to expose rodents to toxic chemicals and radiation is simply not acceptable, whatever the supposed benefits.

Pros: Although in principle it is more important to reduce human suffering that...
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