Changing Nature's Course: The Ethical Challenge of Biotechnology

By Gerhold K. Becker; James P. Buchanan | Go to book overview

Cruelty to animals and indifference to the extinction of endangered species, is, especially in this region, sometimes defended in the name of cultural or ethical relativism. This is a neglected issue that warrants close attention. It is true that, as in the case of human rights, 'since people are more likely to observe normative propositions if they believe them to be sanctioned by their own cultural standards, observance of human rights standards can be improved through the enhancement of the cultural legitimacy of those standards.' 70 Yet, all too often, these arguments merely camouflage injustice. Where suffering is caused (and especially where international norms are infringed) we should resist such claims.

If the argument about our use of animals in research is best considered as an aspect of our attitude towards the planet we inhabit, it requires an understanding of the circumstances that give rise to animal experimentation in the first place. Are experiments (if that is what they are) performed by large pharmaceutical companies 71 a kind of insurance policy against potential claims for negligence? Do the criteria for academic career advancement place undue emphasis on research conducted on animals? Is the practice of animal experimentation so ingrained into the methodology and reward-system of the scientific community that it inevitably generates more experiments? 72 These questions warrant the closest examination.

Was Bentham too sanguine when he declared:

Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being? The time will come when humanity will extend its mantle over everything which breathes. We have begun by attending to the condition of slaves; we shall finish by softening that of all the animals which assist our labours or supply our wants. 73

Who could hope that he was?


Notes
1.
"If Animals Could Talk" [ 1932] in H. Rula (ed) Mortals and Others:Bertrand Russell's American Essays 1931-1935 ( London: Allen & Unwin, 1975) vol. 1, 120-121, quoted in P. A.B. Clarke and A. Linzey (eds) Political Theory and Animal Rights ( London: Pluto Press, 1990) 92.
2.
This figure (which happily declines each year) can only be an estimate and does not include all countries; it is based on the following estimates: US: 90 m, Japan: 13 m, Austria: 8 m, Australia: 8 m, UK: 5 m, France: 4.4 m, Netherlands: 3 m, South Africa: 2 m, Canada: 2 m, Finland: 1.6 m, India: 1 m, Sweden: 0.9 m, Israel: 0.5 m, Norway: 0.09 m. The statistics are from G. Mitchell, "Guarding the Middle Ground:"The Ethics of Experiments on Animals ( 1989) 85 S.Afr.J.Sci.285.
3.
See P. Singer, Animal Liberation ( New York: Avon, 1975), T. Regan, The Struggle for Animal Rights (Clarks Summit,Penn.: International Society for Animal Rights, 1987), J. M. Jasper and D. Nelkin, The Animal Rights Crusade:The Growth of a Moral Protest ( New York: The Free Press, 1992)

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