- From the EditorsA Remarkable Convergence
In 2013 the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics was commissioned by Cruelty Free International to produce an academic report on the ethics of using animals in research.
No strings were attached to the commission or limitations imposed as to what our findings, if any, should be. We immediately approached the fellows of the Centre (now over one hundred) to see if there were some prepared to join a working group. A range of fellows from a variety of disciplines, 18 in all, took up the challenge. The group worked strenuously over a two year period. Numerous drafts were produced, circulated, commented upon, revised, improved, and critiqued again. At first, we thought a report of a few thousand words would suffice, but our work grew, and grew ending up with a report exceeding 60,000 words.
It was a laborious and demanding project, not least of all because the report took account of a wide range of disciplines and included, inter alia, ethicists, philosophers, theologians, historians, sociologists, biological and medical scientists, psychologists, and legal scholars. We would like to express our gratitude to the members of the working group: Aysha Akhtar, Mark H. Bernstein, Darren Calley, Jodey Castricano, Grace Clement, Lydia de Tienda, Natalie Thomas, Lawrence A. Hansen, Lisa Johnson, Les Mitchell, Katherine Morris, Kay Peggs, John Simons, Jordan Sosnowski, David Spratt, Frances Robinson, Mark Rowlands, and Clifford Warwick.
Right from the start, we had no idea what kind of conclusions we would come to—if at all. This may sound surprising, but the Centre's fellowship comprises academics with a wide range of views on animal ethics. There was no "line" that had to be adhered to, nor was a "position" required of any of those who volunteered. Academics are notoriously difficult of course and often outrageously critical of other academic work. It is astonishing, then, that we were able to work happily, collaboratively, and constructively. And, most remarkably, agree a unanimous report, with no dissenting voices. The report [End Page v] titled Normalizing the Unthinkable: The Ethics of the Use of Animals in Research was published by the Centre in 2015.
Its main conclusions are as follows:
1. The deliberate and routine abuse of innocent, sentient animals involving harm, pain, suffering, stressful confinement, manipulation, trade, and death should be unthinkable. Yet animal experimentation is just that: the "normalization of the unthinkable" (Peattie, 1984). It is estimated that 115.3 million animals are used in experiments worldwide per annum. In terms of harm, pain, suffering, and death, this constitutes one of the major moral issues of our time.
2. This normalization flies in the face of what is now known about the extent and range of how animals can be harmed. The issue of the complexity of animal awareness, especially animal sentience (defined as the capacity to experience pain and pleasure), cannot be ignored. Unlike our forebears, we now know, as reasonably as we can know of humans, that animals (notably, mammals, birds, and reptiles) experience not only pain but also shock, fear, foreboding, trauma, anxiety, stress, distress, anticipation, and terror to a greater or lesser extent than humans do. This is the conclusion of many scientific books and scientific papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
3. This normalization is buttressed by an overconfidence in animal experiments as a scientific technique. The current debate has been given new impetus by the new scientific critiques, especially in relation to the unreliability of animal experiments; the unpredictability of laboratory environments; the discordance between human diseases and "animal models" of disease; interspecies differences in physiology and genetic function, and the development of more predictive human-based testing. The upshot is that it is no longer accurate or reasonable (if it ever was) to say that the only moral choice is between experimenting on animals and giving up on scientific progress.
4. This normalization is based on the discredited idea that animals are just tools for human use, means to human ends, fungible items, and commodities that can be treated and dispensed with as humans think fit. During the last forty years, there has been considerable growth in intellectual work on the ethical...