Bioethics expert Michael Reiss introduces some of the ethical considerations associated with the use of animals in medical research.
Michael Reiss: A classic ethical question which is relevant to many developed countries is whether or not it is right to use animals in research. And of course a conseqeuentialist approach, which looks at the overall harm and benefits, can conclude that not only is this right, but it is absolutely imperative. To give a particular example: Supposing we thought that by using, let's say 20,000 laboratory mice, we would increase the chance of finding a cure for a common form of breastby 10%. Now the number of woman that get breast cancer world wide is in the millions, so a 10% increase in the chance of getting of a cure for a common breast cancer every year in perpetuity would almost certainly lead to far more benefits than the pain and suffering experienced by laboratory mice.
But if you go into the rights and duties framework, there are arguments for and against. Again, you could argue that women have got rights, including the right to life, and therefore yes, its essential we develop treatments for breast cancer. And that probably at the moment can’t be done without using animal testing. Equally, people would say, Well mice have got rights. Now actually there are not many people that truly believe that mice rights triumph over women's rights. There are some, but that is not an argument that I myself would find persuasive. And it is important to realise that the rights argument doesn’t always answer every problem, precisely because rights sometimes conflict. So the hypothetical case I have just been discussing is where the laboratory mouse’s right might conflict with a woman’s right.