More than a hundred and fifty academics, intellectuals, and writers, including Nobel Laureate J. M. Coetzee, have backed a new report calling for the de-normalisation of animal experimentation. Titled ‘Normalising the Unthinkable’, the report is the result of a working party of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.
Other signatories to the report include the Rt Revd John Pritchard, former Bishop of Oxford, Professor Keith Ward of Oxford University, Professor Stanley Hauerwas of Duke Divinity School, and Professor Conor Gearty of the London School of Economics.
The report finds that ‘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 ‘normalisation of the unthinkable’. ‘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.’
Comprised of 20 leading ethicists and scientists, the working party concluded that animal experiments are both morally and scientifically flawed. The report of more than 50,000 words is probably the most comprehensive critique of animal experiments ever published.
‘The moral arguments in favour of animal testing really don’t hold water’ says Professor Andrew Linzey, co-editor of the report and a theologian at Oxford University. ‘We have looked at the central arguments in official reports and found them wanting. If any of them were morally valid, they would also justify experiments on human beings.’
The report concludes that the ‘normalisation’ of animal experiments:
- 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 (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.
- is based on the discredited idea that animals are just tools for human use, means to human ends, fungible items, and commodities who can be treated and dispensed with as humans think fit.
- is challenged by new moral thinking which holds that sentient beings are not just things, objects, machines, or tools, but have value in themselves and deserve respect.
- is augmented by a range of regulations and controls, which in reality do very little to protect animals and indeed often do the reverse.
- is justified by the oft-repeated assertion that human interest requires such experiments, whereas it has to be questioned whether humans are ever benefited by the abuse of animals.
BUAV and Cruelty Free International CEO, Michelle Thew, said: ‘We greatly welcome this new report, which should spur on new ethical thinking about animals and question some of the lazy assumptions about how animal research benefits humans. This independent report is a milestone in ethical thinking about animals and puts the ethics of animal research back on the agenda.’
Academics are invited to debate the report at a special Summer School on the Ethics of Using Animals in Research at Oxford on 26-29 July 2015.
[Editor’s note:] In 2012, over 200,000 animals were killed in experiments by Oxford University.