Science and society. Different bioethical approaches towards animal experimentation

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Frans Brom


The use of live animals for experiments plays an important role in many forms of research. This gives rise to an ethical dilemma. On the one hand, most of the animals used are sentient beings who may be harmed by the experiments. The research, on the other hand, may be vital for preventing, curing or alleviating human diseases.
There is no consensus on how to tackle this dilemma. One extreme is the view taken by adherents of the so-called animal rights view. According to this view, we are never justified in harming animals for human purposes - however vital these purposes may be. The other extreme is the ruthless view, according to which animals are there to be used at our discretion.
However, most people have a view situated somewhere between these two extremes. It is accepted that animals may be used for research - contrary to the animal rights view. However, contrary to the ruthless view, that is only accepted under certain conditions.
The aim of this presentation is to present different ethical views which may serve as a foundation for specifying the circumstances under which it is acceptable to use animals for research.
Three views serving this role are contractarianism, utilitarianism and a deontological approach. According to contractarianism, the key ethical issue is concern for the sentiments of other human beings in society, on whose co-operation those responsible for research depend. Thus it is acceptable to use animals as long as most people can see the point of the experiment and are not offended by the way it is done. According to utilitarianism, the key ethical issue is about the consequences for humans and animals. Thus it is justified to use animals for research if enough good comes out of it in terms of preventing suffering and creating happiness, and if there is no better alternative. In the deontological approach the prima facie duty of beneficence towards human beings has to be weighed against the prima facie duties not to harm animals and to respect their integrity. By weighing these prima facie duties, the moral problem of animal experimentation exists in finding which duty actually has to be considered as the decisive duty.
It will be argued that these three views, even though they will all justify animal experimentation to some extent, will do so in practice under different conditions. Many current conflicts regarding the use of animals for research may be better understood in light of the conflict between the three bioethical perspectives provided by these views.

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How to Cite
Brom, F. (2002) “Science and society. Different bioethical approaches towards animal experimentation”, ALTEX - Alternatives to animal experimentation, 19(2), pp. 78–82. Available at: (Accessed: 31 January 2023).