What are the Ethical Issues in the Treatment of Animals?

Human beings are part of the animal kingdom, extending from single cell animals to us, and are the most complex animals in terms of knowledge, skills and behavior. One difference between us and the others is said to be that we are the only animal that is clearly aware of our own mortality. We have developed religions and other spiritual concepts to deal with this knowledge. In addition we have set up rules of law and ethical behavior. These tools we use in our interaction with other human beings in the family or with others in our society. We have also applied these tools to our relationship to animals. But to apply them rationally we must consider some important questions.

How are we to treat other species of the animal kingdom? Where do we draw the line, if anywhere, between those animals who need not deserve humane treatment and those who do? What specific ethical considerations are necessary as we move up the animal kingdom tree? What animals should we look at as individual souls who need to be protected from harm and death? Are there some animals who never should be put to death for use as food or fur or their organs? Can some animals be recognized to have autonomy over their lives and humans should always make decisions in the best interest of each animal? In scientific experimentation using those animals, who is the human being who should make such decisions? Questions such as these have for years stirred up the thoughts and emotions of humans throughout the world. I encourage the visitors to this page to present some reasoned considerations in these matters.

Here is the question:

What do you think are the ethical issues in our treatment of animals and what are the appropriate conclusions?

If you have an answer (or another question), click HERE and e-mail me a response.

Date: Wed, Mar 19, 2003 7:02 PM From: Luvbugsgirl2000@aol.com To: DoktorMo@aol.com

We live in a world based on natural selection. It's sad to think about, but it's necessary for us to use animals sometimes for medical research. I believe that any animal testing for personal care products or products used for anything besides medical research is unnecessary and is terrible because it causes pain for those animals and many times permanent damage.

Date: Mon, Jun 24, 2002 2:48 PM From: BMoore11771@cs.com To: DoktorMo@aol.com

I believe that animals may be considered in many different ways. First of all, many of us are "meat eaters" and consume animals with almost meal. This, to me, is survival and justified. However, I have always been an animal lover and had numerous pets. I cannot imagine how people could possibly be cruel to animals, but it happens. I see the need for experimentation and medical advancement, but more importantly, I feel that it is wrong to use animals in a cruel manner.

Rebecca R Moore

Date: Wed, Jun 19, 2002 8:32 PM From: prater@usa.net To: DoktorMo@aol.com

Some of the ethical issues about animals are whether we should eat them, should we kill them to use their fur, or should we use them as subjects for experiments? I believe tha in some countries there is no choice about these things. People in poor countries have to kill animals to survive. They also need their fur to cover their bodies. I believe that only in rich countries there are groups who worry about protecting the rights of animals. Therefore, this is a situation that creates an ethical dilemma. I would be difficult to decide who is right and who is wrong. The only thing that really makes me mad is when peole mistreat animals. I jsut saw a picturein a magazine of some people in Asia killing dogs by beating them to death with a stick. This is very cruel and therefore, should not be allowed. There are other ways to to kill an animal that are not so cruel. Mario A. Montelongo

Date: Fri, May 31, 2002 7:06 AM From: blondeleah@hotmail.com To: DoktorMo@aol.com

I am an Australian student writing a paper on the anticipated cloning of the extinct mammal known as the Tasmanian Tiger. Reading the other posted msgs has been very insightful and proves my theory that humans have a penchant for control and domination and, as our scientific knowledge evolves, so does our desire to manipulate 'nature'. The situation I am looking at is that in the last Tassie Tiger died in captivity in 1936 after the decimation of the dwindling population by the Australian govt and farmers. Recently they have been able to extract usable DNA from preserved pups and are planning that in 10 years time that will be able to resurrect the animal and perhaps right the wrong that was committed so many years ago. This raises new issues of ethical treatment of animals and cloning as well. I am interested to hear what others have to say.

Cheers, Leah.

Date: Fri, May 3, 2002 6:43 AM From: Ramona.Lundberg@k12.sd.us To: DoktorMo@aol.com

Dear Dr. Mo, My name is Greta Schanning and I am a Sr. taking Mrs. Lundburg's Advanced Biology class. We just got done taking about bioethical topics and I did mine on the growth implants used in cattle. I also recently posted a Web Quest about growth implants used in cattle. First I did the research to find out more about what was all involved in the process and why some cattle producer wants to use them. I found out that producers use implants just to decrease feedlot time and to hopefully increase their profit margin. I weighed the pros and cons of using implants and found which side I fit on. I have known about growth implants every since I started showing cattle at the county fair and talk to our veterinarian about them, to see if they actually worked on cattle and when they should be administrated. The information I found on the internet proved what my vet told me, which was you have to put the implants in the cattle at three hundred pounds for them to work. If you place the implants in cattle that are seven - nine hundred pounds the implant would not work, because they are to old. I do not believe that cattle producers should use these implants in their cattle because you can have the cattle ready for the kill market faster, at least which is the case at my farm. The steers at our farm are usually ready for market when they are fifteen months old, and most people keep their steers for at least seventeen - eighteen months depending upon the breed of animal it is. Also other countries like Europe do not want any kind of "drug" in their food because it is not natural, so one could not sell their product over seas if they are using implants. In the end, I do not think using implants in cattle is ethical. Thank you for the time to express my opinion/idea to you.

Sincerely, Greta Schanning

Date: Tue, Mar 19, 2002 2:56 AM From: monikag@ifa.amu.edu.pl To: DoktorMo@aol.com

[ Moderator's Note: The following views are those of 3 students in Poland, submitted by their teacher ]

The constant argument concerning animal rights really tires me quite a lot. Those questions like: Is it right...?, Is it humane to...? are trivial! I suppose that it is obvious to everyone that animals are living creatures that have feelings and that we are very similar to them in many respects. Then how come it is not so obvious that we should treat them the way we treat one another and the way animals treat other animals. There is nothing wrong in eating an animal just as animals also eat animals (and sometimes even people). But of course no animal kills another animal to take his fur, no animal tortures another animal o check its behaviour and reactions, no animal checks chemical substances on another animal for its own safety. This is why I think we also should not do it. Someone would say that testing various substances on animals may contribute to finding new solutions, medicines, etc., and that I also take advantage of it. And I would rather say: if people are so smart, and so much more intelligent than animals why donít they find other ways for doing all those things...

Joanna Mazurczak

Ethics is a human invention, designed for our needs and purposes. In the animal world such a notion does not exist. It is a fact that although all animals are equal (in theory), a huge group of them is even more equal than others. I mean- human beings. We -"superanimals"- humans boast of possessing traits distinguishing us from other animals, namely, the ability to think. Yes, to THINK! Not all of us realise that. Apart from that, humans have another property, called the luxury of choice. Every group of animals was assigned a proper place on the evolutionary ladder. It was a trick played by Nature. Animals, however, were not always satisfied with their positions. Giraffes wanted to be flies, flies wanted to change into fish, fish wanted to swap places with frogs, frogs wanted to turn into dogs and so on. They began to fight. Out of the blue another species emerged and brought a proper ceasefire with it, ending with the introduction of autocratic self-government. The species, that was called humans, immediately occupied the highest step of the ladder, capturing the complete power and control over those species below. Up till now humans have had the power to do positive as well as those negative things. Humans have also had a power to do harm on a grand scale and devastate the environment. Unfortunately, they are aware of their immense power and many a time the future of "inferior" species lies in their hands. They can be cruel and merciless...

Nowadays people tend to go to extremes, as far as animals are concerned. They range from extreme animal haters to extreme animal lovers. The other group tends to treat pets as idols and worship them, treating them as equals. The first group abuses them severely, treating them like masses of rubbish. Personally, I am against any extreme solutions to improve the fate of animals. We do not have to change our lifestyles drastically. All we can do is oppose and react against any harm and suffering inflicted on them.

Vegetarianism may be in fashion and fur coats are no longer recommended, still forcing somebody to resign from their small pleasures against their will is not necessary. "Live and live" we should think and "don't make others cry". That is sufficient. I agree that a single person will not change the world and the laws ruling Nature. Animals will be animals and they will eat one another for the need of survival. That is a natural phenomena. We- homo sapiens- do not have to behave similarly in order to survive and live on. Some of us resign eagerly from meat and animal products, others do not have to do the same. They may support the animal world in other ways. Although all we can offer is only a tiny contribution- still it will be much appreciated in the world where animal products are commonly met.

Dorota Czarnecka

Just because "we are the only animal that is clearly aware of our own morality" we cannot think of ourselves as of mightier or worthier creatures. On the contrary, this awareness seems to be a great disadvantage. Nature has set her rules and we ought to follow and respect them. But is it possible to do it knowing that there are so many different- easier and more comfortable- ways? Not really! When we think of the animal kingdom and a human being as a part of it, we quickly realise that humans are somewhat superior. How could that be? How did it happen? I am not going to claim that "we have been chosen", "graced" and what not. Nothing of the kind. It was evolution that has led to this state. Nature's dealings again... Shouldn't we be grateful for what She has done for us? Of course, we should, but we fail to. I do not think that we have the right to decide upon other animalsí life or death. How can we make such decisions, how can we deprive other species of their lives? Human beings are generally carnivorous (although, more and more of us are turning to vegetarianism) and they kill other animals to survive. True. However, we seem to overuse and/or misuse our "natural rights" and take too great an advantage of other animals. They are constantly made to suffer by our abuse. We breed them; feed them; take care of them...to finally kill and eat them. Disgusting, isnít it? What causes heated debates quite recently is experimenting on animals. They era treated with cruelty and very often die before the experiment is over, but... they also save our lives. The best solution would be to let them alone; to let Nature do her job again. But hasn't it come too far? We are not able to stop the civilisation. Scientists will not give up their work- there is still so much to do. When did we forget that WE simply HAVE NO RIGHT?!

Marta Zakrzewska

Date: Wed, Jan 16, 2002 10:44 AM From: rapela@usc.edu To: DoktorMo@aol.com

How far am I willing to extend moral treatment?


"... If one desires to judge a particular kind of behavior, one has to consider the aims which underlie it. I hope by means of these experiments to obtain certain results by which many wounded people might be helped."

The previous quotation is a representative argument from scientists involved in animal experimentation. When I heard this argument for the first time it seemed naturally valid to me. "If the experiment could help many wounded people then the experiment should be allowed" I said.

Afterwards I was told that the quotation belongs to Fritz Ernest Fischer, a scientist of the Third Reich, and was stated during his trial for the Ravensbruck experiments.

"A range of experiments were conducted at various camps: sterilization studies at Auschwitz-Birkenau, in which victims genitals were irradiated or removed; high-altitude studies at Dachau, where prisoners were subject to pressure so extreme that eardrums burst and organs ruptured; hydrothermia experiments, also at Dachau, in which prisoners were immersed in freezing water or tied naked to boards covered with only a sheet and repeatedly doused with freezing water before being left outside during winter; gangrene and sulfonamide experiments at Ravensbruck in which women's legs were cut to the bone and infected with glass and wood splinters ..." [Deborah Rudacille. The Scalpel and the Butterfly. University of California Press, 2000].

So after hearing the description of the experiments I said "Not matter how many wounded people could be helped these experiments should not be allowed".

The previous scenario strikes me while I am deciding whether to kill rabbits for studying their retinas. Biology tells me that we human beings belong to the same family as the rest of the animals. My experience tells me that every form of life is incredibly wonderful. I believe that my decision depends on HOW FAR I AM WILLING TO EXTEND MORAL TREATMENT.

On one extreme, if I were a scientist of the Third Reich I would have probably said that Jewish people are inferior than Aryan people, therefore they do not deserve moral treatment and I would have performed the previously described experiments.

On the other extreme, if I were an animal protectionist I would say that animals deserve the same moral treatment as human beings and therefore I would reject any kind of animal experimentation.

I do not feel that killing an ant for research is as bad as killing a frog, killing a frog does not feel as bad as killing a dog, killing a dog does not feel as bad as killing a monkey and killing a monkey does not feel as bad as killing a person. In all cases we are dealing with wonderful pieces of life. Where to stop? How far shall I extend moral treatment?

Is human health a good reason? Is knowledge a good reason?


Our experiments with rabbits will probably not have immediate medical applications. They are a kind of basic research which goal is to increase our knowledge about how life works. I regard knowledge highly but I ask myself: "Is knowledge that important to deserve the life of so many animals?". And more generally: "How shall we decide the importance of a given experiment to justify animal use?."

Resources I used to answer this question


To try to answer this kind of questions I talked to students and professors involved in animal experimentation (tabu topic), to friends, neighbors and other people not involved in animal issues and to people involved in animal protection. Their opinions were of great help. I also read a very good book about the conflict between animal research and animal protection (the book by Deborah Rudacille previously cited). This book contains many historical facts about the topic and helped me to get a broader perspective. As usual the web has been an important source of information.


Joaquin Rapela

Date: Sat, Dec 15, 2001 6:48 PM From: orion04@webtv.net To: DoktorMo@aol.com

humans have a right to control when they die but animals dont! how fair is that! please e-mail back.

Date: Thu, Jun 21, 2001 7:20 PM From: janet@anzca.edu.au To: DoktorMo@aol.com

"What do you think are the ethical issues in our treatment of animals and what are the appropriate conclusions?"

I see two important factors that differentiate us from the rest of the animal kingdom when it comes to our treatment of other species. Firstly, we are the only animal that has the power to do harm on a grand scale, to devastate the environment and hold the power of life and death over other species in the full knowledge of what we are doing. Assuming that tyranny is not a desirable thing, I'd argue that such power brings an immeasurably greater responsibility to refrain from exercising our destructive tendencies than that faced by a lion looking for its next meal. Secondly, we are the only species that has to any great extent evolved the luxury of choice. We no longer face starvation if we don't go out and spear our food or pay others to do it for us in factory farms and slaughterhouses, in fact it's fairly readily acknowledged that far more people could be fed on a plant based diet. Similarly we won't freeze if we don't wear the skins of other animals. So it comes down to personal tastes, and/or economic considerations, both of which seem far less defensible reasons for inflicting avoidable suffering on sentient beings.

Some of your questions seemed a little strangely worded to me, such as the one about some animals "deserving" humane treatment and others not. That sounds like we're discussing a naughty child who doesn't deserve dessert, not matters of life, death and suffering. No animal or species by the nature of its being is "undeserving" of humane treatment and basic consideration of its interests; rather the question should be for what, if any, reasons may those interests be overridden. Similarly with the question about whether some animals can be seen to have autonomy over their lives. In practical terms, by reason of our power over them, animals may indeed only have the autonomy we are prepared to grant them. However, viewed as beings in themselves rather than means to human ends, all animals have an interest in personal autonomy, and once again the question becomes how far are we justified in ignoring that. If you're asking whether there are some species whose interests in autonomy over their own lives should never be overridden, I'd say all species (with no special consideration for humans) without an extremely good reason. What constitutes an acceptable reason is of course the eternal sticking point. As a general rule, the higher up the evolutionary ladder a species is, the better the reason needs to be, as factors such as degree of awareness and self-awareness, conceptions of past, future and mortality, social attachments, etc, start to count more heavily. But these can't be the only considerations. Ability to suffer is a fairly basic one which is common to just about everything above a vegetable, as is an interest in living out the life to which it was born, however inconsequential that life may seem to humans.

Many people will argue that medical research is an acceptable reason for inflicting suffering. I don't agree. There are now many reliable alternatives to animal experimentation, and I suspect there would be a whole lot more if researchers had been forced to develop them from the outset. There are many highly respected scientists prepared to argue that animal based research is dangerously misleading when extrapolated to humans, and can provide numerous examples, thalidomide being a case in point. Preventative medicine is sadly underfunded and under-promoted, possibly because it is nowhere near as glamorous as the possibility the finding cures, and would require too many changes to our comfortable lifestyles. But even if all animal experimentation provided useful results and there were no alternatives, I would still argue that it's not justifiable to use sentient beings solely as means to our ends, inflicting suffering and death in the process, any more than it would be justifiable to treat one human being in this way for the benefit of another. For the moment I'd be prepared to accept a compromise I read recently (source forgotten, sorry) that when we've eliminated the 95% of unnecessary, wasteful and misleading experiments, then it would be time to discuss the ethics of the 5% that may have some demonstrable benefit to human health.

I acknowledge that there are many shades of grey in these areas, I don't have all the answers and I don't know who should make the ultimate decisions. However I do practice what I preach to the extent possible in the modern world where there seem to be animal products in everything.


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This page was last updated 3/28/2003