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Medicine, Animal Experimentation, and the Moral Problem of Unfortunate Humans

  • R. G. Frey (a1)

We live in an age of great scientific and technological innovation, and what seemed out of the question or at least very doubtful only a few years ago, today lies almost within our grasp. In no area is this more true than that of human health care, where lifesaving and life-enhancing technologies have given, or have the enormous potential in the not so distant future to give, relief from some of the most terrible human illnesses. On two fronts in particular, xenograft or cross-species transplantation and genetic engineering of animals on behalf of gene therapy in humans, such relief appears very promising, if not actually on the horizon. Certainly, extensive research work on both fronts is underway both in the United States and abroad.

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1 For an overview of some of the work in this area, see Malouin Rebecca, “Surgeons' Quest for Life: The History and the Future of Xenotransplantation,” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, vol. 37 (1994), pp. 416–28; Lowenstein Jerold M., “The Transplant Gap,” Discover, vol. 14, no. 6 (06 1993), pp. 2630; and Mandel Thomas E., “Future Directions in Transplantation,” Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 158 (1993), pp. 269–73. See also my “Animal Parts, Human Wholes: On the Use of Animals as a Source of Organs for Human Transplants,” in Humber J. M. and Almeder R. F., eds., Biomedical Ethics Reviews 1987 (Clifton, NJ: Humana Press, 1987), pp. 89107.

2 For a discussion of some of the work in this area, see Kimbrell Andrew, “Facing the Future: Genetic Engineering,” The Animals' Agenda, vol. 15 (1995), pp. 2428; and Kimbrell , The Human Body Shop (San Francisco: Harper, 1993). For some very recent developments, see “Doctors Transplant Pig Tissue into a Man with Parkinson's,” New York Times, 04 21, 1995, p. A15; and Hilts Philip J., “Success in Temporary Transplants of Pigs' Hearts in Baboons,” New York Times, 04 30, 1995. Two books that give a broad overview of the array of genetic work being done in animals as well as some preliminary assessments of it are First N. and Haseltine F. P., eds., Transgenic Animals (Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann, 1991); and Evans J. Warren and Hollaender Alexander, eds., Genetic Engineering of Animals: An Agricultural Perspective (New York: Plenum Press, 1986). For a discussion of some of the philosophical and ethical issues involved in the genetic engineering of animals, see Donnelley S. et al. , “The Brave New World of Animal Biotechnology,” Hastings Center Report, vol. 24, Supplementary Report (1994), pp. 132; and Rollin B. E., The Frankenstein Syndrome: Ethical and Social Issues in the Genetic Engineering of Animals (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995). I do not accept the moral framework within which these last two items locate their discussions.

3 Works in this area by scientists include Russell W. M. S. and Burch R. L., The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique (London: Methuen, 1959); Köeter H. B. W. M. and Hendriksen C. F. M., eds., Animals in Biomedical Research: Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement (Amsterdam: Eisevier Science Publishers, 1991); Bateson Patrick, “When to Experiment upon Animals,” New Scientist, 02 20, 1986, pp. 3032; and Dawkins M. S., Animal Suffering, 2d ed. (London: Chapman and Hall, 1992).

4 That we might not be deterred is, I think, a real possibility. If the Nazi doctors in the camps of the Second World War had developed a cure for pancreatic cancer as a result of their horrific experiments, would we refuse to make use of that cure, since we condemn the way it was obtained? Or if a treatment for Batten's disease (a brain disorder in juveniles) emerged from genetic work that involved the mistreatment of infants, would we forgo it?

5 My reason for thinking this stems from the vast number of uses we make of animals in medical research and the varying likelihoods of our being able to replace them all. In this regard, see the white paper of the American Medical Association Uses of Animals in Biomedical Research: The Challenge and Response, rev. ed. (Chicago: AMA, 1992). For a very detailed discussion of many of these uses in science, see Orlans F. B., In the Name of Science: Issues in Responsible Animal Experimentation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).

6 This is why, in so many discussions of the macroallocation of resources, health care can seem to demand, if not the biggest, then one of the biggest shares.

7 One does not want, however, to be too hasty here. In the case of some people, especially the elderly, a pet adds immeasurably to the quality of their lives, while it may only be at the very end of their lives that they require serious health treatment, and then only for a relatively brief additional period of life. If they had to choose, they might well choose the earlier higher quality of life and thus the pet over the later brief extension of life and health care.

8 The point here, obviously is that an animal liberationist might think that important health benefits are worth the harm to the animal. That this could on occasion be true is obvious. But I am suspicious of a purported animal defender for whom it turns out that any health benefit whatever justifies, say, sacrifice of the animal. In order to be a genuine animal liberationist, I think, there have to be cases where the concern for the animal(s) trumps concern for human benefit.

9 For a detailed discussion of this issue, see Sharpe Robert, “Animal Experiments: A Failed Technology,” in Langley Gill, ed., Animal Experimentation: The Consensus Changes (New York: Chapman and Hall, 1989), pp. 88117; Orlans F. B., “Data on Animal Experimentation in the United States: What They Do and Do Not Show,” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, vol. 37 (1994), pp. 217–31; LaFollette H. and Shanks N., “Animal Models in Biomedical Research: Some Epistemological Worries,” Public Affairs Quarterly, vol. 7 (1993), pp. 113–20.

10 See, e.g., Balls Michael et al. , eds., Animals and Alternatives in Toxicity Testing (London: Academic Press, 1983); Smith J. A. and Boyd K. M., eds., Lives in the Balance: The Ethics of Using Animals in Biomedicai Research (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), ch. 6; and Stephens Martin, “Replacing Animal Experiments,” in Langley , ed., Animal Experimentation, pp. 144–68.

11 See Whitney R. A. Jr., “Animal Care and Use Committees: History and Current National Policies in the United States,” Laboratory Animal Science, vol. 37 (01 1987), pp. 1821; Dresser R., “Developing Standards in Animal Research Review,” Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association, vol. 194 (1989), pp. 1184–91; and American Psychological Association, Guidelines for Ethical Conduct in the Care and Use of Animals (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 1993).

12 In fact, the protection of primates may be said to be one of the main aims of the animal-rights/animal-liberation lobby. In this regard, see Cavalieri Paola and Singer Peter, eds., The Great Ape Project (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994). For a philosophical discussion of Darwinian-inspired claims that show our closeness to primates, see Rachels James, Created from Animals (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990).

13 See Orlans , In the Name of Science (supra note 5), ch. 5. Her estimate of the number of animals used in the United States alone is 25 to 30 million annually.

14 “New Mice Are Created to Battle a Disease,” New York Times, 06 21, 1994, p. C6.

15 In fact, organizations that cater to certain groups now report genetic advances to their members. E.g., on Alzheimer's disease, see Baker B., “Of Mice and Men,” Bulletin of the American Association of Retired Persons, vol. 36, no. 4 (1995), p. 2.

16 Office of Technology Assessment, U.S. Congress, New Developments in Biotechnology: Patenting Life—Special Report (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1989), p. 12.

17 I should perhaps qualify what I say here. Restrictions apply both in the European Union and Canada on patenting any new life-form whose complexity exceeds that of microorganisms. How much longer these countries will hold out, given the commercial rewards that biotech firms seem destined to make, remains to be seen.

18 The section of the report that deals with ethics is Brody Baruch A., “Ethical Issues Related to the Patenting of Animals,” in Office of Technology Assessment, New Developments in Biotechnology, pp. 127–38. For a general discussion of the ethical issues involved in patenting animals, see Dresser R., “Ethical and Legal Issues in Patenting Animal Life,” Jurimetrics Journal, Summer 1988, pp. 399435.

19 One worry here, of course, especially in the case of primates, is depletion of animals in the wild; at another level, however, the worry is over the use of domesticated pets. See Orlans , In the Name of Science, ch. 13 (“The Source of Laboratory Dogs and Cats”).

20 But what if one genetically engineers humans, not to make them subject to illness, but to make them resistant to disease? Can we “improve” people in this way? E.g., can we resort to genetic testing to determine susceptibility to Huntington's disease and use gene therapy to replace the defective gene? If so, then if we were to find a gene correlated with violence, could we use gene therapy on the person carrying the gene as well, even against his or her will?

21 This is why, increasingly, many people want explicit guidelines governing what may and may not be done to humans. See, e.g., Draft Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Dignity of the Human Being, with Regard to the Application of Biology and Medicine (Strasbourg: Council of Europe, Directorate of Legal Affairs, 07 1994).

22 For a very clear discussion of this case, see Pence G. E., Classic Cases in Medical Ethics (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995), ch. 13. See also my paper “Animal Parts, Human Wholes” (supra note 1).

23 Starzl T. E. et al. , “Baboon-to-Human Liver Transplantation,” Lancet, vol. 341 (01 1993), pp. 6571.

24 Griffith Pat, “Panel Blesses Marrow Transplant from Baboon to Man with AIDS,” Toledo Blade, 07 16, 1995, p. A15.

25 See Lowenstein , “The Transplant Gap” (supra note 1). In passing, Lowenstein discusses the transplants by Bailey and Starzl.

26 Obviously, this is one of the serious motives behind xenografts. It makes animals pay the price of our failure to donate organs. Should xenografts prove successful, I expect the levfil of donations to fall even further.

27 See Hilts , “Success in Temporary Transplants of Pigs' Hearts in Baboons” (supra note 2); and Hilts Philip J., “Advances Reported in Using Animal Organs,” New York Times, 05 5, 1995.

28 They do so, moreover, without regard to spares. That is, one could sell a kidney without dying, but not, of course, a heart. An interesting moral issue can arise. Because there would seem to be a market of sorts in organs in portions of India and China, would it be wrong, if one had the money, to buy an organ abroad and thus by purchase avoid the waiting list in the United States that has built up because of a policy of donation? Discussion of the matter with Michael McDonald, Arthur Caplan, and others has not yet convinced me that it would be wrong.

29 Macklin Ruth, “Is There Anything Wrong with Surrogate Motherhood? An Ethical Analysis” in Shaw W. H., ed., Social and Personal Ethics (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1993), p. 286. For a general discussion of the body parts issue, see Caplan Arthur, If I Were a Rich Man, Could I Buy a Pancreas? (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993); and Kimbrell , The Human Body Shop (supra note 2).

30 See, e.g., Capron A., “Anencephalic Donors: Separate the Dead from the Dying,” Hastings Center Report, vol. 17 (1987), pp. 59; Shermon D. A. et al. , “The Use of Anencephalic Infants as Organ Donors: A Critique,” Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 261 (1989), pp. 1773–81.

31 See note 12.

32 This is why the choice of animal as experimental subject can be so crucial. See Smith and Boyd , eds., Lives in the Balance (supra note 10), ch. 5 (“Animals as Experimental Subjects”).

33 See ibid., ch. 10 (“From Theory to Practice”); and Hampton J., “Legislation and the Changing Consensus,” in Langley , ed., Animal Experimentation (supra note 9), pp. 219–51.

34 Roberts Jeffrey, “Scientists Take Big Step Toward New Gene Therapy,” Toledo Blade, 11 4, 1994, p. 22.

36 An example of how this estimate figures in an animal-liberationist challenge to the uniqueness of humans can be found in Singer Peter, Rethinking Life and Death (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995), pp. 172–80.

37 See Hampton , “Legislation and the Changing Consensus.”

38 I put the matter this way because I am unclear just how influential Descartes's claim that animals are not conscious has been in research science. (My suggestion elsewhere that animals are not self-conscious is to be sharply distinguished from Descartes's claim; see my Interests and Rights [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980].) Recently, the philosopher Peter Car-ruthers has put forward the claim that animals do not feel pain in a morally significant sense; see Carruthers , The Animals Issue (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992). While his argument is interesting, I do not think it succeeds.

39 Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUC), which are concerned with the care and treatment of animals, are a standard part of research facilities in the United States. For a discussion of these and how they arose, see Francione Gary L., Animals, Property, and the Law (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995), ch. 9.

40 See, e.g., Smith and Boyd , eds., Lives in the Balance, ch. 8.

41 The three R's stem from the work of Russell and Burch , The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique (supra note 3). They are much discussed in animal research today and are often portrayed as eventual goals of such research. But they are not endorsed by all scientists; see, e.g., Lansdell H., “The Three R's: A Restrictive and Refutable Rigmarole,” Ethics and behavior, vol. 3 (1993), pp. 177–85.

42 Bentham Jeremy, The Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789), ch. 17, section 1.

43 Creatures who have experiential lives can have the value of their lives adversely affected in different ways. See my “Moral Standing, the Value of Lives, and Speciesism,” Between the Species, vol. 4 (1988), pp. 191201; and my “Vivisection, Morals, and Medicine,” in Regan Tom and Singer Peter, eds., Animal Rights and Human Obligations (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1989), pp. 223–36.

44 My endorsement of a quality-of-life view of the value of a life is compatible with, but does not issue from, my utilitarianism. For a discussion and criticism of my version of it, see, e.g., Beauchamp Tom L., “The Moral Standing of Animals in Medical Research,” Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics, vol. 20 (1992), pp. 716.

45 Whether chimps can use language creatively, whether they have a grasp of syntax and semantics, etc., are issues that are the object of ingenious learning experiments that might shed some light on the matter, e.g., of whether chimps possess a concept of self. For a discussion of some of these experiments, see de Luce Judith and Wilder Hugh T., eds., Language in Primates: Perspectives and Implications (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1983); Savage-Rumbaugh E. Sue, Ape Language: From Conditioned Response to Symbol (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986); and Premack D. and Premack A. J., The Mind of an Ape (New York: Norton, 1983). For a recent critical discussion of some of the central issues involved in the claim that apes possess language, see Bickerton Derek, Language and Species (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990).

46 See Beauchamp , “The Moral Standing of Animals in Medical Research.” This is the path I have partially followed; see my “Autonomy and the Value of Animal Life,” The Monist, vol. 70 (1987), pp. 5063; “The Significance of Agency and Marginal Cases,” Philosophica, vol. 39 (1987), pp. 3946; “Animals, Science, and Morality,” Behavioral and Brain Sciences, vol. 13 (1990), p. 22; and “Moral Standing, the Value of Lives, and Speciesism.”

47 I do consider a kind of trustee argument by which to include humans who lack agency in the moral community; see “The Significance of Agency and Marginal Cases.”

48 The assisted-suicide statutes of Oregon and Washington have not thus far survived legal scrutiny. For an excellent discussion of challenges out of medicine to the Judeo-Christian ethic, see Singer Peter, Rethinking Life and Death (supra note 36).

49 In addition to the essays referred to in notes 1, 43, and 46, see my “The Ethics of Using Animals for Human Benefit,” in Mepham T. B., Tucker G. A., and Wiseman J., eds., Issues in Agricultural Bioethics (Nottingham: Nottingham University Press, 1995), pp. 335–44; and my “Moral Community and Animal Research in Medicine,” which has been submitted in symposium form together with essays by Carl Cohen, Tom Regan, and Tom L. Beauchamp to The American Psychologist.

50 Dawkins , Animal Suffering (supra note 3); Dawkins M. S., Through Our Eyes Only: The Search for Animal Consciousness (New York: W. H. Freeman, 1993); Bekoff Marc, “Cognitive Ethology and the Treatment of Non-Human Animals,” Animal Welfare, vol. 3 (1994), pp. 7596; Rodd Rosemary, Biology, Ethics and Animals (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990); Griffin Donald, Animal Minds (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992).

51 For a discussion of QALYs and the QALY literature, see Mooney Gavin, Economics, Medicine, and Health Care (Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press International, 1986); Menzel Paul, Strong Medicine: The Ethical Rationing of Health Care (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), ch. 5; and the essays on QALYs by Lockwood Michael, Broome John, and Harris John in Bell J. M. and Mendus Susan, eds., Philosophy and Medical Welfare (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 3396.

52 I discuss the container view in “Utilitarianism and Persons,” in Frey R. G., ed., Utility and Rights (Oxford: Blackwell, 1985), pp. 319.

53 One way we can add value to our lives is through the use of our autonomy; see my “Autonomy and the Value of Animal Life” (supra note 46).

54 Regan Tom, “The Case for Animal Rights,” in Singer Peter, ed., In Defense of Animals (Oxford: Blackwell, 1985), pp. 1326.

55 See Kolata Gina, “Doomed Babies Are Seen as the Donors of Organs,” New York Times, 05 24, 1995; and Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, American Medical Association, “The Use of Anencephalic Neonates as Organ Donors,” Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 273 (05 24/31, 1995), pp. 1614–18. In January 1996, the AMA temporarily suspended its approval of anencephalic donors. One reason for the suspension was that some wanted to argue that such infants, born with a brain stem, had not been shown to be legally dead, i.e., without brain function at all. See “AMA Opposes Taking Organs from Brain-Abnormal Babies,” New York Times, 01 7, 1996, p. A11.

56 This is the position Robert M. Veatch adopted during a presentation at a recent conference on animal experimentation, sponsored by the Kennedy Institute of Ethics of Georgetown University.

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