The Ethics of Animal Testing

Years ago, while laws were not in place to prevent it, some researchers experimented on animals. The results of these experiments are still with us today. Take insulin, for example, it was discovered when an Ontario doctor severed the connection between the pancreas and the digestive system of a dog.1 Today there are still many animals in labs being tested to find cures for anything from cancer to pain killers. If the results have a possibility to save so many lives, as in the case of insulin for those with diabetes, then testing on animals should be the right thing to do right? Many people disagree saying that the suffering of an animal is not worth the saving of lives, especially if the tests are unsuccessful. They compare the animal's lives to those of humans, claiming that it is not right to test on human orphans. Therefore it should not be right to test on stray animals. So therein lies the ethical dilemma; is it right to experiment on animals?

In this paper I will examine animal rights from a utilitarians point of view. I will define the major points that utilitarianism holds and animal testing. I will explore the cases for and against animal testing using utilitarian reasoning (including Bentham and Mill's disagreement, act and rule utilitarianism, and cost-benefit analysis). Finally I will close with my own feelings on animal experimentation and my conclusions drawn from the analysis.

First, utilitarian theory is consequentionalist and stress the ends of a particular action. It is also Hedonistic in nature, meaning that is focuses on happiness and pleasure, those being the only intrinsic good. A utilitarian considers five factors in the pleasure of the consequences of an act, whichever act brings about the most pleasure or happiness is the best thing to do in the end. John Mill argued that the quality of the pleasure is an important consideration as well. Consider also the difference between act utilitarianism (considering each act individually) and rule utilitarianism (applying the consequences of an act universally). In addition, a contemporary version of utilitarianism, cost-benefit analysis, states that whatever act produces the most money (or saves the most money), is that decision that should be made.

Second, animal testing consists of any medical test performed on an animal. Including product testing, like perfume and cleaners, and research like the effects of isolation on a social animal. To examine animal testing from a utilitarian point of view we should consider whether or not an animal can feel pain, or suffer. We typically do not consider animals to be without feeling, that is why we have laws protecting animals against cruelty. Many people disagree about whether or not locking an animal in a cage is cruelty or not.

The case for animal testing

Using utilitarianism generally, if testing on animals produces the most happiness overall and reduces suffering then it is the right thing to do. When medical breakthrough are made at the expense of an animal, is the happiness of those who can be cured greater than the suffering of the animal who underwent the experiments? Mill would seem to argue that the happiness of someone who has been cured would be longer lasting and better then the self gratifying happiness of an animal. Act utilitarianism would look at each instance of animal testing and determine if the consequences are better if the animal is tested on than if it were not. Finally, cost-benefit analysis would seem to agree with animal testing because innovations in medicine means money made and saved on health care. This would produce the most money and would be the better thing to do if the question is to test or not.

The case against animal testing

Jeremy Bentham was purely concerned with the amount of pleasure produced. One could argue that the amount of suffering an animal would be subjected to in testing is not worth the amount of suffering that would be reduced if a cure were found. Those who are against animal testing would not experience pleasure and one can assume that those testing the animals would not gain happiness from watching the animal suffer. Therefore one can argue that not testing on the animals would indeed reduce suffering and maximize pleasure. Rule utilitarianism applies best here, because then one can consider the consequences of everyone testing on animals for any reason. With that much freedom to testing negative consequences would be more likely to occur and therefore banning animal testing would be the best action.


I own several mice, a guinea pig, a rabbit, two hamsters, fish, a turtle, three cats, a dog and a chameleon. I, personally, felt that testing on animals has no moral worth no matter what the consequences. I feel an emotional bond between myself and every one of my pets. I would never want them to go through what some animals do in the medical labs. Upon further consideration I am still without a clear decision as to whether I would want to save my dog or help my family with diabetes. It would be a difficult choice. That is why I think that utilitarianism is the best way to approach animal testing. By using act utilitarianism we can examine each instance of testing separately and examine the consequences for happiness production. As in the example of the dog in the introduction. The dog did experience suffering but overall it's suffering reduced the suffering of countless people by providing medication for diabetics. My conclusion is that applying act utilitarianism to animal testing can help to choose the better way each time.

0 MacKinnon, B. (2004). Ethics: Theory and contemporary issues. Belmont: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning. (p. 372).