The Moral Equation:
Observations of animals, whether in the wild, in captivity, or in experimental cages reveal undeniable evidence that they perceive physical pain and discomfort as well as pain as acutely as we do (Tangley 2000). Anecdotal evidence of numerous well documented instances seems to suggest that many animals also experience emotions such as grief from of loss of companionship (Moussaieff-Masson 1995).
Not uncommonly, it is scientists and medical researchers themselves who first notice responses and behaviors in laboratory animals that, in the extreme, challenge their previous assumptions about what “rights” animals have not to be subjected unnecessarily, or for no worthwhile purpose, to excruciating pain (Winter 2002). It is possible, for example, to justify infecting animals with cancer for the purposes of learning how to treat human cancer while opposing recreational hunting, or other reasons for using animals. For example, in parts of China it is possible to purchase donkey meat sliced from a living donkey: scalding water is poured over its rump and the cooked flesh sliced off as it writhes in pain (Tripp 2003).
It is likely that few medical researches who regularly use animals as subjects would condone the torture of a donkey as a culinary “technique.” The moral analysis of animal experimentation and other uses is one of principle; it is a matter of weighing respective concerns against the purpose of the proposed use. Very valuable benefits justify significant pain and even the sacrifice of animal subjects; comparatively worthless (and especially, illusory) purposes do not necessarily justify subjecting the same degree of pain on a defenseless animal.
Human beings evolved to hunt other animals just as they evolved to hunt different prey. Likewise, modern medical science often requires the use animals for valuable experiments with implications for human health. Our moral responsibility is not to refrain from eating or making other necessary use of animals; rather, it is simply not to subject other sentient creatures to pain unnecessarily. That obligation is likely met by minimizing their discomfort as much as is practicable in worthwhile scientific experiments and, perhaps, by narrowing the scope of what we consider “necessary” to exclude producing cosmetics and “culturally traditional” artwork for profit at the expense of intense animal suffering.
Moussaieff-Masson, J. (1995) When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals. New York: Bantam.
Tangley, L. (2000) Animal Emotions: Do Animals Have Feelings?; U.S. News & World Report. (October 30, 2000).
Tripp, P. (2003) World Issues: Animal Rights.
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