Straight from the animal rights book

It is that time of the year when animal rights activists, will show up at our workplaces dressed in their favorite animal costumes to spread more nonsense and misinformation about the nature of biomedical research.

One of their favorite claims is that the scientific community treats animals like any other piece of disposable, laboratory equipment — such as a Petri dish or a test tube.

Has anyone wondered where do they come up with such an idea?

The notion comes straight from the animal rights books that provide the theoretical foundation for animal rights theory while rejecting more nuanced positions.

A living being is said to have moral status if we are morally obliged to give weight to its interest independent of their utility to us. But what exactly is the moral status of non-human animals? Among the various positions one can take the two extremes are the easiest to describe.

At one end of the spectrum, we find the argument that animals do not truly experience pain, do not have emotions, they do not have interests of their own, and thus they lack moral status.  According to this view humans can do with animals as we please. Given what is known presently about animal cognition and behavior, it would be difficult to find anyone who would seriously defend the Cartesian position.

At the other end of the spectrum, we find those who hold that the moral status of some animals must equal to that of humans. These theories posit that if a living being has some basic properties (such as a minimum level of sentience according Gary Francione, or being the “subject-of-life criterion” according to Tom Regan) they attain the same moral status as that of a normal human: our moral consideration for a mouse, or a dog, or a child, ought to be exactly the same.

And let me assure you — when they say exactly the same, they mean it.

It is evident that most members of the public, including scientists that work with animals in medical research, prefer to position themselves somewhere between the two extremes. These more nuanced positions can be considered to represent different versions of “animal welfarism” which are based on the notion of graded moral status.  In these theories animals would certainly have higher moral status than inanimate laboratory equipment, but not that of humans. Animal anti-cruelty laws, the Animal Welfare Act, and the NIH guidelines as examples of how rules and regulations were established to acknowledge the moral standing of animals (establishing the “forbidden zone” in the spectrum of positions above).

Prominent animal rights philosophers, however, are not happy with shades of gray in moral decision making and attempt to rob others of adopting nuanced positions.

For example, Elizabeth Harman writes:

We have no reason to posit such degrees of moral status, so we can conclude that moral status is not a matter of degree but is rather on/off: a being has moral status or lacks it.

The idea is to reject the concept of graded moral status.

Gary Francione, agrees:

We have two choices – and only two – when it comes to the moral status of animals.

Tom Regan also concurs writing terms of the “inherent value” of animals:

Two options present themselves concerning the possession by moral agents of inherent value. First, moral agents might be viewed as having this value to varying degrees, so that some may have more of it than others. Second, moral agents might be viewed as having this value equally. The latter view is rationally preferable. […] We must reject the view that moral agents have inherent value in varying degrees. All moral agents are equal in inherent value, if moral agents have inherent value.

These philosophers want to force everyone to choose among the two extreme positions — either we accept the animal rights view or we must be cartesians that assign no moral status to the animals.

Thus the activists claim “If you disagree with us then you must be treating the animals as you treat a Petri dish”.

Nonsense.  It is the extreme views that must be rejected instead.

And the above also explains the need for the costumes, the scary masks, the blood-stained coats, the screams and insults, the misinformation and the lies. For these animal rights activists have neither solid philosophical nor scientific arguments to enter into a serious and civil debate on the role of animals in research and how the work has benefited mankind generation after generation.

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