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A macaque mother holding her child--there are numerous problems with the ethics of animal research

Confronting Ethical Permissibility in Research

by Chong Un Choe-Smith

Date: 2014

Many people point to human health as sufficient justification for using animals in research.

The common assumption tends to be that, if there is a perceived public health need, and the risks are too high for humans, then it’s acceptable to use nonhuman animals, regardless of the harm to them (assuming compliance with existing laws and regulations).

As Chong Un Choe-Smith outlines in her paper, “the problem is such ‘justification’ is insufficient by itself to satisfy the burden of proving that the research is morally permissible or consistent with other relevant principles of justice.”

Choe-Smith rejects the “common assumption” that it’s automatically ethically permissible to use nonhuman animals for research, and she also argues for an extension of the principle of justice, as outlined in The Belmont Report.

Additionally, Choe-Smith discusses the fact that the frequently used argument that differences between humans and other animals justify using animals instead of humans fails to “provide moral justification.”

The author notes that “if two individuals are similarly situated and there is no morally significant difference between them, justice demands that we extend to them the same or similar treatment.”

Choe-Smith further explores

  • the gap between our understanding of the capacities of nonhuman animals and the rights and protections we extend to them;
  • how even positive progress (such as the evolution in policies and practices related to the use of chimpanzees) often avoids fundamental questions around ethical permissibility and scientific necessity;
  • the inherent problems with the common assumption about the use of animals in research and its failure to address justice;
  • the lack of minimal risk requirements for the use of animals in research.

Find out more.


Article citation:

Choe-Smith, Chong Un. “Confronting Ethical Permissibility in Animal Research: Rejecting a Common Assumption and Extending a Principle of Justice.” Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 35, no.2 (2014): 175-85.



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