Medical Testing Done on Non-Human Animals: How can humans ethically justify the use of non human animals in research? Does the benefit outweigh the harm?

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 What you need to know and the issue at hand 


Every year, over 100 million animals ( including mice, rats, frogs, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, monkeys, fish, and birds) are killed in the U.S.  due to biology lessons, medical training, and chemical, drug, food, and cosmetics testing. Prior to their deaths, some of these non human animals are forced to inhale toxic fumes, some are immobilized in restraints for hours, others have holes drilled into their skulls, skin burned off or their spinal cords crushed. In addition to the torment of the actual experiments that are acted upon them, most of these non human animals are deprived of the few freedoms that come with their natural lives—they are confined to cages, socially isolated, and psychologically traumatized. These animals are treated like nothing more than disposable laboratory equipment with the goal of benefiting humans when they have minds and their own ways of life just like us. 

What you need to know 

There has been a worldwide debate over how humans can justify the harms done on non human animals for human benefit, and how we must stop this if we care about the ethical treatment of non human animals. The biggest argument for the necessity of animal testing is that it offers the groundwork for medical advancement around the world, although, it has recently been proven that the some of non human animal treatments do not even contribute to improving human health and medicine. In an article recently published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, scientific researchers have been discovering that “medical treatments developed in [non human] animals rarely translate to humans” and as the former National Cancer Institute Director Dr. Richard Klausner stated, “We have cured mice of cancer for decades, and it simply didn’t work in humans”. This is all to prove that there needs to be a new way to promote the development of medical research. One that is right, ethical, and doesn’t live off the death and destruction of living creators. 




Some other perspectives?

Although, there are many different perspectives on this issue. It is also clear after hearing from experienced doctors that there is a huge difference between testing non human animals in oder to stop deadly diseases and testing out shampoo and conditioner. After interviewing Dr. Josh Rosenow, the director of Functional Neurosurgery at Northwestern University, and Dr. Jyoti Patel, the Director of Thoracic oncology and overseer of all lung cancer clinical and research activities, I have learned a new point of view on non-human animal testing. As Dr. Patel stated, “the insights we get from these xenographed models are hugely helpful for us… It helps us discover mechanisms of resistance without hurting humans.” It’s true, without testing new treatments on animals, medicine wouldn’t be anywhere close to where it is right now. I asked her about possible alternatives to non human animal testing and Dr. Patel told me about her use of organoids (growing cancer cells on petri dishes in order to test treatments on them) in some her research. She said that these organoids show how the medical world is advancing because they “are much more true to the human body” because they are directly derived from human cells. Although, medicine is still not quite in a place to completely switch to these organoids: the use of non human animals are still prevalent. Even if treatments in mice don’t always correlate to humans, “it is still a small, yet important, way to gage the effectiveness of treatments in humans; it’s better than going straight to people,” Dr. Rosenow told me. He also pointed out that there are “very strict guidelines and regulations on how the animals need to be cared for,” such as a staff of veterinarians who look out for the animals and strict training for how to deal with the animals. He makes it clear that the researchers and doctors know “it is a privilege to be able to conduct this research, a privilege that can be easily taken away if we don’t follow certain guidelines.” Interviewing these experts in the medical field have added new insights to my opinion on this issue. Their compassion for these animals and their strong belief there is truly no other alternative to curing deadly diseases has shown me this issue is not just black and white. 

How are the bioethical principles at play here?

But my question still stands: is this practice ethical? How can we justify placing human benefit over non human animals? In every bioethical issue there are four major principles that bioethicists use to address an issue: Non-maleficence—the idea of not harming or inflicting the least harm possible to reach a beneficial outcome—, Beneficence—the concept that researchers should have the welfare of the research participant as a goal in any clinical trial or other research study—, Justice—the idea of a fair allocation of resources—, and finally Respect for Autonomy—the subjects ability to make a rational and logical decision about their involvement in research or in the treatment they are receiving.  

  • Non-maleficence in non human animal testing 
    • In most cases, there are no harmful intentions from the humans performing these tests. Most doctors and researchers are trained to cause the least amount of harm possible on these non human animals, although there are still situations in which these animals are extremely harmed and even killed— even if doctors don’t intend it. On the other hand, testing these treatments and products on non human animals provides the least amount of harm to humans because experimental drugs are not being tested on them. 
  • Beneficence in non human animal testing 
    • Researchers do not have the welfare of the research participant (the non human animals) as a goal in their studies. In no way do these non human animals benefit from being tested on, nor are they supposed to benefit. Humans, on the other hand, do greatly benefit from some of the testing done on non human animals as it has cause many medical advancements in our world. 
  • Justice in non human animal testing 
    • When discussing allocation of resources, it is important to note  the use of non human animals in testing is more costly than ulterior options such as computer modeling techniques and cell based in-vitro methods. (Facts from: 9 
  • Respect for Autonomy in non human animal testing 
    • Because the subjects being used in these tests are non human animals, they lack the cognitive abilities to have any sort of autonomy in these studies. There is no respect for what these animals want or for what is best for them.   

This issue is incredibly difficult to grasp because there are so many different and conflicting perspectives. Nonetheless, I believe it all comes down to the bioethical principles of beneficence and non maleficence. Even if researchers do intend to cause the least amount of harm on these non human animals, they are still injecting them with cancer cells and causing them harm no matter what the test (whether that be physiologically or physically). However, looking at this issue from the human side, both bioethical principles are at play. It is true that this practice does cause the least amount of harm on humans and it absolutely benefits us. At what cost can we allow ourselves to only look at this issue from a humans point of view?

Now what can you do?

“For Now” Response

Now that you have all of this information and knowledge on this issue, what can you do? I, personally, have started small in my community by education my family and classmates about this issue and all of the possible solutions that I have outlined in my overview such as all of the other alternatives to animal testing. I am also making an impact by signing this petition and encouraging others to sign it as well in order to make an impact. This link will take you directly to a petition that you can sign that will contact legislators and urge them to support the reintroduction of the Humane Cosmetics Act to prohibit animal testing for cosmetics manufactured or sold in the U.S. On this link you can also donate to the Humane Society of the United States that will help aid them in their fight for animal rights.

A message straight from the Humane Society

“Alternatives to animal testing already exist: Humane, safe cosmetics can be created using thousands of existing ingredients, and several non-animal methods are already available to test new ingredients. These advanced scientific technologies are often cheaper, faster and more relevant to humans making them more reliable predictors of safety than archaic animal tests. Help end cosmetics testing on animals in the U.S. — just like in the 40 countries where laws have passed to end or limit this outdated practice, including Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, Israel, India and every country in the European Union.”

*this video details why it is so important to push this act 

I also encourage everyone to take more notice in the things that they are buying and figure out how those products were tested for humans. This is an easy and affective way to make change locally. If you encourage other people in your community to stop buying products that were tested on non human animals, then those companies would be forced to make a change. 

Now that you have read through my research, here is another form to reflect on what you’ve learned. 


It is clear that this issue is a difficult one. There are many of different perspectives and ways to think about it which makes coming to a conclusion so hard. From my research and looking at different websites, it is clear that testing treatments and products on non human animals in order to benefit humans is unethical and unjust. This is clear from the facts: these non human animals are extremely harmed in order for humans to benefit. Although, this issue is more complicated than that. After hearing from Dr. Patel and Dr. Rosenow, I understand that this testing is pretty much necessary for some advancements in medicine and that even though some alternatives are being created, it will take some time for them to fully replace the non human animals. That fact in no way makes it right, but it does make for controversy. However, testing done on non human animals for cosmetics has never been needed, and there are ways we can make a change by following my advice above. Collectively, humans need to understand that we are not the only beings on this planet with lives and thoughts. Non human animals deserve more—they deserve to be more than just test subject #57.  

Resources Consulted and Cited: My Sources


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