Should the societal beneficence outweigh the principle of non-maleficence for the non-human animal subjects in medical testing?




Every year, over 100 million animals die due to medical laboratory testing across the globe, resulting in a significant loss of wildlife. Not only are these animals killed, they are tortured beforehand, with many experiencing pain from the tests conducted including skin irritants and forcibly inhaling toxic fumes or materials. Given the countless other ways humans continue to harm our environment, animal testing only adds to the issue. So why do we continue to do it? Well, animals have played a key role in developing vaccines and treatments for disease such as Polio, Diabetes, various types of cancers, and even the COVID-19 vaccine available today. These vaccines and treatments have gone on to save an enormous amount of human lives and have allowed us to grow and prosper. These two factors regarding animal testing in the medical field have caused many to question the ethics of the situation, often looking at the balance between societal beneficence and the harm inflicted upon the animal test-subjects. Activist groups have sprung up such as PETA and further research has been developed to reduce the use of animals in medical testing, but the question still lingers today; do the benefits for humans from scientific breakthroughs outweigh the unethical treatment of non-human animal subjects in medical research and testing?


In order to speak on the ethics of the issue, we must first introduce the principles ethicists use to look at a situation. These principles are as follows to the right:

All of these principles work together to form a bigger picture on what the solution to an issue should be ethically speaking. For this project we will mainly be looking at the principles of non-maleficence and beneficence, but the other two principles tie into it as well.

For instance, many people debate whether or not non-human animals have a right to autonomy. This argument would mean testing animals is unethical because we can not ask for their consent given the communication barrier.

In regard to justice, the theory of utility could be argued. Utility is the idea that an action is ethical as long as it results in the most happiness or joy. This trail of thinking would be equivalent to the idea that the “ends justify the means”, meaning animal testing is ethical because it leads to scientific breakthroughs which cause joy for humans regardless of the harm done to other species.

While these perspectives are important to consider, the main two principles that ethicists debate in regards to animal research are beneficence and non-maleficence. If one was to argue the case from the principle of non-maleficence, animal testing would be unethical because it causes harm to the non-human animal subjects (it is important to note that some people do not believe the non-maleficence principle should be extended to animals and should only apply to humans). On the other hand, if one was to debate the situation using the principle of beneficence, one could argue that animal testing is ethical because of the benefits it provides to human society as a whole and the lives that are saved because of it. Nevertheless, while all of the principles work together, ethicists attempt to determine which principle “wins” in a given situation based on the facts provided.

The Facts:

  • Common procedures conducted on animals include but are not limited to:
    • Forced chemical exposure in toxicity testing, which can include oral force-feeding, forced inhalation, skin or injection into the abdomen, muscle, etc.
    • Exposure to drugs, chemicals or infectious disease at levels that cause illness, pain and distress, or death
    • Genetic manipulation, e.g., addition or “knocking out” of one or more genes
    • Ear-notching and tail-clipping for identification
    • Short periods of physical restraint for observation or examination
    • Prolonged periods of physical restraint
    • Food and water deprivation
    • Surgical procedures followed by recovery
    • Infliction of wounds, burns and other injuries to study healing
    • Infliction of pain to study its physiology and treatment
    • Behavioral experiments designed to cause distress, e.g., electric shock or forced swimming
    • Other manipulations to create “animal models” of human diseases ranging from cancer to stroke to depression
    • Killing by carbon dioxide asphyxiation, neck-breaking, decapitation, or other means
  • Treatment & diseases that animal testing has helped discover, research, or cure (for a more in depth look at how each of these treatments or diseases were researched using animals follow this link and for animal research regarding COVID-19 follow this link ):
    • Penicillin
    • Blood Transfusion
    • Macular Degeneration
    • Asthma
    • Meningitis
    • Kidney Transplants
    • Breast Cancer
    • Parkinson’s Disease
    • Insulin
    • COVID-19
  • There are alternatives to animal testing, including but not limited to:
    • Using blood from human volunteers to test save rabbits from “pyrogen” tests.
    • EpiSkin, EpiDerm and SkinEthic, (aka artificial skin) saves animals from skin corrosion and irritation tests.
    • The Bovine Corneal Opacity and Permeability Test and Isolated Chicken Eye Test use eyes from animals slaughtered for the meat industry instead of live animals to detect chemicals and products that are severely irritating to the eyes.
    • The 3T3 Neutral Red Uptake Phototoxicity Test can replace the use of mice and other animals in the testing of medicines and other products for their potential to cause sunlight induced “phototoxicity.”
    • in vitro tests and already available human and animal data 
    • Fish threshold method to test if the chemical concentrate in a liquid is deadly to marine life
    • Donated human tissues
    • Computer models
  • The above alternatives are often more cost-efficient and reliable than the use of animal testing (for a more in depth analysis on why non-human animal testing is not as efficient seek the article linked here )

My “For Now” Response:

Overall, I feel that both the principle of non-maleficence and societal beneficence “win” in this situation, because they both support the same conclusion. Based off of the principle of non-maleficence, animal testing is considered unethical because it violates the principle by inflicting harm to the animal subjects. Furthermore, given the fact that results from research on different species does not often translate to results on human subjects, this would also violate non-maleficence because it is causing potential harm to later human subjects by not adequately conducting the tests. 

Instead, research institutions or companies should use alternatives such as the ones listed above because they have been proven more effective in predicting results for humans. Thus, they adhere to the principle of beneficence by providing more benefits to humans through the more accurate predictions. These alternatives also support the theory of utility under the principle of justice because they are often more cost-efficient than animal testing, resulting in a higher level of happiness. 

On a micro-level, each of us can focus on educating both ourselves and others by reading articles covering the issue and informing others about it. We can also communicate with research institutions and companies such as universities or local medicinal corporations in our area to understand what they are doing to prevent non-human animal testing and to express our opinions to them. One can also donate to organizations that actively work to fight the issue, or sign petitions to enact change in our local or even federal laws.

Thank you for visiting my page, and I hope you enjoyed! I have created a Google Forms linked HERE that I would appreciate you all filling out to give me some feedback on the presentation and topic. Please feel free to leave any comments down below in the comment section as well!

Works Cited:

Click HERE for the bibliography of this webpage.



  1. Hi Olivia,
    I really loved how nice your page looks and how simple yet effective your design is. I also appreciate how you gave us alternatives. Awesome job!

    1. Hi Violet,
      Thank you so much for your kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

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