Thursday, February 26, 2015
Project Summary-James Hayes
Speciesism in Biological Research
I have had trouble choosing a topic for this project. I am still a bit unsure how I will approach the topic, so this post will mostly be a “stream of consciousness” of my thoughts on the issue.
I am going at this project solo and, as I currently am conduct biological research myself, I often find myself wondering what sort of pain and/or suffering I am causing on my research subjects. This statement may be misleading, as I do not use animals, mice, or even embryos for my research. In fact, the only “organisms” I use are murine (mouse) macrophages, which are a form of phagocytic white blood cell, and Cryptococcus neoformans, a ubiquitous fungus that can act as an opportunistic pathogen. I often jokingly apologize to my macrophages, as my experiments commonly involve infecting them with C. neoformans. But there is a bit of truth in every joke, right?
While it may seem a bit oversensitive or silly to care about how my experiments are affecting the “lives” of organisms I study, let me take you through my thoughts as they come through my head. When we look back from our current place in time, our history is seemingly to us littered with immoral practices, whether they be “barbaric” entertainment such as gladiators, public hangings, slavery, etc.
It seems to me that we constantly live in a paradoxical scenario wherein as our knowledge of the world grows, so too does the awareness of our ignorance. Now, as a society, we have risen above old traditions and live in a “modern world,” where we try to remain empathetic to the rights of other individuals, and minimize pain, hunger, and suffering.
Now, as the 21st century sun rises with countless promising scientific advances on the horizon, we find our moral calibration has gone haywire as science advances at a lightning-quick pace. As we seem to become more and more aware of our past immoralities, I often wonder what current commonplace, everyday practices will be seen as barbaric by future generations. Immediately, the meat industry comes to mind, as well as some other activities that are perhaps better left unsaid. One of these things is biological research, and more specifically, the use of animals in biological research.
I have done extensive reading on the subject, and am having trouble formulating an opinion on what I consider ethical and unethical. I’ll simplify the discussion to the use of mice.
As many studies have shown (I can provide links if needed), mice (as well as many other animals of “lower order”) are capable of experiencing pain just as humans do. The primary difference in suffering of animals versus human suffering is the current belief that animals lack “awareness of their impending doom,” which decreases the psychological aspect of their suffering. There are many ethical issues in play, many of which we have discussed in class, such as utilitarianism, which may argue that the use of animals in research may ultimately result in the end of human suffering.
My project will be to examine the different philosophical approaches to this question, and focus primarily on speciesism, whether it comes into play here, and whether it is justified.