Professionalism/Using Animals in Research

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The use of animals in research is a widely controversial topic in today's scientific community. This topic raises an important professional issue - is it ethical to harm animals with the aim of saving human lives? Because the scope of this topic is immense, this chapter limits itself to the use of non-human primates in medical and psychological research.

Valuing humans and monkeys in terms of dollars is frequently done. Insurance companies often use $50,000 when preparing a quote for a consumer.[1] Government agencies use higher values when considering the costs and savings of regulations, but this may be because the costs are absorbed by the businesses and industries affected, not by the organizations themselves.[2]. As of 2012, the FDA values a human life at $7.9 million, while the EPA estimates its worth at $9.1 million. On the other hand, monkeys are worth much less. Rhesus macaques may be purchased online for $2,000 to $5,000.[3][4] Valuing humans and animals is necessary economically, but the ethics are not so easy.

Isolation Experiments[edit]

In the late 1950s, Harry Harlow performed psychological experiments on rhesus monkeys. To learn about infant-mother ties, he separated infant rhesus monkeys and placed them with surrogate mothers. These surrogates were either made of a bare wire mesh or covered in terry cloth. He found that those with a choice preferred the cloth-covered mother, which provided emotional attachments to the infants.[5] While the monkeys grew the same physically, their psychological development greatly differed. The monkeys preferred the cloth-covered surrogates far more than the wire frame alternatives.[6] Furthermore, those with the cloth surrogates were much more adaptable to frightening objects, quickly returning to their playful state. Contrastingly, the monkeys raised by the wire-frame surrogates often screamed in terror, showing their lack of psychological development.[5]

Later, in the 1960s, he isolated baby monkeys in an attempt to find out more about depression. Calling the isolation chambers the "Pit of Despair," Harlow's monkeys often went into emotional shock later in their lives. Many of these monkeys that went on to have offspring were negligent or abusive mothers.[7]

These experiments showed that babies look to their mothers for both basic needs and affection.[8] Those without the necessary contact developed serious psychological problems. While these conditions could be reversed initially, after a certain period, nothing could fix the emotional damage.[5]

Moreover, one of his students described his experiments as clearly insensible, and another attributed his experiments to the origins of the modern animal liberation movement.[7] Thus, Harlow's experiment is generally regarded as unethical. Despite this, Harlow remained unsympathetic and unapologetic, stating that the unethical treatment of a few monkeys is irrelevant when considering the potential benefits to humans.[9] While it is clear that this experiment was unethical, it still provided useful results in developmental psychology. In considering cases such as this, there is no clear, right answer. Whether the benefits of this research is worth the suffering of some monkeys is ultimately up to people to decide for themselves.

Polio Research and Vaccine[edit]

Jonas Salk at the University of Pittsburgh where he developed the first polio vaccine.

When Thomas Francis, Jr. announced the success of Jonas Salk's polio vaccine on April 12, 1955, the world rejoiced. Often cited as one of the worst postwar fears in America,[10][11] polio afflicted countless victims including Donald Sutherland, Mia Farrow, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and possibly Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Discovering, testing, and curing polio involved monkeys at every step. In 1908 Landsteiner and Popper isolated the polio virus by injecting rhesus monkeys with spinal cord tissue from human patients.[12] At least one monkey became paralyzed in both legs. Later, three different types of polio strains were discovered after exhaustive testing on 17,000 monkeys.[13] Researchers infected monkeys which had immunity to a known type of polio with tissue samples of an unknown type to determine the unknown strain. Tested monkeys that became infected were killed.[13] Once Jonas Salk discovered the inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV), he needed to grow large amounts of the virus. Growing polio in a cell culture used monkey kidney cell cultures.[14] Finally, vaccines were tested by injecting them into monkeys, and again any infected monkeys were killed.[15]

When the use of monkeys saves as many lives and prevents as much paralysis as Salk's vaccine did, the ethics become unclear. Are the lives of tens of thousands of monkeys worth less than the lives of millions of people? If so, where do we draw the line? The International Association Against Painful Experiments on Animals (IAAPEA) believes that using monkeys gave a misrepresentation of the polio virus in humans and led to huge delays in formulating a vaccine.[12] Albert Sabin, who discovered the oral polio vaccine (OPV), argues that animal research was necessary. “My own experience of more than 60 years in biomedical research amply demonstrated that without the use of animals and of human beings, it would have been impossible to acquire the important knowledge needed to prevent much suffering and premature death not only among humans but also among animals.”[16]

Modern AIDS Research[edit]

One area that remains particularly contentious in both the scientific community and the realm of public opinion is the use of non-human primates (NHP) in AIDS research. Roughly 6 million people were infected with AIDS in 2007 and that number is projected to increase to 10 million by 2030 without further intervention.[17] Because the similarities of NHPs to humans both in anatomy and physiology, some groups contend that in specific cases, using NHPs is the only conceivable method for exploring possible vaccines and therapeutic treatments. For instance, the California Biomedical Research Association describes the use of NHPs as “an indispensable, and currently irreplaceable, bridge between basic laboratory studies and clinical use.”[18] Others however, like the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), have pointed out the dissimilarities between NHPs and humans in the progression of HIV/AIDS and Simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV).[19][20] For instance, chimpanzees infected with HIV-1 are unlikely to develop AIDS.[21] Because of the financial cost of maintaining chimpanzees and the increasing pressure from activists, researchers often substitute rhesus macaques for chimpanzees. Rhesus macaques can only be infected with SIV or SHIV, a chimeric HIV & SIV recombinant strain.[21]

Such differences between animal models and humans have been highlighted by the failures of many potential vaccines first tested in animal models. For instance, the AIDSVAX vaccine was effective in chimpanzees, but proved ineffective in a Stage III clinical trial involving 8,000 patients in 2003.[22]

Several advances in the treatment of AIDS/HIV have relied on testing with non-human primates. Notably, tenofovir (PMPA) demonstrated high effectiveness in treating SIV in macaques.[23][24] Zidovudine (AZT) also used macaques for testing.[25] Additionally, researchers laud NHP models for contributing to a greater understanding of toxicology, prophylaxis, and drug resistant HIV mutant strains.[23] A vaccine recently developed for SIV in macaques has demonstrated efficacy rates of at least 80% in preventing infection.[26] Researchers contend that generalizing such findings to humans will ultimately result in successful vaccines and therapies.[23]

The issue of NHP for AIDS research is increasingly an issue in the public domain. Researchers cite concerns about public outcry as one of the principle reasons for discontinuing the use of chimpanzees in AIDS research.[21] In 2005, AIDS patient groups formed the Patient Advocates Against PETA in response to PETA's rigid position on the use of animals in research. However, not all HIV positive patients agreed with this group's stance and have asserted their own concerns about the use of animals in drug and vaccine development.[25]

Rights: Humans vs. Animals[edit]

One main argument surrounding animal testing is on the basis of whether or not animals have rights. A right is "an entitlement considered to arise through natural justice and which is applicable to all members of a particular group."[27]

Equal Rights[edit]

Especially as the line between humans and animals blur, in criteria such as tool usage or language, the ethics of using animals in research is becoming more and more questionable.[28] As animals can be in pain and distress, humans should include them in their moral circle and recognize their need to reduce pain. Regardless of host, pain is pain, whether is come from a toxicity test or a physical trap.[29]

Moreover, giving only humans rights is a form of "species-ism." If we care about the suffering of other humans, we should also care about the suffering of non-humans. Furthermore, there are some animals that exhibit more brain function than some humans (e.g., infants, etc.). Just because humans are stronger than the animals does not give them free reign; with that logic, a stronger species could and enslave humans with no moral uncertainties.[29]

In place of animal testing, they may suggest these alternatives.

Unequal Rights[edit]

Animals are not equal to humans. Only humans can have rights, as rights also include duties to uphold these rights. However, the lack of rights does not equate to a lack of morality in treatment. This does not mean that humans are free to do what they want to animals - humans still may have obligations to animals, but that does not mean that the animals have rights. It is absurd to suggest that humans and animals would both have either no rights or the same rights.[30] Furthermore, because humans can act morally, often sacrificing the self for the greater concern of others, and animals cannot, humans should put human interests before those of animals.[31]

Many also argue that the benefits of animal testing do not outweigh its negative consequences. However, by summing the benefits over time, the results produced via animal testing (e.g., elimination of disease, lives saved, etc.) are so large that it would be unethical to not utilize animal testing. While researchers recognize the effects on the animals, they also see the importance of the research results.[30]

Deontological Ethics ("Duty-Based") vs. Consequentialism ("Outcome-Based" Ethics)[edit]

For a person that subscribes to deontological ethics, an action cannot necessarily be justified by its consequences. For a deontologist, the moral conformity of an action outweighs the possible good that an action's consequence can impart.[32]

In contrast, a consequentialist assesses an act based solely on its outcome or consequences. In this light, the good that an action creates can always outweigh the rightness or morality of the action and legitimize harmful behavior as long as the final outcome is beneficial. [33]


Not all ethical discussions are black and white. Professionalism involves knowing your own ethics perspective, especially when there is no easy answer. It also involves the inherent recognition that you hold power over others and that you always have a choice in how you use this power. Particularly, when determining when and if "the ends justify the means." The merits for using animals in research varies case by case, and it is essential that professionals consider their own motivations for performing the research as well as the ratio of animal suffering to long-term benefits for humans.

See Also[edit]


  1. Kingsbury, K. (2008). "The value of a human life: $129,000." In Time Health.,8599,1808049,00.html
  2. Appelbaum, B. (2011). "As U.S. agencies put more value on a life, businesses fret." In The New York Times.
  3. Wild Animal World.
  5. a b c Herman, E. (2012). "Harry F. Harlow, Monkey Love Experiments." The Adoption History Project.
  6. Herman, E. (2012). "Harry F. Harlow, 'Love in Infant Monkeys,' 1959." The Adoption History Project.
  7. a b Battuello, P. (2011). "Harry Harlow’s Pit of Despair." In Behalf of Animals.
  8. Schultheis, E. (1999). Harry F. Harlow.
  9. Hansen, S. (2002). “Love at Goon Park” by Deborah Blum.
  10. O'Neill, W. (1989). American high: The years of confidence, 1945-1960. New York: Simon and Schuster.
  11. (2009, Feb. 2). "American Experience: The Polio Crusade." In Los Angeles Times. Television Review
  12. a b IAAPEA. "Monkey experiments delay polio breakthrough."
  13. a b Spice, B. (2005). "Developing a medical milestone: The Salk polio vaccine." In Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  14. National Research Council. (1988). Use of laboratory animals in biomedical and behavioral research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, p. 28.
  15. Spice, B. (2005). "Tireless polio research effort bears fruit and indignation." In Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  16. Blue Sky Science. (2011). "Albert Sabin and the monkeys who gave summer back to the children."
  17. Tonks, A. (2007). The quest for the AIDS Vaccine. BMJ, 334(7608), 1346-8.
  18. California Biomedical Research Association. (n.d.) Fact sheet: Primates in biomedical research. Retrieved from
  19. Humane Society of the United States.(2009)."Questions and Answers About Monkeys used in Research"
  20. PETA.(n.d.). "AIDS: Contagion and Confusion."
  21. a b c Nath, B.M., Schumann, K.E., & Boyer, J. D.(2000). The chimpanzee and other non-human-primate models in HIV-1 vaccine research. Trends in microbiology. 8(9), 426-431. Retrieved from
  22. Bailey, J. (2005). Non-human primates in medical research and drug development: a critical review. Biogenic Amines, 19(4-6), 235-255. Retrieved from
  23. a b c Van Rompay, K. K. A. (2010). Evaluation of antiretrovirals in animal models of HIV infection. Antiviral research, 85(1), 159-75. doi:10.1016/j.antiviral.2009.07.008
  25. a b AVERT.(2011). "HIV Drugs Vaccines and Animal Testing."
  26. Barouch, D. et al. (2012). Vaccine protection against acquisition of neutralization-resistant SIV challenges in rhesus monkeys. Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature10766
  27. "Right," Definition 9a. Oxford English Dictionary.
  28. Bowd, A. (February 1980). "Ethics and Animal Experimentation." American Psychologist, 224-225.
  29. a b Ryder, R. (2005). "All beings that feel pain deserve human rights." The Guardian.
  30. a b Cohen, C. (1986). "The Case for the Use of Animals in Biomedical Research." New England Journal of Medicine, 315(14), 865-870.
  31. Wilson, S. (2010). "Animals and Ethics." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.