Animal testing in Oxford


in Politics, Science

For about an hour today, I spoke with Lee Jones while he was handing out Pro-Test leaflets on Cornmarket Street. For those outside Oxford – or those who have spent the last few months in a local cave, with fingers in their ears – Pro-Test is a group which promotes the use of animal testing in medical research, in opposition to groups like SPEAK and the Animal Liberation Front who have been agitating against the animal lab that is under construction near Rhodes House. Along with legitimate protests and demonstrations, some anti-testing groups have threatened construction workers and members of the university, as part of their campaign to stop the lab from being built. Similar protests in Cambridge led to the cancellation of an animal lab project there.

I do believe that animals are morally considerable, to a certain extent. That’s part of why I refrain from eating them. I don’t think there’s a rational basis for a harsh divide between humans and other animals. That said, there is a balance of competing moral claims. We need new antibiotics to deal with resistant bacteria. We need vaccines for HIV/AIDS and malaria. Oxford is the only organization in the world presently conducting second stage clinical trials on vaccines both both malaria and HIV/AIDS, as well as new treatments for tuberculosis. We need new surgical procedures and drugs to limit the harm caused to people around the world by infectious disease: a far more lethal phenomenon than war and terrorism put together. Developing all of these things fundamentally requires limited usage of animal testing. No computer models are adequate for dealing with the sophistication of animal biochemistry; likewise, it is irresponsible to test drugs and procedures on human beings, even volunteers, before basic toxological and side effect screenings have been completed.

Protections for laboratory animals in the UK are already extremely strong: far, far more robust than sanitary and ethical guidelines in the factory farming industry (which should be the real target for those concerned about animal cruelty). While alternatives to animal testing should be investigated, and employed where appropriate, the moral imperative to lessen the suffering caused by disease requires the continued development and use of facilities such as that under construction at Oxford.

Those interested in hearing Pro-Tests side of the story should consider attending an open public meeting on Monday the 22nd. It is happening from 7:00 to 9:00pm at the Oxford town hall and will include presentations from scientists, a Member of Parliament, and members of Pro-Test. They are also holding a demonstration on Saturday, June 3rd – starting at 11:45am on Parks Road.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous May 20, 2006 at 3:19 pm

“Live animal research is more tightly regulated in Britain than anywhere else in the world. A 20-year-old law covering vertebrate animals (plus one species of octopus) determines that animal breeders and researchers must be licensed and are inspected by government officials on average ten times a year, often unannounced.

Before an experiment, the research laboratory must show it has the facilities and staff to care for the animals; the researcher must show he has the skills and training; and there must be no alternative to using animals—with the likely benefits of the science outweighing any animal suffering.

Under these rules, around 2.75m scientific procedures have been carried out each year since 2000 on animals in Britain. Roughly 85% involved rats, mice and other rodents, and only around 3% dogs, cats, monkeys and other large mammals. The great majority caused at most minor pain or distress, alleviated wherever necessary with painkillers or anaesthetic; only 2% caused severe pain or distress. Most animals are killed (painlessly) when the research they are being used for is finished.”

Tristan Laing May 20, 2006 at 10:05 pm

I respect your pragmatic stance on this issue, and the fact that you refrain from making absolute judgements based on what could easily be interpreted as an absolute position (“animals are morally considerable”).

I generally disagree with the notion of moral considerability, because it construes morality as something which is concerned with perticular “moral” entities, acting on other entities which are decided to be “moral” or not. This kind of moral thinking is specific to thinking humans as individual subjects, and the world as passive object (“the world” here includes those other active subjects, animal or human, which we consider morally, but as objects of our morality we consider them passivly). Since I generally disagree with considering the world, whether it be person animal or thing, as merely an object of my own representation, I can’t endorse this. An alternative would be to think of morality as the proper manner of existence for humans, which allows the acknoledgement of the world, animals, other humans, as active subjects in their own right.

Milan May 21, 2006 at 12:10 am


How would that alternative approach answer the question of whether testing surgical procedures and drugs on animals is morally acceptable? I realise there are problems with theories based on the kind of judgement I outline above, but it’s hard to generate an alternative that is convincing.

Milan May 21, 2006 at 12:15 am

I should note that the biggest problem I have with Pro-Test, insofar as Lee’s comments were reflective of their general stance, is the tendency to sharply delineate humans from animals. I can’t find reason to do so, on grounds of the existence of a soul, rationality, etc. Humans _are_ animals, and inescapably so.

If the pursuit of ‘science’ legitimizes any kind of behaviour towards ‘animals’ it therefore legitimizes any kind of behaviour towards humans. Partial moral considerability is my fudge of an answer to this question, though I recognize that it is deficient for anything other than pragmatic and immediate moral decision making.

Alena Prazak May 21, 2006 at 12:33 am

As a pre-med student in Washington, DC, I went to NIH to observe pain research being carried out on Monkeys. The tops of their skulls had been surgically removed and they were subjected to all kinds of torments. I will not forget their mournful howls as we opened the door to the lab. However, I have also lived in Asia and Africa and have seen people suffering from AIDs, malaria and many other fatal diseases. That is morally also wrong. To better the world, compromises and sacrifices have to be made. Thus, difficult choices have to be made and they are not always right or wrong. Life in this world is one tough balancing act.

Milan May 21, 2006 at 4:16 pm

One valid criticism I’ve heard about the animal lab is that is has been built in the wrong place. Putting it right in the centre of town when it was obviously going to cause such a high level of disruption wasn’t a well-thought-out plan. Also, it seems that the university never properly consulted the police, who will bear the considerable expense of defending the place in its present and more vulnerable location.

Lee July 22, 2006 at 6:29 pm

Milan, here is a good article on why we should differentiate between humans and animals:

Milan July 22, 2006 at 7:50 pm


While I can understand such arguments, they are actually the reason for which I cannot completely support groups like Pro-Test. The sheer militancy with which it promotes the ideals of ‘science’ as though it was some truly objective way of coming to terms with the universe is very off-putting.

Likewise, to claim that animals (even apes) are not as clever as human beings is really not a sufficient basis to claim that human beings owe them no moral obligations. Human children and those with neurological diseases are likewise ‘inferior’ in many of the ways listed in this article, but that does not set them outside the scope of moral consideration.

Lee July 27, 2006 at 6:42 pm

Pro-Test would never argue that humans have no moral relationship to animals. On the contrary, we note that animal research in the UK is the most tightly regulated in the world, with scientists having to submit their work to ethical reviews both locally (in ethics committees) and nationally (in applying for licences from the Home Office).

Animals cannot logically be the bearers of rights because of the way rights work (let me know if you dispute this). But our humanity demands that we treat animals with compassion and spurn wanton cruelty as degrading to the human spirit. The moral arrow points from us to them, not the other way around. This is an important distinction rather than a pedantic one.

Milan August 2, 2006 at 9:21 pm


I don’t think making animal welfare important only insofar as people care about it is morally adequate, just as I don’t see any valid reason for sharply delineating between human beings and other animals when making moral judgments. I think animals (including humans) are “bearers of rights” if rights are the kind of moral framework we want to evaluate things through.

. November 12, 2008 at 11:45 am

Inside the Oxford animal lab

By Fergus Walsh
BBC News medical correspondent

Oxford University says the first animals have been moved into a new biomedical sciences centre in the city.

The building will bring together animal research currently conducted at around half a dozen facilities in the city.

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