I was very pleased to hear this morning that the National Institutes of Health plan to curtail funding for research involving chimpanzees.
My view of morality holds the capacity for suffering to be fundamental. And there is no reason I’m aware of why humans should be the only species whose suffering is considered. This is why, despite my weakness to follow through, I think vegetarianism is the right thing to do. (I may soon have a way out of this personal conundrum: meat grown in the lab!).
The suffering of chimpanzees and other lab animals therefore worries me greatly. I’m willing to concede that a balancing of utility might be necessary: the suffering of a few lab animals may be justified in order to prevent the much wider-spread suffering of people with certain diseases.
However, the second fundamental component of my moral view is consent, and obviously lab animals do not consent to being experimented on. Of course, we should ask whether it even makes sense to talk about consent in certain species, since not all animals are cognitively capable of such things.
(I’m reminded of what a friend of mine, who experiments on mice, said to me recently: he told me, with obvious pride, that he does microsurgery on mice to help cure their diabetes. I was too polite to tell him that he, or his lab, was responsible for giving those mice diabetes in the first place.)
These issues notwithstanding, there is no doubt that the best scenario would be one in which valuable research proceeds without making animals suffer. I think we should do everything we can to work toward this ideal.