Animal Rights & Animal Welfare in Science

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

In this lesson, you will learn about how animals are used by the scientific community, and how that ties into the concept of animal rights and welfare.

Animals and Science

We cannot live without animals. We need farm animals for food. We need dogs to help people 'see' and detect seizures. We need cats to scoff at us. We also need animals to stay healthy. We use many different animals, such as dogs, rodents, birds, and monkeys in scientific and medical experiments. Without them, we wouldn't have developed most of the drugs found throughout this world, ones that have saved someone you know from an infectious disease, cancer, or something else. Maybe even your life was saved!

Behind this ability for us to live long and healthy lives lie millions of dead animals, many of which suffered immensely in order to advance medicine and science. Let's go over how animal rights and welfare influence how animals are treated in scientific and medical experiments.

Do Animals Have Rights?

When it comes to using animals in scientific experiments, including medical ones, animals do not have legal rights. Not in the sense of the right to choose to avoid being in such an experiment. They do not have the right to choose to avoid any suffering they may experience due to the experimentation. They do not have the right to exist outside a cage in a lab and instead roam free in the wild.

This is simply because animals are viewed as a piece of property and not as a 'person' in the legal sense. As a result of this legal framework, we are able to use all sorts of animals for scientific experiments and perform many different experiments upon them. Some of these experiments are highly regulated within our next section's topics, that of animal welfare, but there are highly classified facilities all over the world that are not subject to any consideration of animal welfare, let alone animal rights. It makes you wonder what goes on behind those closed doors.

Animal Welfare & Experimentation

So, to reiterate, animal rights is not a concept that's part of scientific and medical experimentation. If animals did have rights to choose their own destiny, very few would be found willingly wandering into a medical testing facility, let alone being caged in one, or experimented upon. However, under some U.S. laws, animals are afforded some minimal welfare, or general well-being.

One of the most important laws regarding this was passed in 1966, and it's called the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The animal welfare act provides for minimum standards of care that must be provided for animals used in research.

What does this mean? First, we need to define what an 'animal' is with respect to the legal framework of the AWA. By definition the AWA legally defines an 'animal' very differently than a biologist would. An animal, according to the AWA is any:

  • Dog or cat
  • Nonhuman primate
  • Guinea pig
  • Hamster
  • Rabbit
  • (Almost) any warm-blooded animal used for research, teaching, exhibition, or as a pet

Take a look at that list again. Do you see anything that's missing? Legally, the AWA does not consider the following as an 'animal' or at the very least an 'animal' that's afforded the protections of the AWA. This includes:

  • Horses that are not used for research purposes
  • Birds
  • Rats of the genus Rattus bred for research
  • Mice of the genus Mus bred for research
  • Farm animals, including poultry, which are to be used for food, fiber, or agricultural research
  • Fish
  • Invertebrates (crustaceans and insects)

The AWA also doesn't protect its defined animals everywhere. For example, some activities not covered under the AWA include pet stores, hobby breeders, and private owners of exotic pets.

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