An estimated 20 to 30 million vertebrate animals are used as subjects in biomedical and behavioral research annually in the United States. Though these numbers are small in comparison with the numbers of animals used for other purposes--such as human consumption--it is the use of animals in science that has become the most bitterly contested aspect of the ongoing debate over man's moral relationships with other species (Herzog, 1993, p. 1906).
Increasingly, propaganda has replaced communication between individuals on opposite sides of the controversy. Those that are against the use of animals for scientific purposes have called themselves animal rights activists. They view scientists as oblivious to the suffering of their mute subjects in their quest for recognition and research dollars. Many researchers, on the other hand, consider their critics to be hyper-emotional and anti-intellectual people who prefer kittens to human beings. Advocates on both sides accuse their opponents of being modern-day Nazis.
In reality, the moral landscape is more complex than partisans on either side are willing to admit. The claim by some activists that animal research has not resulted in significant medical advances is not substantiated. Conversely, few scientists acknowledge the sophisticated philosophical underpinnings of the animal rights movement, believing, incorrectly, that it is based solely on sentiment and misplaced anthropomorphism. Indeed, animal activists may have done a service for those who work with animals by forcing them to consider the moral implications of their research. This obligation has been acknowledged even by staunch defenders of animal research, such as Adrian Morrison, director of the National Institute of Mental Health's Program for Animal Research Issues and himself a target of animal rights activists.
Regardless of the merits or the lack of merits of animal research, there is no doubt that many o...