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Article: Ethics or Extremism?

By Elaine Cassel

Ethics or extremism? Two books dealing with animal experimentation and use in research will help you determine where you should stand on this important issue. When is animal experimentation necessary for the common good? When does the use of animals rise to the level of abuse?

On January 14, 1999, members of the animal rights activists group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), protesting the recent announcement of federal government direct payments to hog farmers, were arrested for setting fires to hay bales on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. This is the same group that years ago claimed responsibility for "freeing" primates being used for research purposes in the Washington, D.C. area.

If you are like most psychology students, you are (or should be) concerned with the misuse of animals for human purposes. But what constitutes misuse? Two books can help you make up your mind. The first, Animal Rights: History and Scope of a Radical Social Movement (Southern Illinois Press, 1998), by Harold D. Guither, presents a brief history of the animal protection movement and identifies the major players, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Paul McCartney and his now-deceased wife, Linda. Guither's book discusses the current movement, and explains the activists' demands and the consequences for research, entertainment, and business if they achieve their goals. This book will appeal to students of psychology, philosophy, sociology, and the health sciences, as well as to animal owners and lovers.

After understanding the pros and cons of the activists' arguments, you can apply your understanding (and your opinions) to case studies (gl) presented in The Human Use of Animals: Case Studies in Ethical Choice (Oxford University Press, 1998), edited by F. Barbara Orlans, Tom Beauchamp, Rebecca Dresser, and John P. Gluck. The first publication of its kind, this book provides a framework for examining the case studies, by providing backgrounds in ethical, philosophical, and moral concepts germane to each case. Here's an opportunity to apply your knowledge of research ethics to case studies that replicate the complexity of issues with which Institutional Research Boards (IRBs) must grapple as they determine when animal experimentation is warranted, and when it isn't.

But though IRBs are on the front lines, the important social, ethical, and political issues inherent in their decision-making processes concern all of us who benefit from animal experimentation--whether we are benefactors of drugs and medical procedures tested on animals or consumers of the many products developed at the expense of animals.

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