[Is brain surgery on primates in basic research morally acceptable?] [Article in German]

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Andreas Flury
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In the contemporary controversy about the legitimacy of vivisection a few basic assumptions are shared by nearly all participants of the discussion. (I) Pure Research in the service of medicine is of great value for humankind. It contributes to prolonging human life and the alleviation and prevention of human suffering. (II) Brain surgery for the sole purpose of pure research is morally unacceptable in the case of any human being. (III) Primates are sensitive beings which lead a rich social life and are endowed with remarkable intellectual capacities. (IV) Also non-human primates have a moral standing, possibly to a lesser degree compared with human beings, certain acts are therefore an injustice toward them.
The controversy then is about the question whether premise (I) outweighs (IV), i.e. whether the benefit of the pure research is from a moral point of view more important than the suffering of innocent primates. I shall present four arguments against such a conclusion.
1) According to premise (I) brain surgery on human beings for the sole purpose of pure research is morally unacceptable. Since this prohibition is meant to include all human beings it cannot rest on the exclusive human possession of reason because e.g. some mentally handicapped human beings lack this ability. All other properties which may be named as basis for the ascription of a moral status which forbids brain surgery for pure research, are possessed also by some animals, especially primates; therefore it is impossible to deny them the same moral status. 2) Brain surgery on primates is confronted with an insoluble dilemma: If the characteristics of the primate brain are very similar to that of human beings, the scientific benefit is obvious, but the procedure appears to be morally unacceptable exactly because of this similarity. If, on the other hand, the characteristics differ significantly, brain surgery may seem legitimate but the scientific benefit becomes doubtful at best. 3) We could quite easily save hundreds of human lives if e.g. speed limits would be reduced (say) by half. Most of us, however, are unwilling to accept such a loss of quality of life in order to save a certain number of human lives. Since we are not prepared to pay this comparatively modest price, we have, in my eyes, no moral right to impose considerable pain and suffering on a primate to save human lives. 4) Pure research in the service of human medicine is from a moral point of view of great importance. Since most of the work in this area is done or financed by private corporations and not by state institutions, from an economical point of view the aim consists in making profit. Since the latter aspect has gained more and more weight in the last years the moral worth of pure research cannot rule out any other moral concern.

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How to Cite
Flury, A. (1999) “[Is brain surgery on primates in basic research morally acceptable?] [Article in German]”, ALTEX - Alternatives to animal experimentation, 16(4), pp. 267–270. Available at: https://www.altex.org/index.php/altex/article/view/1417 (Accessed: 27 May 2024).