Leading Article: A humane move, but what comes next?

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The Independent Culture
THE HOME Office has finally decided to issue no more licences to scientists to experiment on animals while testing new cosmetics. New Labour has fulfilled an election pledge: thousands of animals, mainly mice and guinea pigs, will now not be bred for a life of painful experimentation. This is the only humane end to an immoral practice which saw animals tortured so that human beings could make themselves look more attractive.

But those experiments made up only 0.05 per cent of animal tests in the UK last year. All other tests were for "medical purposes". It is in this field that the real moral dilemmas begin. When is it justifiable to inflict pain on one sentient being for the benefit of others? This used to be an easy question to answer. The Bible gave man dominion over the animal kingdom; Descartes argued that animals' lack of a soul made them inferior beings.

Genetic advances have divested us of these comforting illusions. Chimps are not far away from us on the evolutionary ladder. No one would inflict torture on human beings for medical gain: the difference between that and experiments on chimps is less than we had once thought.

We need a new and less emotional public debate on this issue. Animal experimentation must weigh up the conscious pain inflicted against the pain that could be averted if the drugs are found to work. On these grounds, Pfizer's recent admission to mutilating dogs in research on Viagra would not be justified. The worry of impotence does not match the pain of these more intelligent animals. Cancer tests on mice, on the other hand, are more acceptable given the lesser intelligence of the subject, and the immense possible gain. Small gestures such as the ban on cosmetic testing should not blind us to the wider moral difficulty of deciding how much pain to allow, and on whom to inflict it.

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