Medical Essay Sample: Law and Ethics

Published: 2022-11-22
Medical Essay Sample: Law and Ethics
Type of paper:  Research paper
Categories:  Medicine Animals Ethical dilemma
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1661 words
14 min read

Some of the breakthroughs in the medical field have been the result of the use of animals in research. However, there has been an increasing debate on the morality of this approach. There are those who argue that it is morally wrong to subject animals to certain conditions for the benefits of humans (Sikes, 2016). It is noteworthy, however, that without using such animals for research, little advancement would be made with regards to the treatment of human diseases. Three approaches have been proposed by opponents of animal use in medical research. Replacing such animals with human volunteers or other scientific approaches is seen as a viable alternative (Curzer et al., 2015). The reduced use of animals by conducting multiple studies at a go and sharing such information has also been proposed. Others call for the consideration of animal welfare during research and recommend that the way they are cared to be refined.

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History of Dilemma

Medical research using animals have helped address such diseases as polio, diabetes, and rabies. Dogs, mice, rats, rabbits, and monkeys have been used to test medications which are then used by humans since the seventeenth century (Monamy, 2017). Over this time, there have been calls for the minimization of cruelty against animals during medical research. It is no wonder that the 19th century saw the development of anesthesia. The passing of the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1876 in the UK marked the seriousness of the campaign against cruelty to animals (Hoffer et al., 2018). The Medicines Act of 1968 followed an exponential rise in animal use in medical research. This Act was followed by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act of 1986 which sought to safeguard the wellbeing of animals used in laboratories.

In America, there has been a similar trend regarding the protection and minimization of animals used in medical research. The Animal Welfare Act, for instance, came into force in 1966 and sought to regulate the treatment of animals in the laboratories. There several other laws attached to this Act. Besides the Act, there is also the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals whose scope is the most commonly used animals, rodents, in research (Hoffer et al., 2018). Animal use in research has helped achieve feats in medical research which would never be possible. Over time, human beings have had to face more challenging diseases and cancers, calling for more extensive medical research. Restrictions on animal research, therefore, poses a dilemma for medical research.

Moral Issues

The moral dilemma around animal use in medical research is whether the positives associated with their use outweighs the negatives. Proponents of animal use in medical research note that their application has been helpful in the development of treatments and drugs that help humanity, the understanding of human health and biology, ensure drug effectiveness before use by humans and that no other alternative accurately simulate social systems (Tanner, 2013). On their part, the opponents of this approach to research cite the increased use of animals with an increase in human diseases, animals that eventually die (Rollin, 2016). They also point that such animals are subjected to unnecessary pain and suffering for the benefit of human beings.

Currently, there are millions of animal procedures that are carried out annually in the laboratories. animal justice crusaders. Proponents of animal use in research point that extreme care is taken guided by existing laws and that anesthetics are used on such animals. They also note that an alternative approach would be to have such tests conducted on humans. They also indicate that, comparatively, animals used for research are but a fraction of those slaughtered for consumption (Rollin, 2016). However, opponents insist that animals have rights and it is morally wrong to violate such rights. Additionally, they note that the use of animals for experimental purposes causes specific harm.

Legal Issues

The developments among the animal justice groups have built strong legal provisions which restrict the unregulated use of animals in medical research. Federal laws provide that all animals deserve humane treatment and ensure that animals be subjected to minimal distress if necessary. There exist numerous regulations, laws, and policies derived from both Public Health Service and Congress which protect animals (LaFollette & Shanks, 2016). The Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals spells out the allowed procedures and conditions under which such processes can be carried. There are also the Animal Welfare Act and the Public Service Policy on Human Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. All these works together to address possible mishandling of animals during research.

There exist animals' rights, and the legal frameworks seek to protect these rights. It is hoped that animals are not subjected to undue stress. In the process of medical research, the animals may need to be subjected to extreme medical conditions, or such animals may be let to be affected by disease before treatment is administered. Animal justice proponents consider this unnecessary whereas, without such procedures, it might be challenging to address acute medical cases (LaFollette & Shanks, 2016). The other consideration regularly proposed is that with the existence of alternatives such as cultures, the right of the animals not to be subjected to unnecessary pain is violated. Animal rights activists want animals to be considered as having similar rights as those of humans.

Current Status of Dilemma

It is noteworthy that animals used in research remain the property of the medical institutions. Presently, the law addresses how some types of animals are to be handled during medical research. However, such restrictions are not clear enough, leaving room for misinterpretation and misunderstanding by the various stakeholders. As such, researchers are currently scaling down on the use of animals in medical research given the numerous restrictions (Goodman, Chandna, & Roe, 2015). For certain medical conditions, medical researchers are replacing animals with substitute techniques which include the use of computer modeling and cell culture. In some cases, human volunteers are used for research.

Based on the increased call for the protection of animal rights, some medical research organizations are reducing the number of animals. There are alternative approaches used by such organizations. They aim to ensure that experimental techniques employed are accurate at first attempt. Additionally, these organizations make it mandatory for research information to be shared so that similar experiments are not carried out on multiple animals. Research organizations are also compelled to refine their approaches to animal care during research (Armstrong & Botzler, 2016). Such approach focusses on minimizing pain and stress that the animals are subjected to during research.

Impact on Healthcare

In recent years, there has been increased use of In vitro approach to medical research. Such experiments are carried out in Petri dishes and test tubes and use cells and tissues derived from animals and humans (Bredenoord, Clevers, & Knoblich, 2017). While this scientific approach has shown some successes, it is feared that the resulting solutions may not entirely reproduce the conducive environment which animals provide. This notwithstanding, however, restricted use of animals in research has seen the increased use of in vitro experiments. The second impact of such restrictions has been significant improvements in the use of technology in the medical field. There is increased use of computer models in healthcare research. The greatest challenge of this approach is that it is limited to what is already known to humans through previous research.

Unlike before, there is limited room for error as researchers aim to subject as few animals as possible to pain and stress during studies. This approach can be counterproductive as it limits the chance to carry out multiple tests under different conditions. These requirements have also seen the development of anesthetics and painkillers which these animals are provided with when tests involving pain are to be administered (Sikes & Bryan, 2016). There has also been the use of human volunteers for medical research as restrictions call for the respect of animal rights continue.


It may be difficult to ultimately end the use of animals in medical research as alternatives such as human volunteers pose even more significant ethical concerns. A combination of methods such as computer models and cultures can be useful in limiting the use of animals in medical research. The legal provisions also need to be more explicit to prevent misinterpretation by the various stakeholders. While championing for animal rights, it is fair to consider how research involving animals have been instrumental in developing cures which are presently useful. As things stand, however, medical researchers have to balance between providing the best solutions to medical problems and being conscious of animal rights.


Armstrong, S. J., & Botzler, R. G. (Eds.). (2016). The animal ethics reader. Taylor & Francis.

Bredenoord, A., Clevers, H., & Knoblich, J. (2017). Human tissues in a dish: The research and ethical implications of organoid technology. Science, 355(6322), eaaf9414. doi: 10.1126/science.aaf9414

Curzer, H., Perry, G., Wallace, M., & Perry, D. (2015). The Three Rs of Animal Research: What they Mean for the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and Why. Science and Engineering Ethics, 22(2), 549-565. doi: 10.1007/s11948-015-9659-8

Goodman, J., Chandna, A., & Roe, K. (2015). Trends in animal use at US research facilities. Journal of Medical Ethics, 41(7), 567-569. doi: 10.1136/medethics-2014-102404

Hoffer, T., Hargreaves-Cormany, H., Muirhead, Y., & Meloy, J. R. (2018). Motivations of Animal Cruelty Acts and Other Violence. In Violence in Animal Cruelty Offenders (pp. 43-45). Springer, Cham.

LaFollette, H., & Shanks, N. (2016). Brute Science: Dilemmas Animal. Routledge.

Monamy, V. (2017). Animal experimentation: A guide to the issues. Cambridge University Press.

Rollin, B. E. (2016). A Moral Science: Talking Point on the Use of Animals in Scientific Research. The Animal Ethics Reader, 347.

Sikes, R. (2016). 2016 Guidelines of the American Society of Mammalogists for the use of wild mammals in research and education: Journal of Mammalogy, 97(3), 663-688. doi: 10.1093/jmammal/gyw078

Sikes, R., & Bryan, J. (2016). Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee Considerations for the Use of Wildlife in Research and Education. ILAR Journal, 56(3), 335-341. doi: 10.1093/ilar/ilv071

Tanner, J. (2013). Clarifying the Concept of Cruelty: What Makes Cruelty to Animals Cruel. The Heythrop Journal, 56(5), 818-835. doi: 10.1111/heyj.12122

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