On the need to redress an inadequacy in animal welfare science: toward an internally coherent framework
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- Fenton, A. Biol Philos (2012) 27: 73. doi:10.1007/s10539-011-9291-1
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The time is ripe for a greater interrogation of assumptions and commitments underlying an emerging common ground on the ethics of animal research as well on the 3 R (replacement, refinement, reduction) approach that parallels, and perhaps even further shapes, it. Recurring pressures to re-evaluate the moral status of some animals in research comes as much from within the relevant sciences as without. It seems incredible, in the light of what we now know of such animals as chimpanzees, to deny that these animals are properly accorded high moral status. Barring the requirement that they be human, it is difficult to see what more animals such as chimpanzees would have to possess to acquire it. If the grounds for ascribing high moral status are to be non-arbitrary and responsive to our best knowledge of those individuals who possess the relevant features, we should expect that a sound ethical experimental science will periodically reassess the moral status of their research subjects as the relevant knowledge demands. We already can observe this reassessment as scientists committed to humane experimental science incorporate discoveries of enrichment tools and techniques into their housing and use of captive research animals. No less should this reassessment include a critical reflection on the possible elevation of moral status of certain research animals in light of what is discovered regarding their morally significant properties, characteristics or capacities, or so I will argue. To do anything short of this threatens the social and moral legitimacy of animal research.