R.G. Frey Defends Animal Experimentation

In April 1995, philosophy professor R.G. Frey published an article (The Washington Times) in defense of animal experimentation. Frey argued that using (and killing) animals in the greater interest of human progress is acceptable chiefly because animal life is less rich, less meaningful, less valuable. In short, animals, though capable of having "experiences," are expendable nonetheless. Frey: "…what matters is not life but quality of life. The value of a life is a function of its quality, its quality of its richness, and its richness of its capacities and scope for enrichment; it matters, then, what a creature’s capacities for a rich life are." While a dog's life may be enriched by playing fetch, that enrichment, Frey said, has a low ceiling.

Human beings can create and appreciate art, break scientific boundaries, and strive for excellence in myriad fields. Animals cannot. Frey: "The fullest chicken life there has ever been, so science suggests, does not approach the full life of a human; the differences in capacities are just too great. Why all this matters should be obvious: If killing is related to the value of a life, then I can explain why we think that killing a man is worse than killing a chicken and in a way that does not rely on species membership to account for the wrongness of killing." Which begs this: If not relying on species membership, why not experiment on certain disadvantaged humans who are permanently functioning on an animal's intellectual level?

No one, of course, is advocating human experimentation. In fact, in 1979, the Department of Health and Human Services issued the Belmont Report to protect human beings from suffering another Tuskegee Syphilis Study: "Respect for persons incorporates at least two ethical convictions: first, that individuals should be treated as autonomous agents, and second, that persons with diminished autonomy are entitled to protection." Alas, nothing of the sort exists for animal test subjects, who, it should be noted, are either still autonomous or would be but for human tampering.

Instead of searching for differences - with arbitrary words like "richness," "variety," and "depth" - academia should underscore what unites human beings with the rest of the sentient world: the capacity for pain, suffering, and pleasurable experiences. Professor Frey's denial aside, animal experimentation rests on speciesism, and speciesism, like every other discriminatory ism, is an irrationality unbefitting our finest minds.