Animals Feel Pain

“I personally can see no reason for conceding mind to my fellow men and denying it to animals. I at least cannot doubt that the interests and activities of animals are correlated with awareness and feeling in the same way as my own, and which may be, for aught I know, just as vivid.” (neurologist Russell Brain)

The International Association for the Study of Pain, an organization of professionals from various disciplines, defines pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage. Note: The inability to communicate verbally does not negate the possibility that an individual is experiencing pain and is in need of appropriate pain-relieving treatment. Pain is always subjective….”

Although this may seem a pointless exercise, there are still those who do not accept the concept of animal pain, or at least do not view it as being comparable to our own. But the mechanisms by which we experience pain – nociceptors, spinal cord, brain – are also present in many nonhuman species, certainly the ones we routinely test on. And they, rather uncomfortably for us, react to pain in the same ways – writhing, contorting, moaning, vocalizing, and avoiding. And as with us, their vital signs change with distress. Indeed, this likeness is why we experiment on them in the first place. But beyond pain-causing tissue damage, animals too suffer emotional pain. Dr. Lynne Sneddon, Liverpool University:

“Are animals capable of feeling emotional pain? Humans can certainly feel pain without physical damage – after the loss of a loved one, or the break-up of a relationship, for example. Some scientists suggest that only primates and humans can feel emotional pain, as they are the only animals that have a neocortex – the ‘thinking area’ of the cortex found only in mammals.

However, research has provided evidence that monkeys, dogs, cats and birds can show signs of emotional pain and display behaviours associated with depression during painful experience, i.e. lack of motivation, lethargy, anorexia, unresponsiveness to other animals. Nevertheless, even if animal pain may be distinct from human pain, is that a reason to consider it less important either biologically or ethically?”

The American Veterinary Medical Association says “that animal pain and suffering are clinically important conditions that adversely affect an animal’s quality of life.” The USDA requires annual reports on how many animals were used in pain-causing experiments and whether anesthetics and analgesics were administered. And contemporary science stresses “reduction, refinement, replacement” to its researchers. Why have laws – Humane Slaughter, Animal Welfare, anti-cruelty statutes – if animal pain doesn’t exist or matter?

The eminent psychologist Richard Ryder writes, “Pain is pain regardless as to who or what suffers it. X amount of pain in a dog or a cat matters just as much as X amount of pain in a human being. It is the pain that matters, not the species.” Furthermore, Dr. Ryder argues, pain “is the great evil, and inflicting pain upon others is the only wrong.” If Dr. Ryder is right, and I believe he is, then don’t we have a moral obligation to stop intentionally causing pain to other sentient beings, even if so doing slows supposed medical progress? Having suffered untold horrors through the centuries, has not the time at long last arrived for the laboratory animal’s liberation (extinction)?