The Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR) conducted a recent billboard campaign that confronted the public with the ethical dilemma posed by the use of animals in research.
The question was simple -- Who would you rather see live?
Assume you are confronted with a hypothetical situation in which you can save only one of these two individuals in a burning house scenario. As I have discussed previously, some animal rights theorists argue that both the rat and the girl are sentient living beings and that, sentience being the only morally relevant property, we owe the same moral consideration to both.
The animal activists that vandalized the billboard make it clear that they agree on this point. They truly believe, in fact, they both deserve the same moral consideration.
The same activists are confused as to what the correct conclusion should be given this premise. The conclusion is not that we should save the rat (that would imply we owe more consideration to the rat) but that the only fair way to decide would need to flip the coin between the two individuals.
Indeed, such behavior would be consistent with a moral belief system based on the equal moral consideration of all sentient beings.
This issue is so central to how we define our relationship with non-human animals that, if we disagree on this point, it is difficult to have any subsequent conversation on the topic.
If this is what you or your organization believes in, then you should state so clearly. It seems to me many activists do not want to take such a risk. Why? Because they know the vast majority of the public do not agree that we owe the same moral consideration to the rat and the girl.
Instead of advertising their true beliefs, some animal rights activists disguise themselves as animal welfare advocates and try to convince the public that the question posed by the billboard is a false dichotomy.
They are wrong. There are many real-life scenarios where we face a dilemma very similar to the one posed by the billboard. One involves cases where a human patient may have a leaky heart valve. Let’s call him Joe. We know, for a fact, and based on past clinical evidence, that if nothing is done Joe will die within a couple of years.
As it turns out, we also know that we have the ability to manufacture an artificial heart valve using one from a pig.
Though the pig is a healthy, sentient being we are confronted with two possible choices that hinge upon our moral consideration of what is at stake in the loss of life for Joe and for the pig.
Either we euthanize the pig and proceed with heart-valve replacement surgery that will save Joe’s life -- let him live to see his children grow up, to see his children have families of their own, and grow older with his wife... or we let the pig live and let Joe die.
What does animal rights theory tell us to do?
An animal rights philosopher would probably ask us if we are also willing to use another, healthy human individual instead of the pig to save Joe. If our answer is no, then we shouldn’t be using the pig either as, according t to the theory, our moral consideration for both living beings ought to be exactly the same.
In other words, animal rights theory instruct us to let Joe die.
What would you do? What would you do if Joe was your father? What if it was you?
If you believe in animal rights the conclusion is inevitable -- Joe must die. If this is your belief you must state it clearly. Explain this to Joe's wife and his children. Gather the courage to explain your position to their faces. In fact, you can find Joe, and many other patients like him, in your local hospital.
No, sentience is not the only morally relevant property.
No, the same things are not at stake when we consider the loss of life for Joe and the pig.
That's why I believe, along many heart surgeons around the country, that it is morally permissible to pick Joe over the pig.