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Table 3 Responses to the ‘human exceptionalism’ arguments and counterarguments

From: The ethics of animal research: a survey of pediatric health care workers

Respondent group Is this a good enough reason to justify using animals in medical research? Do any of the following responses make it harder for someone to justify animal research using the argument [i.e. make the argument much less convincing]? Of those convinced by the argument: proportion who judged the counterargument to make the argument much less convincing
Yes No Yes No
Argument (A)/counterargument (CA)
A1.Humans have more advanced mental abilities than animals, like knowing right from wrong, having empathy, planning for the future, and being able to read and talk.
Pediatrician 4/45 (9%) 41/45 (91%)    
Nurse/RT 9/61 (15%) 52/61 (85%)    
CA: Not all humans have these abilities. Babies, infants, and severely brain damaged children or adults (for example, with very advanced Alzheimers) do not have these abilities. Some animals may have more abilities than these humans.
Pediatrician    28/44 (64%) 16/44 (36%) 1/4 (25%)
Nurse/RT    39/61 (64%) 22/61 (36%) 3/9 (33%)
CA: This means having superior abilities [humans] justifies actively harming those with inferior abilities [animals]. It is unclear why, if animals can experience pain and suffering, having lower mental abilities makes it acceptable to use them in experiments. For example, sometimes humans with superior abilities [adults] have many obligations to those with inferior abilities [children].
Pediatrician    30/44 (68%) 14/44 (32%) 1/4 (25%)
Nurse/RT    35/61 (57%) 26/61 (43%) 2/9 (22%)
A2: Humans are a special kind or group. We care more about this kind, and have more obligations to this kind.
Pediatrician 11/43 (26%) 32/43 (75%)    
Nurse/RT 9/61 (15%) 52/61 (85%)    
CA: Imagine there is a more advanced species than humans. This would mean that they are justified in using humans in experiments, because they care more about their own kind.
Pediatrician    28/42 (67%) 14/42 (33%) 4/11 (36%)
Nurse/RT    30/60 (50%) 30/60 (50%) 3/8 (38%)
CA: Maybe humans are of the kind ‘able to experience suffering and pleasure’ (sentient being). If so, our kind includes animals.
Pediatrician    23/41 (56%) 18/41 (44%) 3/11 (27%)
Nurse/RT    34/61 (56%) 27/61 (44%) 1/8 (13%)
CA: Maybe humans are of the kind ‘able to have experiences, memories, and preferences’ (subject of a life). If so, our kind includes animals.
Pediatrician    24/42 (57%) 18/42 (43%) 3/11 (27%)
Nurse/RT    35/60 (58%) 25/60 (42%) 2/8 (25%)
CA: It is unclear why caring more about someone justifies harming those we care less about. For example, in the past this argument was used to justify prejudice (for example, slavery) against those we cared less about, who were considered not of our own kind.
Pediatrician    32/42 (76%) 10/42 (24%) 6/11 (55%)
Nurse/RT    45/60 (75%) 15/60 (25%) 5/8 (63%)
A3: We have moral duties only to those who can agree to the same duties. This is like a contract between people in society. Since animals cannot enter into this contract with humans, we do not have moral duties to animals.
Pediatrician 2/43 (5%) 41/43 (95%)    
Nurse/RT 5/61 (8%) 56/61 (92%)    
CA: This would mean we have no direct moral duties to humans who cannot enter into this contract. For example, babies, and severely brain-damaged people.
Pediatrician    31/42 (74%) 11/42 (26%) 0/2 (0%)
Nurse/RT    33/60 (55%) 27/60 (45%) 1/5 (20%)
A4: Evolution, and our nature, dictates that we must make sure we survive as a species.
Pediatrician 7/42 (17%) 35/42 (83%)    
Nurse/RT 18/60 (30%) 42/60 (70%)    
CA: It is unclear why what we evolved to do [survive at all costs] is what we morally should do. In other words, evolution does not take moral considerations into account.
Pediatrician    28/41 (68%) 13/41 (32%) 2/7 (29%)
Nurse/RT    29/57 (51%) 28/57 (49%) 5/16 (31%)
CA: Research is unlikely to save our species; it is for the benefit of some humans, not the whole species (which is what evolution is about).
Pediatrician    23/41 (56%) 18/41 (44%) 1/7 (14%)
Nurse/RT    27/60 (45%) 33/60 (55%) 6/16 (38%)
A5: We must sacrifice one (animals) in order to save another (humans). This is like being in a lifeboat on the ocean where we must throw one overboard or the lifeboat will sink.
Pediatrician 9/42 (21%) 33/42 (79%)    
Nurse/RT 15/58 (26%) 43/58 (74%)    
CA: Most people would throw a dog overboard to save humans in the lifeboat; but, this does not mean that the dog can be used in experiments. For example, some might throw an elderly man overboard to save their children in the lifeboat; but, this does not mean elderly men can be used for experiments.
Pediatrician    26/41 (63%) 15/41 (37%) 4/9 (44%)
Nurse/RT    36/59 (61%) 23/59 (39%) 5/15 (33%)