The ethics of animal experimentation is a widely debated topic and it is part of a more general discussion about the ethics of human/animal relationships. Even if all these relationships are characterized by a pluralism of moral views, animal experimentation seems to be the field where the debate is radicalized the most. In the public discussion opinions tend to be polarized in against and pro views and the academic debate does not seem less radicalized and simplistic. The most influent animal ethics theories aim at resolving the moral problems of experimentation on animals by means of applying one single principle to it (e.g. the principle of equal consideration of suffering in Singer’s utilitarianism). Likewise, supporters of animal research defend it recurring to analogous simple principles (like the sovereign good of humankind). Such a way of discussing is deeply inadequate and unsatisfying. The attempt to solve the moral problem of animal research by means of reducing it to simple moral calculations (i.e. human benefits vs. harms to animals) or making appeal to general principles (e.g. absolute right to life of animals) misrepresents the complexity of moral reality. Animal research is a multifaceted practice embedded in the wider scenario of the whole of human/animal relationships. We will argue against the tendency to oversimplify the debate and will present an alternative approach. Such an approach will take into account all the aspects involved in animal research (i.e. the moral value of research cannot be reduced only to benefits for humans but it is also rooted in the value of the scientific enterprise in itself). Our aim will not be to suggest a different theoretical approach to morally evaluate experimentation on animals per se, but rather to foster a different style of discussion (academic and public) on such a pressing topic.
Methodological choices in animal experimentation are influenced by a variety of factors. The analysis of the relative weight of such factors on the practice of animal experimentation can offer a better idea of the influences characterizing the work of researchers today. To this aim, we conducted structured interviews and sent out questionnaires to researchers using animal models. The results showed that the main factor influencing the researchers’ work with animals was the appropriateness of the chosen animal model to respond to the question addressed. Ethical issues came as the next important factor, mostly based on considerations regarding animal suffering. The general public opinion appeared to be of little significance, indicating that a gap still exists between animal researchers and society. This paper shows animal experimentation is influenced by both external (e.g., adherence to scientific objectivity) and internal factors (e.g., ethical concerns), providing a varied profile of the contemporary animal researcher.