Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy




Weijer, Charles


In this dissertation, I provide an account of the protections to which most captive non-human animals are morally entitled when they participate in health-related research. At least in the animal ethics literature, it is uncontroversial that the protections currently afforded to captive research animals are inadequate. This has much to do with the fact that most animals who serve as research participants are 1) sentient and, thus, have important morally considerable interests; 2) unable to provide informed consent to their research participation; and 3) seriously harmed as a result of their participation.

Unsurprisingly, then, a number of authors have proposed alternative sets of protections that they take to be appropriately responsive to the morally considerable interests of research animals. However, none of the alternatives proposed ensures the ethically appropriate treatment of research animals because all are demonstrably more permissive than the set of protections governing research involving children. This seems problematic given that most animal research participants, like most pediatric research participants, are sentient and unable to provide informed consent for their research participation, and, furthermore, that these are the very characteristics that render children vulnerable — and so entitled to additional protections — in the context of research.

I examine a number of reasons that might be thought to justify the discrepancy between the protections afforded to these two groups of research participants, and argue that no non-speciesist justification is forthcoming. Consequently, we ought to reflect upon how the protections currently in place for pediatric research participants might be extended to most animal research participants. I argue that most pediatric research protections, when suitably amended to account for relevant differences between most children and animals, can and should be extended to most animal research participants. I also demonstrate that doing so would require that substantial changes are made to most extant animal research studies. Since this, in turn, would require a radical transformation of the research enterprise as we know it, I also gesture towards how we might get from where we currently are to a truly just research enterprise.

Summary for Lay Audience

Health research has enjoyed numerous substantial successes over the years, and it can reasonably be expected to further enrich and improve our lives in the future. Thus, there is good reason for us to be invested in the continued conduct of health research. But it should matter to us that such research conforms to appropriately high ethical standards. One reason for this is that health research usually relies heavily on research participants, individuals who are exposed to research-related risks, in part or in whole, for the benefit of others. Since most reasonable people acknowledge that there are moral limits on what we may do to individuals in order to secure (large) benefits for other individuals or society as a whole, it is natural to wonder about the precise circumstances in which it is permissible to expose some to research risks for the benefit of others.

This is a key question in the research ethics literature, and the consensus seems to be that so long as research participants are adequately protected, they may be exposed to research-related risks for the sake of securing benefits for others. But what exactly does it mean for a research participant to be adequately protected? Interestingly, the answer to this question seems to turn on whether the relevant participant is a human or an animal. More specifically, while both humans and animals participate in research, the protections in place for animal research participants are far more permissive than those in place for human research participants.

I shall argue that this is morally inappropriate because most animal research participants, like most pediatric research participants, are vulnerable in the context of research. As such, like most pediatric research participants, they are entitled to certain additional protections, that is, protections over and above those to which all other human research participants are entitled. My aim in this dissertation, then, is to provide an account of the additional protections to which animal research participants are entitled, and, furthermore, to show how the research enterprise would need to change if these protections were to be extended to research animals.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.