There are many different views on animal experimentation. One is that all experiments on animals are morally justified as long as they contribute to the development of science. Another view is that the benefits of animal experimentation are exaggerated and that the practice is completely unjustified. Most views on the matter are based on the idea that humans are distinct from animals in a moral sense, and that humans therefore are morally allowed to treat animals in a way that they are not allowed to treat other humans. However, it is not entirely clear that there are morally significant differences between humans and animals.
Obviously, there are biological differences between humans and animals. The problem in question is whether or not those differences are morally significant. An argument can be made that humans are cognitively superior to animals, and that the superiority entails a special moral status. Supposedly, this superiority enables secondary goods such as a qualitative capacity to experience suffering and well-being, be creative, take responsibility, love and care for others, and so on. Creatures that are cognitively equipped to enable such secondary goods are morally distinct from others. Therefore, the argument goes, humans are morally distinct from animals.
One problem with this argument is that some animals seem to possess at least basic forms of such capabilities. Apes in captivity have learned to communicate sophisticated wishes and desires, dogs show signs of exaltation and satisfaction, elephants have been observed mourning, and so on. Are they morally equal to humans? Also, some humans, such as babies, some seniors, and severely handicapped people, clearly lack the above mentioned cognitive capabilities. Are they therefore morally equal to animals? Furthermore, perhaps the distinction between humans and animals entails an obligation for humans to care for ”lesser” beings, rather than a right to treat them as they wish.
Nonetheless, animal experimentation have unquestionably lead to significant achievements in a wide range of scientific fields. These continuously contribute to morally important progresses, perhaps most notably in medicine. Therefore, most moderate debaters agree to at least some experimentation on animals. Accordingly, The European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity includes the following statement:
The use of animals in research is acceptable only if alternative ways to achieve the results have been investigated and have been found inadequate; any harm or distress to be inflicted on an animal must be outweighed by the realistic expected benefits and must be minimized as much as possible.