The Human Use of Animals: Case Studies in Ethical Choice
By F. Barbara Orlans, Tom L. Beauchamp, Rebecca Dresser, David B.
Morton, John P. Gluck
Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN: 511908-8
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Reviewed by Karen Davis, PhD
With this book, educators, policymakers, lawyers,
veterinarians, students, animal advocates, and others have an
excellent opportunity to examine the human use of nonhuman
animals in institutional and ritual contexts. The Human Use of
Animals presents specific cases of the use of animals in the
following areas: biomedical research, cosmetic testing,
behavioral research, wildlife research, education, farming,
companion animals, and religious sacrifice. The book does not
give answers; it focuses the issues. It raises questions.
This book facilitates the revaluation that is now taking
place in science, philosophy, and law based on the growing body
of evidence that nonhuman animals have complex intelligence,
awareness and emotions. It conveys an appropriate sense of being
troubled as well as engaged not only by the issues but by the
animals under discussion--all the baboons, rabbits, chickens,
calves, chimpanzees, geese, and other sensitive creatures whom we
as a society and a species treat like so much rubbish.
Robert J. White, who has made a career of transplanting
heads from one nonhuman primate to another, criticized a
scientific journal in 1990 for publishing a supplement on ethics
and animals. He said, "I am extremely disappointed in this
particular series of articles. . . . Animal usage is not a moral
or ethical issue and elevating the problem of animal rights to
such a plane is a disservice to medical research and the farm and
It is a disservice that was long overdue. The Human Use of
Animals does well to extend this disservice. It uses a method
that allows the reader to put on several different "heads"
involved in each case under consideration, including that of the
What I especially like about this book is the clear
exposition of each case and the way the book places the moral
questions it raises in concrete situations, creating a
captivating interplay of drama and discussion. The case of a
little "vagrant" bird who was cruelly killed by an ornithology
student, a bird whose "skin lies flat in a small specimen tray in
the Museum" unexamined by anyone since 1992, is in essence the
story of every exploited animal and should perhaps be read first
so that its lingering pain will keep one mindful of what every
case presented finally amounts to.
The section on Food and Farming has an exemplary chapter on
the Force-Feeding of Geese to produce foie gras ("fat liver"). It
gives not only the background and the means of production of foie
gras in a most readable form; it highlights the story of how one
man, Peter C. Lovenheim, a shareholder in Iroquois Brands, a US
corporation, used his shareholding power to challenge Iroquois'
importation of a product the company claimed it had no obligation
to investigate or terminate. Lovenheim refused to accept this:
"He and other like-minded shareholders saw the proper treatment
of animals as a perennial problem of Western morality that any
sensitive person should consider, and therefore as relevant to
the operations of a business."
While I highly recommend The Human Use of Animals, I have
some concerns. One is the sometimes exaggeratedly cautious and
overqualified use of language where plain speaking is called for.
For example, in the chapter on "broiler" chickens, pathologies
that in humans are known to cause pain, that are reflected in the
chickens' behavior as pain, and that painkillers affect similarly
in chickens, humans, and other animals, are said to "indicate"
that these birds "may well be in pain." No: they indicate that
the birds are in pain. At worst, this manner of speaking is an
invitation to produce more pain and suffering experimentally in
chickens when enough has already been done from which to draw
meaningful conclusions and take appropriate action. At the same
time, this style of discourse is ripe for analysis in its own
right: it is part of what the book is about.
I am also concerned that while the book includes birds--the
"vagrant" vireo, force-fed geese, Alex the African gray parrot
featured in the work of Irene Pepperberg, and chickens used in
intensive farming and in ritual sacrifice (see the excellent
chapter on the Santeria Case), it stints them. Current evidence
suggests much more than merely "that some birds display signs of
intelligence" and that chickens have "limited intelligence." It
is annoying to read this about Alex, the parrot: "More remarkably
[than mastering little laboratory tasks], he apparently uses
words like 'no' to express feelings of annoyance, displeasure,
and noncooperation, rather than his 'native language' of a squawk
or a screech" ("Fowl Deeds," p. 263). Maybe a "squawk" or a
"screech" is all we hear at the outer fringes of his world. Here
again, however, an opportunity presents itself to examine the
rhetoric. Why, for example, are the lofty disciplines of science
and philosophy so often at the coy level, when it comes to other
animals, of "Does It Lay Eggs?" and "Does It Talk?"
The Human Use of Animals is important because its
distinguished authors are pushing the envelope. No doubt a reason
the book adopts an overly circumspect manner of speaking about
animal subjectivity and moral claims is that it wants to reach
scientists, even as it includes them. While the authors urge the
reader to "make up your own mind," their point is that animals
matter very much. The dignity of animals matters. It matters how
we treat them. As philosopher Mary Midgley once wrote, "Animals
are not just one of the things with which people amuse
themselves, like chewing-gum and water-skies, they are the group
to which people belong."
A major benefit of this book is that you can select from it
a specific case for consideration of a general issue, such as the
use of other species for organ transplants or for food, or the
question, "What Does the Public Have a Right to Know?" If you
wonder about any of this, The Human Use of Animals is for you.