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Table 3 Results for questions about “Human exceptionalism” arguments to morally justify animal research

From: The ethics of animal research: a survey of the public and scientists in North America

Argument (A)/Counterargument (CA)
  Group Is this a good enough reason to justify using animals in medical research? Do any of the following responses make the argument much less convincing? Of those convinced: proportion who judged the counterargument as persuasive.
  Yes No Yes No  
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.
  Public 296/1235 (24 %) 939/1235 (76 %)    
Med School 46/166 (28 %) 120/166 (72 %)    
CA: Not all humans have these abilities. Babies, infants, and severely brain damaged children or adults (for example, with very advanced Alzheimer’s) do not have these abilities. Some animals may have more abilities than these humans.
  Public    732/1226 (60 %) 494/1226 (40 %) 142/293 (48 %)
Med School    101/165 (61 %) 64/165 (39 %) 17/46 (37 %)
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].a
  Public    634/1217 (52 %) 583/1217 (48 %) 147/289 (51 %)
Med School    119/166 (72 %) 47/166 (28 %) 21/46 (46 %)
A2: Humans are a special kind or group. We care more about this kind, and have more obligations to this kind.a
  Public 351/1223 (29 %) 872/1223 (71 %)    
Med School 71/165 (43 %) 94/165 (57 %)    
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.
  Public    634/1213 (52 %) 579/1213 (48 %) 180/345 (52 %)
Med School    96/164 (59 %) 68/164 (41 %) 28/71 (39 %)
CA: Maybe humans are of the kind ‘able to experience suffering and pleasure’ (sentient being). If so, our kind includes animals.
  Public    649/1217 (53 %) 568/1217 (47 %) 138/349 (40 %)
Med School    80/163 (49 %) 83/163 (51 %) 28/71 (39 %)
CA: Maybe humans are of the kind ‘able to have experiences, memories, and preferences’ (subject of a life). If so, our kind includes animals.
  Public    673/1213 (55 %) 540/1213 (45 %) 141/348 (41 %)
Med School    84/163 (52 %) 79/163 (48 %) 27/71 (38 %)
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.a
  Public    700/1208 (58 %) 508/1208 (42 %) 176/346 (51 %)
Med School    120/164 (73 %) 44/164 (27 %) 45/71 (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.
  Public 218/1223 (18 %) 1005/1223 (82 %)    
Med School 25/164 (15 %) 139/164 (85 %)    
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.a
  Public    577/1216 (47 %) 589/1216 (48 %) 94/215 (44 %)
Med School    109/163 (67 %) 54/163 (33 %) 7/25 (28 %)
A4: Evolution, and our nature, dictates that we must make sure we survive as a species.
  Public 418/1214 (34 %) 796/1214 (66 %)    
Med School 57/162 (35 %) 105/162 (65 %)    
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.
  Public    666/1208 (55 %) 542/1208 (45 %) 201/412 (49 %)
Med School    94/163 (58 %) 69/163 (42 %) 20/57 (35 %)
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).
  Public    550/1203 (46 %) 653/1203 (54 %) 153/410 (37 %)
Med School    56/163 (34 %) 107/163 (66 %) 9/57 (16 %)
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.
  Public 438/1212 (36 %) 774/1212 (64 %)    
Med School 74/163 (45 %) 89/163 (55 %)    
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.
  Public    650/1206 (54 %) 556/1206 (46 %) 179/435 (41 %)
Med School    75/163 (46 %) 88/163 (54 %) 23/74 (31 %)
  1. aStatistically significant difference between public and medical students (p < 0.05 after Bonferroni correction). Clinically significant difference between public and medical students (statistically significant, and a clear majority of at least 60 % on opposite sides of the yes/no response option): none