The current policies of the Society of Toxicology outlined in their position statement adhere faithfully to the SOT “Guiding Principles in the Use of Animals in Toxicology” (2008). These guidelines are designed to ensure that the needs and desires of human subjects are balanced with a responsibility towards test animals; the guidelines, for example, state that “All reasonable steps should be taken to avoid or minimize discomfort, distress or pain of animals” (Society of Toxicology, 2008, p. 1) as one of their central principles. In the position statement, the SOT is careful to emphasize that this is not merely a formality: “each member shall observe the spirit as well as the letter of the laws, regulations and ethical standards with regard to the welfare of humans and animals” (Society of Toxicology, 2006, p. 5). Despite the fact that the position statement is clearly in compliance with the guiding principles policies, however, what both documents demonstrate is a subordination of animal rights to human desires. This is apparent, for example, in the dual ethical responsibility outlined in the position statement, which declares a duty to human and animals in the same clause. For me, this is a problematic stance as these two ethical duties are in direct conflict within this situation. The SOT’s insistence on the supremacy of human needs and desires suggests to me that regardless of their declared focus on minimizing animal distress and suffering, they will do so only where human interests are not compromised. Ethically, I find this position self-interested and, therefore, contentious.
Toxicologists determine which exposures might lead to harm by conducting progressive studies: these studies “progress from the test tube to animal studies and, in some cases, to human trials” (Society of Toxicology, 2006, p. 3). The SOT explain the rationale behind this methodology as being grounded in the fact that most chemicals and compounds are helpful in specific small doses, harmless at other doses, and harmful in high doses. The purpose of progressive testing, therefore, is to determine the specific doses at which a particular substance is helpful, harmless, or harmful. Because it is deemed unethical to harm human text subjects, toxicologists first establish potential harm using animal text subjects, and only progress to human trials when they can be sure that no harm will be experienced by human test subjects. This methodology, in line with the position statement, prioritizes human needs and desires over animal rights.
As with other aspects of this course, this information brings into focus the ways in which science and research can be used both responsibly and responsively to improve the situation of people, communities, and the environment. Because most applications of science and research are ethically complex, it is important for practitioners to follow appropriate and relevant guidelines and to consider negative impacts as well as benefits. At the same time, however, risks must be taken and sacrifices must be made in order to experience progress and benefits as a result of science and research, and therefore not every negative consequence can be avoided.
The objectives of toxicity testing are to determine the specific doses of chemical substances which are harmful, as well as the specific doses which are beneficial. While the definitions of harmful and beneficial focus primarily on benefits and harm to humans, there are also related objectives applying to animals and the environment. Once again, however, these objectives seem human-focused; the Sot, for example, singles out farm animals and pets as benefactors of toxicology testing, suggesting that animals and environments of utility to humans have greater priorities when ethical decisions are being made. Speaking broadly, then, toxicology testing’s main objective is to establish usages of chemical substances beneficial to human individuals and communities, with minimized harm to non-human subjects and environments. The hierarchy of human over non-human is built into the position statements, guidelines, and methodologies, as well as the objectives underlying toxicology testing.
In the short term, one endpoint to toxicology testing occurs when safe & beneficial levels of a chemical for human use have been established. In broader terms, an endpoint to toxicology testing is unlikely to ever be reached. While human beings continue to create and use chemicals, there will always be a need for testing to establish safe levels and doses for usage. At the same time, human rights are well enough established in modern society that it is unlikely it will ever be deemed acceptable for testing to be conducted on human subjects. Therefore, animals will be continue to be needed for testing. An endpoint to animal testing I toxicology might be reached, however, if new technologies were developed that would remove the necessity of testing on live subjects, or if animal rights gained more prominence in society.
According to the SOT, animal testing in toxicology is “necessary to ensure and enhance human and animal health and protection of the environment” (Society of Toxicology, 2006, p. 2). While I agree that this is an important goal, I also disagree in part with the SOTs position on animal testing. The SOT, for example, uses the example of recreational alcohol (Society of Toxicology, 2006, p. 3): in this instance it seems unethical to justify the suffering and death of animals in order to supply a human need for recreational substances. I therefore feel that the SOT should prohibit the use of animal testing in toxicology except for instances where the harm the chemical can reduce is significant greater than the harm caused to the animals, and where it can be reduced in no other way.
- Society of Toxicology (2006). “Animals in research: The Importance of Animals in the Science of Toxicology.”
- Society of Toxicology (2008). “Guiding Principles in the Use of Animals in Toxicology.” Retrieved from: https://www.toxicology.org/pubs/statements/Guiding_Principles.pdf.