The question of defining the moral status of humans and animals often arises in the debate on research involving animals. Are humans morally more important than all animals? Is there a sliding scale with humans at the top and the simplest animals at the bottom? Or are humans and animals morally equal?
We suggest that the proper moral treatment of a being depends on the characteristics it possesses, rather than simply on the species to which it belongs. We identify five morally relevant features:
- Sentience (the capacity to feel pleasure and pain)
- Higher cognitive capacities (for example, the ability to use language and learn complicated tasks, such as making and using tools)
- The capacity to flourish (the ability to satisfy species-specific needs)
- Sociability (being a member of a community)
- Possession of a life (attributing value to life itself).
Ethical decision making
What weight should be given to each of the morally relevant features in considering whether or not researc...
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