Animal research becomes a battleground

There is an explosive battle ongoing over using animals in medical research which many say is crucial to finding treatments and cures for AIDS, cancer and more. Thousands of scientists, veterinarians, doctors, lawyers and animal advocates are engaged in the debate, which ranges from efforts to eliminate animal testing altogether to reducing the use of animals and treating those used more humanely. The expanding battle is playing out in courtrooms, legislatures, research labs and communities across the country. Ethics and religious beliefs are central to all sides of the debate.


Why it matters

How people view animals – and the appropriateness of using them for scientific and medical research – is rooted in their belief system, which is usually determined by religion.

Definitions and guides

  • Vivisection – performing surgery for scientific purposes on a live animal.
  • 3 R’s – efforts to refine the way animals are used in research to treat them more humanely, reduce the number of animals used and, when possible, to replace them with alternate forms of testing.


  • The FBI considers animal rights extremists one of the most serious domestic terrorism threats in the country. Some use arson and bombs on research labs. Others have damaged labs, harassed workers or covertly gotten jobs in research labs in order to videotape the treatment of animals. In October 2005, animal rights activist Dr. Jerry Vlasak told a U.S. Senate committee that murder of animal researchers would be a “morally justified solution.”
  • Scientists, researchers and companies say the campaign for animal rights has had positive effects with the implementation of the 3 R’s. They also say that they have a moral and ethical obligation to consumers to provide safe products and that sometimes the only way to do that is to test them on animals. Many companies now post their policies on animal experimentation on their websites, and most have increased security because of activists’ willingness to commit crimes.
  • Research to find alternatives to animal testing is expanding, as is funding.
  • People on all sides of the debate cite ethics and religious beliefs as a motivation for their actions. Scholars are exploring the theological aspect of humans’ relationship with animals in all religions. The American Academy of Religion created an Animals and Religion Consultation in 2003.
  • Law schools have become another field in the battle, with law students joining animal rights groups with competing agendas. Animal case law is expanding, with large numbers of lawsuits, advocacy organizations, websites and more.

Question for reporters

  • Companies that use animals for experiments generally post their policies on their websites and can answer questions about them. Ask how their use of animals has changed in the last decade.
  • For different perspectives in the debate, contact high school science teachers and religious youth groups in addition to local animal rights groups, companies and research labs. Ask them questions like: In the eyes of God, are animals of equal or lesser worth than human beings? Do they have souls? How is “dominion” interpreted in the book of Genesis? When is it right and when is it wrong to use animals for research?
  • At a few public and private labs, ceremonies memorialize animals’ contributions. Another aim of the ceremonies is to comfort lab technicians who must feed the animals, take blood and ultimately kill them. Are these ceremonies conducted locally?
  • Activists say they have observed, through monitoring scientific journals, that younger scientists are increasingly unwilling to participate in animal experimentation. What do scientists locally say?


National sources


  • Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare

    Part of the National Institutes of Health. The site includes articles, commentary, laws and policies on research animal care, use and euthanasia. For more information contact Susan Brust Silk, director of the OLAW division of policy and education.

  • Animal Welfare Information Center

    Part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Library. Established as part of a 1985 revision to the Animal Welfare Act. Has resources about laboratory animals used in biomedical research including legislation, publications, training, meetings, and organizations.

    Contact: 301-504-6212.
  • Chimp Haven, Inc.

    Chimp Haven, Inc. is a private, non-profit sanctuary providing lifetime care for chimpanzees retired from service as lab animals in Keithville, La. In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed the CHIMP Act into law which created the National Chimpanzee Sanctuary System which retires chimpanzees from federally funded research programs and is overseen by The National Institutes of Health.

Supporters of research

  • Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR)

    The Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR) is the nation’s oldest and largest organization devoted to promoting public understanding, respect and support for humane and responsible animal research, which advances human and animal health.

  • National Association for Biomedical Research (NABR)

    Based in Washington, D.C., it is the only national, nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating public policy supporting the vital role of humane animal use in biomedical research, higher education and product safety testing. NABR provides the unified voice for the scientific community on legislative and regulatory matters affecting laboratory animal research.

  • Americans for Medical Progress

    Promotes nurturing public understanding of and support for the humane, necessary and valuable use of animals in medicine. It is a charity supported by the nation’s top universities, private research facilities, research-related businesses, scientific and professional societies and foundation grants.

  • American Association for Laboratory Animal Science

    The American Association for Laboratory Animal Science is based in Memphis, Tenn., and advances responsible laboratory animal care and use to benefit people.

Critics of research

  • People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)

    Based in Norfolk, Va., PETA is the strongest national voice against animal research. PETA urges scientists to abandon animal-poisoning tests (for drug toxicity) in favor of methods that do not use animals.

    Contact: 202-483-7382 ext. 2199.
  • National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS)

    The National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) is an educational organization based in Chicago, Ill., whose ultimate goal is the elimination of animal use in product testing, education and biomedical research.


  • Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT)

    The Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at Johns Hopkins University promotes humane science by supporting the creation, development, validation, and use of alternatives to animals in research, product safety testing, and education. There is also a CAAT-Europe based at the University of Konstanz in Konstanz, Germany. Contact communication associate-Mike Hughes.

  • Peter Singer

    Peter Singer is the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics in the Princeton University Center for Human Values. Singer was the founding president of the International Association of Bioethics, and with Helga Kuhse, he founded the journal Bioethics. His Animal Liberation (Ecco Press, republished in 2001) launched the animal rights movement in 1976. He is also a noted humanist and was recognized as the Australian Humanist of the Year by the Council of Australian Humanist Societies in 2004.

  • Bernard Rollin

    Bernard Rollin is the university distinguished professor, professor of philosophy, professor of animal sciences, professor of biomedical sciences, and university bioethicist at Colorado State University. He pioneered the area of veterinary ethics and is the author and editor of numerous books. He edited the two-volume The Experimental Animal in Biomedical Research: Care, Husbandry, and Well-Being – An Overview by Species (CRC-Press: two volumes, 1989 and 1995).

  • Center for Animals and Public Policy

    The Center for Animals and Public Policy at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine is located in North Grafton, Mass. The Center’s mission is to conduct and encourage scholarly evaluation and understanding of the complex societal issues and public policy dimensions of the changing role and impact of animals in society focusing specifically on three focus areas: animals in the community, animals in research, and animals in the environment. Contact staff assistant Patricia Bonner.

  • Paul F. Waldau

    Paul F. Waldau works at the intersection of animal studies, ethics, religion, law and cultural studies. He is an associate professor and lead faculty member for the anthrozoology graduate program at Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y., as well as the president of the Religion and Animals Institute.

  • Donna Yarri

    Donna Yarri is an associate professor of theology at Alvernia College in Reading, Pa. She has written multiple times on animals and religion.


  • David Favre

    Professor David Favre is the Nancy Heathcote professor of property and animal law at Michigan State University as well as the editor-in-chief of the Animal Legal & Historical Web Center. The website lists federal and state law and court cases, as well as articles on animal rights aimed at non-lawyers.

  • Animal Legal Defense Fund

    The Animal Legal Defense Fund pushes the U.S. legal system to end the suffering of animals and has blazed the trail for stronger enforcement of anti-cruelty laws and more humane treatment of animals. They maintain a national headquarters in San Francisco, Calif., and another office in Portland, Ore.


  • Pamela Frasch

    Pamela Frasch is the assistant dean of the animal law program at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Ore., and the executive director of the Center for Animal Law Studies.

  • Animal Law Review

    Animal Law Review is a student-run law review at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Ore. Their objective is to provide a balanced scholarly forum to discuss all aspects of animal law.

  • provides access to legislation and legal matters pertaining to the rights and welfare of animals.


  • American Muslim Health Professionals (AMHP)

    The American Muslim Health Professionals can help reporters find Muslim health-care professionals to discuss how Islam balances the stewardship of animals and the needs of science. Arshia Wajid is president.

  • Ingrid Mattson

    Ingrid Mattson holds the London and Windsor Community Chair in Islamic Studies at Huron University College at Western University in London, Ontario, where she studies Islamic ethics, Muslim women and Christian-Muslim relations. She previously taught at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, where she developed the first accredited graduate program for Muslim chaplains in the U.S.


  • Stephen Webb

    Stephen Webb is a professor of religion and philosophy at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., and a member of the American Academy of Religion’s group on animals and religion. He has written multiple books on animals and religion.

  • Steven Kushner

    Rabbi Steven Kushner has chaired the kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) task force for the Central Conference of American Rabbis. He is the rabbi at Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, N.J.

  • Aaron Gross

    Aaron Gross is an associate professor of theology and religious studies at the University of San Diego and author of The Question of the Animal and Religion: Theoretical Stakes, Practical Implications (2014). He can discuss Jewish values with regard to animals and the Torah’s proscription, called tzaar baalei hayim, against inflicting pain on any creature. In 2016, he gave an interview to Religion Dispatches on the question of whether animals can believe in God.

  • Kevin M. Trainor

    Kevin M. Trainor is associate professor of religion at the University of Vermont, Burlington. He can discuss attitudes toward animals in Buddhism.

  • Vasudha Narayanan

    Vasudha Narayanan is Distinguished Professor of Religion at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and she helped found the university’s Center for the Study of Hindu Traditions, of which she is director. She is a noted scholar of Hinduism and the environment.

  • James F. Lewis

    James F. Lewis is a professor of religious studies at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn. He wrote the chapter “The Jain Religion in Modern India” in Religion in Modern India.

  • Aminah B. McCloud

    Aminah B. McCloud is a professor of religious studies at DePaul University in Chicago and director of the Islamic World Studies Program. She has written about black Muslims. She can also discuss the place of animals in the Muslim world. The notion of animal rights is a new one for Muslim societies, she says.

    McCloud can discuss the place of animals in the Muslim world.

Regional sources

In the Northeast

  • Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus

    Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus is a professor of religion at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass. He can discuss Jewish approaches to the treatment and rights of animals.

  • Valerie Stanley

    Valerie Stanley is an adjunct professor teaching animal law at the University of Maryland School of Law in Baltimore, Md. She previously served as the senior staff attorney at the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

  • Charles Robert Pinches

    Charles Robert Pinches is a professor of theology and religious studies at the University of Scranton, Pa. He has written about Christian approaches to animal well-being.

  • Joan Schaffner

    Joan Schaffner is an associate professor of law at George Washington University School of Law in Washington, D.C., where she directs the GW Animal Law Program which consists of the GW Animal Welfare Project (AWP), a pro bono effort of faculty and students devoted to researching and improving animal welfare laws in the District of Columbia.

In the South

  • Steven Wise

    Steven Wise is the president of the Coral Springs, Fla., based Nonhuman Rights Project which works toward achieving legal rights for species other than humans. Wise has taught animal rights law at Harvard Law School, Vermont Law School, John Marshall Law School and St. Thomas Law School. He is the author of several books, including Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights (Perseus Publishing, 2003) and Rattling the Cage: Toward Legal Rights for Animals (Perseus, 2001).

  • Gary Lynn Comstock

    Gary Lynn Comstock is a professor of philosophy at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C., where he conducts research on ethical questions in the biological sciences. He has written about ethics and the humane treatment of animals.

  • Tom Regan

    Tom Regan is a professor emeritus of philosophy at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C. His book The Case for Animal Rights (University of California, 2004) is considered a classic in the area.

  • Nathan Nobis

    Nathan Nobis is an assistant professor of philosophy specializing in animal rights and bioethics at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga. He can discuss and outline the debate over the treatment of laboratory animals.

  • Hugh LaFollette

    Hugh LaFollette is the Cole Chair in Ethics at professor of philosophy at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. He co-authored Brute Science: Dilemmas of Animal Experimentation and has written extensively on gun control and other issues.

  • William Greenway

    William Greenway is an associate professor of philosophical theology at the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas. He is a member of the Christian Vegetarian Association.

  • Carol J. Adams

    Carol J. Adams is an independent scholar and self described “feminist-vegan” based in Dallas, Texas. She writes and lectures widely. She has written about the relationships between religion and animals.

  • Laura Hobgood-Oster

    Laura Hobgood-Oster is a professor of religion at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. Her areas of expertise include animals in the history of the Christian tradition and contemporary religious-ethical issues related to other-than-human animals. She is the author of Holy Dogs and Asses: Animals in the Christian Tradition (2008).

  • Dr. Jay McDaniel

    Dr. Jay McDaniel is director of the Steel Center for the Study of Religion and Philosophy at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark. He and his students study Jains, Sikhs and Hindus in the Arkansas area. His data suggests that the majority of local Sikhs are not affiliated with a gurdwara (sanctuary) but worship in small groups in private homes.

    He wrote Of God and Pelicans: A Theology of Reverence for Life (Westminster John Knox Press, 1989).

In the Midwest

  • David H. Smith

    David H. Smith is a professor emeritus of religious studies at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind. He has studied religious and medical ethics.

  • James P. Sterba

    James P. Sterba is a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. He has written about animal rights and environmental ethics.

  • Stephen Kaufman

    Stephen Kaufman is a physician and a clinical assistant professor of surgery at Northeast Ohio Medical University in Canton, Ohio. He has been involved in leadership of the Christian Vegetarian Association. He has written on animal experimentation as well as Christian spirituality and vegetarianism.

In the West

  • John P. Gluck

    John P. Gluck is a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. Originally a comparative psychologist specializing in learning ability of nonhuman primates, he now studies the ethical justification of animal research.

  • Nancy L. Haigwood

    Nancy L. Haigwood is a professor and senior scientist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland as well as the director of the Oregon National Primate Research Center. She has written about how the use of primates has advanced HIV research.

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