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A flimsy case for the use of non-human primates in research: a reply to Arnason
  1. Catia Faria
  1. Correspondence to Catia Faria, Centre for Ethics, Politics and Society, ILCH - Universidade do Minho, 4710-057 Braga, Portugal; catiaxfaria{at}

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The Weatherall Report claims that research on non-human primates (NHPs) is permitted and morally required. The argument rests on the following thought experiment:

The hospital fire: A hospital is on fire. Some of the residents are humans and others are non-human animals. You can only save one group. What do you do?

Some people have the intuition that we should rescue the humans. According to the report, if we accept that human lives have priority over non-human lives in this case, consistency requires us to support the use of non-human animals in research. This is because both cases are about saving human lives at the expense of the lives of non-human animals.

Two critical replies appeared in the literature, by E J Moore1 and Muireann Quigley.2 In a recent paper3 Gardar Arnason claims that such objections fail. I will argue, however, that his assessment is unconvincing.

The disanalogy

The first objection pressed by Moore is that there are fundamental disanalogies between The hospital fire and biomedical research. In that scenario we face a life-or-death emergency situation whereas in biomedical research we do not. In such situations it may be justified to prioritise those closest to us (eg, species …

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  • Funding This work has been supported by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (Grant number: SFRH/BPD/116818/2016).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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