Animal Rights and Welfare

mouse Claudia Khourey-Bowers, Kent State University
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This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


The relationship of animals and humans has been the subject of differing philosophical views for thousands of years. The controversy continues today in many aspects of contemporary life. Some people believe that a vegan lifestyle is the only moral choice. Others believe that humans should treat animals "humanely," but can use animals and animal products at will, including for biomedical or other scientific research. Others believe that humans have no moral responsibilities for animals and are free to treat animals as they want.

Advocates of animal rights believe that animals have legal rights and are members of the moral community. As such, animals should not be used by humans for any purpose. Advocates of animal welfare believe that non-human animals should be treated humanely and without unnecessary suffering, but otherwise are available for humans to use for food, clothing, research, and entertainment.

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Learning Goals

Students should explore the questions:Are humans the masters of animals or partners in populating the Earth? Do humans have moral responsibilities for animals or are animals destined to serve humanity?

Context for Use

The topic of this structured academic controversy may be appropriate at the high school or college level. As with any structured academic controversy, advance preparation by the students and instructor is essential. The Town Council itself will take 60 - 70 minutes, depending on the depth of arguments that you expect from the students. Students should be given significant out-of-class preparation time to do the necessary reading and to construct their presentations, and they may need some in-class time to prepare with their teams. Students should have the guiding questions ahead of time as they prepare their comments.

Description and Teaching Materials

Students will be given opportunities to learn about the historical views of the relationship between humans and animals, current views, and in particular the role of animals in biomedical research. Groups of students will be expected to learn about these concerns from multiple perspectives, including the following:

  • National Institutes of Health Review Board Members
  • Humane Society Board of Directors
  • National Rifle Association Hunter Services Board of Directors
  • PETA Board of Directors

Students will be expected to research and discuss the following questions related to animal rights and welfare:

  1. Does your position make any distinctions between animal rights and animal welfare? If so, what are those?
  2. What historical precedents justify contemporary use or non-use of animals in biomedical or other scientific research?
  3. From your perspective, what benefits and problems have arisen from your particular position about the use or non-use of animals?
  4. Should animals be used in biomedical or other kinds of scientific research? If so, what considerations should be given to their care and well-being? If not, why not?
  5. Do ethical differences exist in the use of humans for biomedical or scientific research, compared to the use of animals in similar kinds of research?
  6. Should scientific or technological work in a pluralistic society like the U.S. be guided by ethical or moral principles?

Student Guidelines

(1) The class will be divided into 4 groups. All students are to read from the listing of suggested electronic resources provided. In addition, each group will be given a specific perspective to become "experts" on for the Town Meeting. Each group is expected to become expert representatives of their group's position, yet remain open-minded about the worth of what each other group has to contribute to the discussion. (worth 25 pts)

(2) Each group will prepare a detailed, yet concise written summary of their position (NIH scientists, humane society directors, NRA directors, and PETA directors). Each group's summary should be typed, 2 - 3 pages, and can be used during the Town Council. (worth 20 pts)

(3) During the town meeting, each group will present, according to the protocol, their summary information, as well as prepared responses to Question Sets A & B. These prepared responses should be typed, and represent in-depth thinking of all group members. (worth 30 pts)

(4) Following the town council, each student will be asked to respond to open-ended questions about the instructional value of the process of structured academic controversy, as well as a personal reflection on the broader issues.

Town Council Agenda (Microsoft Word 31kB Nov13 08) and question sets

Teaching Notes and Tips

This structured academic controversy may challenge previously unexamined beliefs of some students, so it requires care in establishing the rationale for the exercise. I emphasize that one instructional goal is to expand individuals' perspectives and understanding of others' points of view, not to try to change personal beliefs. As part of this, the role assignments are made publicly and randomly, so students' personal beliefs don't ever need to be revealed within the classroom setting. The second instructional goal is to convey how value systems and scientific evidence are integrated into positions and policies.


Multiple approaches to assessment are possible with the structured academic controversy format.

Students are expected to prepare their comments ahead of time, so those can be assessed with criteria that would be used with an essay or research report. Student or team performances during the Town Council can be assessed from the standpoint of effective communication, presentation style, respect and listening to other perspectives, or quality and organization of information. For help with developing rubrics, go to RubiStar .

More importantly, use of structured academic controversies can change student beliefs and attitudes. Student beliefs and self-knowledge can be assessed through a short written response about the instructional value of the process of structured academic controversy, as well as a personal reflection on the broader issues of animal rights and welfare, and the relationship between humans and animals.

References and Resources


History of Animal Rights Movement: authored by Prof. David Walls

Animal Rights 101: Background history of animal rights movement

Animal Rights: History and Scope of a Radical Social Movement

The Animal Welfare Act: Historical Perspectives and Future Directions

Animals in Research: from the National Institutes of Health

Animal Rights Proponents

Animal Clearinghouse for information on animal rights and welfare

FARM (Farm Animal Rights Movement): Nonprofit, public-interest organization promoting vegan diets to save animals, protect the environment, and improve health

Animal Rights FAQ: Explains speciesism as moral reason for animal rights

International Society for Animal Rights: Animal rights are a moral principle

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA): Focuses on mistreatment of animals in factory farms, labs, clothing trade, and entertainment

Society & Animals: professional psychology organization whose mission is to reduce violence against human and non-human animals

Animal Welfare Proponents (support for use of animals in research)

National Institutes of Health: information about policy and guidelines for use of animals in biomedical research

USDA National Agricultural Library: Information on animal care and guidelines for use in research

Animal Welfare Institute: Non-profit agency promoting family-owned farms and humane hunting and trapping

Animal Research: (Americans for Medical Progress) - Non-profit agency which promotes medical research successes from use of animals

Animal Research Issues: (American Physiological Society) - Support for use of animals for medical research

The Humane Society: Animals in Research: Support and education for animals used in research

Research Defense Society: Understanding Animal Research in Medicine - British organization which supports use of animals for medical research

Human Rights and Welfare

U.S.D.A. Institutional Review Board: guidelines for studies involving humans

Research-to-Results Trends: Studies involving children as subjects

Center for Consumer Freedom: Nonprofit organization devoted to promoting personal responsibility and protecting consumer choices