A Legal Challenge to Animal Research
Animal rights law courses may threaten the use of animals in medical research.
A. US law schools were categorized by whether they have an animal law
course, are at an institution that performs animal research, or are
associated directly with a medical school. Additionally, the rank of
each law school according to the 2008 U.S. News & World Report was included.
half of US law schools now have animal law courses, including many in
universities with medical and research programs that utilize animals
protected by federal welfare laws. Courses that promote standards for
humane animal care and welfare are unlikely to provoke conflict, but
programs championing animal rights or “liberation” set up adversarial
potential on campuses and pose a serious risk to the future of animal
research. The use of the law instead of violence and threats, however,
should be acknowledged as a forward step.
According to the course catalogues of 203 law schools listed on the website for the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC.org),
111 (55%) teach an animal law course (B). Of 121 student groups
throughout US law schools with a focus on animal law and animal rights,
85 are at schools with an animal law class while 37 are at schools
without such a class. Accordingly, animal law, through either
coursework or student groups, is being addressed at 148 (73%) of US law
Among the top 50 law schools in the country, 36 maintain at
least one animal law course in their curriculum. Growth in animal law
programs has been supported by contributions from “The Bob Barker
Endowment Fund for the Study of Animal Rights Law,” providing $1
million gifts each to Harvard, Duke, Stanford, Columbia, and other
the potential influence of these courses on research, the access that
law schools have to the perspectives of scientists was measured, and
defined by whether the home institution had a medical school or a
Public Health Service Approved Animal Welfare Assurance. Eighty-three
(41%) law schools have a connection to a medical school and 138 (68%)
conduct animal research. Among the 111 schools teaching animal law, 44
(40%) have an institutional connection to a medical campus and 77 (69%)
are housed in institutions that conduct animal research.
B. Overall distribution of law schools with an animal law class and associated with animal research or a medical school.
current US law, things are either property or persons. Legal rights for
animals require the establishment of personhood; property cannot have
rights. US welfare laws view animals as property, but emphasize our
responsibility to care for them humanely. The effort to ascribe
“personhood” to animals is a central focus of animal rights supporters,
since changing public perception of animals is one way to stop their
use in food, clothing, entertainment, and research. In some
jurisdictions, “pet owner” has been replaced by “animal guardian,”
ascribing a different status for the animal. References to animal
researchers as “vivisectors” who “exploit” “sentient beings” and
practice “torture” and “cruelty” (applied generally to research), also
impact the public. In a poll earlier this year (May 7–10),2 only 57% felt that animal research was morally acceptable, down from 62% in 2004.
future may see an attempt to recognize Aristotle’s three categories:
things, animals, and persons. Animals may not ultimately enjoy the
rights of persons, but the law may become increasingly specific about
our obligation to care for them. If, on the other hand, “personhood”
for animals is achieved, this status is likely to be in conflict with
Failure to address developments in the
education of law students is likely to have a long-ranging impact on
the ability to develop new treatments needed for human and animal
P. Michael Conn is Director of Research
Advocacy at Oregon Health and Sciences University and Oregon National
Primate Research Center.