The closure of the Darley Oaks guinea pig farm is a setback for scientific research. But there's an obvious solution - to use humans instead of animals.
I don't mean any humans - merely persistent or serious criminals. It's about time Saddam Hussein did something useful.
To see the case for doing so, consider why we don't (openly) experiment on humans now. It is, presumably, because humans have rights that animals don't.
But what is the basis for these rights? It can't be because humans suffer, because animals do too. Nor can it be because humans have some functionings like higher consciousness that animals don't - because we presume that the severely mentally handicapped or people in persistent vegetative states have rights.
No. The strongest case for believing that humans have rights is that we have all entered - actually, implicitly or potentially - into some kind of social contract with each other. As David Gauthier (just one of many contract theorists of course) put it in Morals by Agreement:
The moral claims that each of us makes on others, and that are expressed in our rights, depend, neither on our affections for each other, nor on our rational or purposive capacities, as if these commanded inherent respect, but on our actual or potential partnership in activities that bring mutual benefit.
This view implies that some of the higher animals - cats, dogs, horses - can acquire rights. Surely, we are in partnership with them in "activities that bring mutual benefit." And don't think scientists don't experiment on these; these statistics suggest otherwise.
Equally, it suggests serious or persistent criminals can lose (some?) of their rights, by breaching the terms of the contract. So why not use them for vital medical experiments?*
It's tempting to think we don't do so out of mere squeamishness. But my instincts here differ. I would far sooner inflict great pain upon Saddam Hussein - to name but one of many - than hurt a cat.
So, what am I missing? What is it about "humanity" that generates rights unique to humans? (These guys have one intriguing answer). And why can't people who choose to act in less than human ways forfeit these rights?
* There's a good utilitarian argument for doing this as well. The medical gains, plus the deterrent to criminal activity, could easily outweigh the suffering of the criminal.