The Scientist Daily
By P. Michael Conn
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.
Over 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 schools.
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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
Considering 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
B. Overall distribution of law schools with an animal law class and associated
with animal research or a medical school.
Under 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.
The 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 animal research.
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 well-being.
P. Michael Conn is Director of Research Advocacy at Oregon Health and Sciences
University and Oregon National Primate Research Center.
1. W. Glaberson, 'Legal Pioneers Seek to Raise Lowly Status of Animals,' The New
York Times, August 18, 1999.
2. 'Republicans Move to the Right on Several Moral Issues.' Available at: