Sunday, July 29, 2007

Cost-Benefit Analysis: What is the implicit value that Animal Rights Activists Place on a Mouse's happiness?

Scientists have created the world’s first schizophrenic mice in an attempt to gain a better understanding of the illness. . . . .

Animal rights campaigners have condemned the research, saying that it is morally repugnant to create an animal doomed to mental suffering.

The mice were created by modifying their DNA to mimic a mutant gene first found in a Scottish family with a high incidence of schizophrenia, which affects about one in every 100 people. The mice’s brains were found to have features similar to those of humans with schizophrenia, such as depression and hyperactivity.

“These mutant mice may provide an important new tool for further study of the combinations of factors that underlie mental illnesses like schizophrenia and mood disorders,” said Takatoshi Hikida, of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, a leading researcher. . . . .

One the one hand you have a disease that reportedly affects one in a hundred people. Even say that it is just people in Europe and the US who are affected, so we may be talking about say 8 million out of 800 or so million. On the other hand, possibly say 8,000 mice will be breed with this mutant gene (admittedly it may be fewer, but I am just picking an easy number here). Let us also assume that this research will only lead to a cure with a one percent chance. That means that animal rights activists would have to place a ten fold greater weight on the happiness of these mice than they do on people. My guess is that my numbers here are greatly weighted in favor of making the animal rights activists look reasonable (especially regarding the number of people affected by the disease), though on the other hand I may be too optimistic on this approach solving the problem (I really don't know). If you believe that the probability of this approach curing people is only one-tenth of one percent, the animal rights activists would be placing an equal weight on the happiness of both mice and people. Is this really serious thought? I don't even know that the term happiness applies to mice since it requires that they be self aware and I guess that I have a hard time believing that is the case.



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