Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is currently “the leading cause of disability worldwide”. People diagnosed with MDD exhibit symptoms of increased irritability and losing interest in activities they used to enjoy.
The study performed sought to determine the benefits of anti-depressant treatments on specific proteins in the rat brain cortex, and subsequently those with MDD. Researchers ended up finding a key link between proteins and the diminishment of MDD like behaviors in the rats. To investigate this study, researchers bred adult rats in an animal facility under controlled environmental conditions. The study was conducted in accordance with standard ethical guidelines as per the European Communities Council Directive of 2003. Efforts were made to minimize the rats suffering. Rats were killed via decapitation, without anaesthetic so that their proteins could not be altered. I will argue that this investigation, whilst morally questionable in places, is ultimately ethical. The first ethical issue raised by this study involves whether or not it is ethical to keep animals in captivity for the sake of psychiatric research. The need to experiment on animals stems from the need to avoid the moral problems that come with experimenting on human subjects. Since animals cannot give consent it is essential that they are treated ethically for the duration of the experiments. Researchers kept the rats in the animal facility at the University of Balearic Islands, which housed them in controlled environmental conditions and with sufficient food and water (as per the guidelines of the previously discussed Council Directive). Even though their living conditions are ethical, it should be questioned whether keeping rats in captivity is morally sound.
I believe that when viewed under the lens of utilitarianism, the captivity of rats is ethical. The research being conducted is in relation to MDD, a serious issue facing a large number of people, thus the greatest good for the greatest number of people is achieved through these studies. The second ethical issue raised by this study involves whether or not it is ethical to decapitate rats without anaesthetic. As this study was in pursuit of psychological impacts in the brain, anaesthetic was not given to the rats before decapitation as the drugs would interfere with the results of the experiment. From the perspective of a deontologist, decapitating rats (even with the anaesthetic) isn’t morally sound. Their view entails treating rats with the same respect as humans, thus viewing these decapitations as murder with intent. However, from my perspective, utilitarianism is more relevant to this situation.
Whilst the decapitation of rats is from some perspectives morally wrong, one should consider the long-term benefits the study’s results can provide towards such a prevalent disability. Thus, through the lens of utilitarianism, the greater good is maximized for the greatest number of people and thus this process is ethical. Whilst this study was ethically questionable in places (captivity and decapitations), when considering the long-term benefits, the study is ethical.