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How do we determine the value of a life? - Rebecca L. Walker

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To protect against a possible resurgence of smallpox, the US government is funding research to improve treatments and vaccines. And since it’s unethical to expose people to a highly lethal virus, labs are using monkeys as research subjects. But is it right to harm these animals to protect humanity from a potential threat? Rebecca L. Walker takes a look at this classic ethical dilemma.

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TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Rebecca L. Walker
  • Director Sharon Colman
  • Narrator Alexandra Panzer
  • Animator Sharon Colman
  • Composer Miguel d'Oliveira
  • Sound Designer Miguel d'Oliveira
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Producer Anna Bechtol
  • Associate Producer Abdallah Ewis
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler
  • Fact-Checker Charles Wallace
Additional Resources for you to Explore
Are you interested in whether and how non-human primates should be used in biomedical research? In 2011 the U.S. Institute of Medicine (IOM) wrote a report about the use of chimpanzees in research and in 2015 the U.S. National Institutes of Health stopped funding all research using these great apes. Some bioethics researchers have looked at infectious disease research like for smallpox to argue the IOM report recommendations should extend to other non-human primate species. Others have focused on what biodefense research like this implies about non-human primate moral status. When it comes to comparing human and other animals' moral status, it’s helpful to expand our thinking by addressing why we think humans are special. Finally, learn more about how contemporary philosophers like Christine Korsgaard think Kantian and utilitarian thought applies to animal research

Ethical issues like this one do not arise in a vacuum. We can reflect on the nature of moral status in general, but we should apply this conceptual resource to specific dilemmas by attending to the legal, historical, and institutional contexts at hand. To engage in this exercise, it helps to use concrete case studies. Several cases written for the National High School Ethics Bowl program by the Parr Center for Ethics at UNC-Chapel Hill do just that:

“Suffering in the Wild”
“The Status of Animals in Denmark”
“Nonhuman animals in biomedical research”
“Anti-Depressants for Mentally-Ill Animals”

These cases can be used as entry points for reflection or as anchors to keep your discussion of philosophical ideas grounded.

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Create and share a new lesson based on this one.

About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Rebecca L. Walker
  • Director Sharon Colman
  • Narrator Alexandra Panzer
  • Animator Sharon Colman
  • Composer Miguel d'Oliveira
  • Sound Designer Miguel d'Oliveira
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Producer Anna Bechtol
  • Associate Producer Abdallah Ewis
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler
  • Fact-Checker Charles Wallace

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