Hugh McLachlan; In a situation like this, all we can do is choose the least unpalatable option

WE SHOULD give serious consideration to the breeding of deliberately maimed pigs because of the beneficial outcomes that might ensue.

We should not deny those who suffer from cystic fibrosis and blindness the possibility of a cure unless we have very good reasons for doing so. We should do unto others as we would have them do unto us. How would we feel about the issue if we suffered from the dreadful diseases in question?

If the proposal were to create, say, mosquitoes rather than pigs in order to do the necessary research upon them, few people, if any, would object.

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On the other hand, if it were proposed that, say, dolphins or chimpanzees were to be created for this purpose, there would be a public outcry.

We all draw the line somewhere with regard to experimentation on animals. Why draw the line at pigs?

Some people might object to the genetic modification on the grounds that it is "unnatural". They might object to the particular genetic modification because it is genetic modification.

This objection is baseless. It is not at all clear that a coherent, systematic distinction can be made between that which is natural and that which is non-natural, as opposed to that which is normal and that which is abnormal. In neither case does the distinction reflect an ethical difference.

The suggested "unnaturalness" of actions does not matter. Natural does not mean "good". Non-natural does not mean "bad". Abnormal does not mean bad. That which is normal is not necessarily good.

It would be curious to suggest that we should not, for example, give a child a vaccination against polio or, say, operate on a child who has a hole in his or her heart on the grounds that such procedures are "unnatural".

Furthermore, human animals are no less natural than non-human ones. If what the birds and bees do is natural, what human beings do is no less natural, even when they, for instance, genetically modify food, plants or animals.

On the other hand, although there is the basis for a moral justification of the actions, there are clear objections as well.

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It is not merely the outcomes of actions that matter with regard to their moral status. Some actions are wrong, whatever desirable results might come from them.

Whether or not animals have rights, we can have duties towards them. For instance, we have a duty to refrain from treating them cruelly and causing them needless pain and suffering.

Does the suggested treatment of the pigs constitute unnecessary pain, suffering or cruelty?

Although I say that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us it is far from obvious that only human beings should count as "others". How would we like to be a suffering pig that was deliberately maimed?

Is it morally justifiable deliberately to create maimed non-human animals in order that some human animals might suffer less than they otherwise would? This is a moral dilemma rather than a moral question with an answer or a moral problem with a solution.

When we have a dilemma, the best we can do is to choose the least uncomfortable option.

• Professor Hugh V McLachlan lectures at the School of Law and Social Sciences at Glasgow Caledonian University.