Compared to animals, how valuable is a human life?

Many on here believe that a human being is infinitely more valuable than any animal. In that case, I would ask people to consider the following hypothetical.

Suppose a multi-billionaire developed an extremely rare form of cancer that will end her life in 2 years – so rare, in fact, that this particular disease will never affect anyone else. Luckily for her, she has enough money to fund a research program to find a cure, but the program would involve performing extremely painful and fatal experiments on over 10 billion mammals (cats, dogs, squirrels, whales, monkeys, you name it). If an animal rights group were able to block this research program, thereby dooming the multi-billionaire to her fate, would that be wrong? I believe it would be morally abhorrent to sacrifice over 10 billion mammals to the save the life of one human, but that seems to be a necessary (absurd!) consequence of the view that human life has infinite value. What say you?

Just because a human life might be worth infinitely more doesn’t mean it is ethical to “performing extremely painful and fatal experiments on over 10 billion mammals (cats, dogs, squirrels, whales, monkeys, you name it)”

But why wouldn’t that follow?

It’s called commonsense.


I agree. Not ethical indeed

Because, in most cases, the end does not justify the means. So take out the phrase “extremely painful” and maybe then we can talk.

I think that should read: any other animal…

Do you think a single human life is more valuable than 10,000,000 cockroaches?

If humans have infinite value, then their interests infinitely outweighs the interests of animals. So in my example, the cancer patient’s interest in continued life should be infinitely greater than the interests of the experimented animals, including their interests in continued life and freedom from extreme pain. Hence it would seem to follow that cancer patient’s interests trumps the animals’ interests, which would justify the research program.

Classic moral theology (based on principals taught in seminaries for hundreds of years):

Man has no duties towards animals since they have no independent personality. Being ordained for the service of man, animals may be used for any ethical purpose. Such use is lawful even when it implies suffering and death for the animal. Vivisection, therefore, is lawful, provided it actually serves the advancement of science, and the animal is not made to suffer more than is absolutely necessary.

It is sinful, however, to cause an animal unnecessary pain. The sinfulness does not lie in the violation of a right that an animal might possess, but only in the action’s opposition to reason which forbids the needless causing of pain and death. in itself this would only be a venial sin. The action would be rendered more seriously sinful by its brutalizing effect on the tormentor himself, and even more so by the gratification of sadistic impulses often connected with such conduct.
-Jone, Moral Theology, #221

So, in the (bizzarely) hypothetical situation the OP presents, there is a necessary purpose: the cure of the cancer - not only for the individual, but, since a disease does not exist in a vacuum, for any future victims of the disease. Even though the testing would cause extreme suffering and even death of the animals, this is necessary to achieve the justified cure.

Therefore, the billionaire could rest assured that there is no ethical nor moral violation in using animals to find a cure.

BTW, humans do not have an infinite value, only God does. As sinners in need of grace, we are in infinite need because we have offended an all knowing, all-loving God. We are, by nature, fallen, and any goodness we have is because of grace, not because of nature. We have to be careful about saying things like this.

Agreed. Thanks for the catch.

I explicitly stipulated in my hypothetical that the research program would only benefit the billionaire. So it’s 10 billion animals v. 1 human life.

Even so, the research is justified. it’s not a matter of numbers but of nature.

Mice. Sacrafice 10 billion mice and cure the disease.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Luke 12:6-7

Look at it another way: suppose you are sick and tired of fire ants invading your home and biting your kids. So you call the bug man, he comes out and puts out ant bait, and 10 billion ants are killed for your comfort. Is that ethically wrong? Your homestead is the only entity benefitting from this massive killing of animals. It’s not even for a cure of disease, but for your comfort.

Of course it’s justified, because animals are not persons, be they deer, cows, or ants. Man has no duties towards animals. That doesn’t mean we should abuse them, but we need to be clear on their nature and ours. God gave us animals to use in proper order as lesser creatures.


Another analogy: How many oranges is an angel worth? How silly a question. Yet both are creatures. However, you cannot even start to compare them because they are such radically different natures. There is no answer, because it is absurd.

Likewise, you cannot say that a man’s life is worth 10 trillion animals’ lives because you are talking about different natures. There is no numerical conversion. It’s apples and oranges (pun intended).

In my hypothetical, animals are abused - all 10 billion of them.

I’m still thinking about the issue of insects and my inclination is that they are more like plants than mammals. But if they were self-aware and conscious, killing them for comfort purposes may very well be wrong.

I honestly don’t know. I’m still thinking things through about insects.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit