An online module designed to stimulate discussion about the ethical issues that scientists face when doing research with animals.
Author(s): Stephanie J. Bird, Ph.D.
The scientific rationale underlying the use of animals in biomedical research is that a living organism provides an interactive, dynamic system that can be observed and manipulated experimentally in order to investigate mechanisms of normal function and of disease. As a result, a greater understanding of living systems can be attained and this knowledge can be generalized to other species including humans, facilitating the development of effective therapies. One particular use of animals in research is in the development and use of animal models of particular human physiological functions (e.g., immune response, cardiovascular function, vision) and diseases. These are commonly used in all areas of biomedical research and have contributed significantly to medical progress. Yet while the use of nonhuman animal models is a common component of biomedical research, the role of animal models in research, and its scientific and ethical justification, are frequently not addressed in the education and training of junior researchers.
Students need experience in identifying and thinking through the development of an animal model and the extent to which it can be generalized. In addition, the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) approval is required for research and teaching that involves animals. Thus, researchers and instructors need to understand the purpose and function of IACUC.
At the same time, scientific research is funded and conducted under the auspices of society as a whole. Both those who use animals in research or teaching and those who do not are members of society and need to understand the scientific and ethical justification for, criteria for, and limits of the use of nonhuman animals in research and teaching, as well as the range of societal views and concerns regarding the use of animals.
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"Animal Experiments: Where do you Draw the Line?", New Scientist, May 22, 1999. A recent sampling of the opinions of British adults on the use of animals in research.
Donnelley, Strachan and Nolan, Kathleen. "Animals, Science, and Ethics." Hastings Center Report, special supplement. May/June: 1-32; 1990.
Dresser, Rebecca. "Standards for Animal Research: Looking at the Middle." Journal of Medicine and Philosophy. L3: 123-143; 1988.
NIH Animal Advisory Committee. Using Animals in Intramural Research: Guidelines for Investigators and Guidelines for Animal Users. (NIH Office of Animal Care and Use, 2000). A written course and handbook for principal investigators and animal users containing current practices, policies, and laws that affect the use of research animals.
For further reading please see the additional Annotated Bibliography