Society And The Ethical Dilemma

About any given animal research project — whether it involves experimental techniques that are standard practice or puts animals to novel use — the scientist can always ask: would it be morally acceptable to use animals in this way? Ultimately, in individual cases, researchers and research teams will make up their own minds about this question, and people will undoubtedly come to different conclusions. This need not be a problem in a pluralistic, democratic society. Nevertheless, society needs legislation and professional codes of practice that the majority of citizens can agree on, and it is therefore necessary to find a minimal consensus among the different views. In a democracy, compromise is normally the best way of achieving consensus. (If this seems too obvious to be worth mentioning, it should be borne in mind that under tyranny, consensus is generally reached without compromise.) In this chapter, we have tried to set out the issues that inform this compromise.

Broadly speaking, the compromise towards which much of what we have said points is one in which animal experimentation is held to be acceptable where, and only where, it is the case both that substantial human benefits are at stake and that animal suffering is minimized. From the perspective of this

* Notice that, because they do not involve animal suffering, these issues take us outside the ethical dilemma represented in claims 1 through 4.

compromise position, research projects causing great suffering in which pain relief cannot be offered are unacceptable even if they are crucial for the advancement of knowledge. Equally, as was urged in the previous edition of this book, "If doing without a harmful animal experiment involves only a slight risk or loss to humans, we should do without it."32 "Great suffering" and "slight risk" are relative terms; their definition is itself an ethical decision, and one that must be made before the acceptability of any research project can be determined.

The three Rs proposed by Russell and Burch22 — the replacement of existing experiments with animal-free alternatives, or reductions in the number of animals used, or refined methods that cause animals less suffering — will help animal researchers to ensure that their work is acceptable. In actual fact, this threefold rubric often figures in codes of practice governing animal research, and in most Western countries, at least, scientists are required by law to apply something like it. However, if Russell and Burch's recommendations are to be effective, scientists will have to take them seriously. Scientists will need to ensure that they are up-to-date with developments in experimental methodology, bearing in mind, particularly, the design of alternative methods. Again, those responsible for the housing and daily care of laboratory animals will ideally be equipped with a thorough understanding of the behavioral and physiological needs of the relevant animal species and know how to implement various forms of environmental enrichment. In view of this, it is not stretching matters unduly to say that the study of laboratory animal science is a moral duty for researchers and others involved in animal experiments.

Perhaps the main thing is to keep the channels of communication open. In the twenty-first century, transparency and accountability are watchwords. They are expected, and indeed demanded, in most areas of collective human endeavour. Thus, faced with questions about their work, the worst thing animal researchers can do is try to shut the enquirer out. A society in which animal experimentation enjoys a secure, unchallenged role is likely to be one in which there is open dialogue between the scientists and lay observers — somewhat paradoxically, it is likely to be one in which scientists welcome challenges from all sides.

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