The Ethics of Animal Use in Scientific Research

In the article “The ethics of animal research Talking Point on the use of animals in scientific research” by Simon Festing & Robin Wilkinson, the issue of animal research ethics is discussed. This question of ethics of animal research has been debated by researchers and animal-rights activists for many years.

While researchers have attributed animal research to a number of ground breaking developments in medicine, animal rights groups continue to oppose the practice. Festing and Wilkinson argue that animal research is essential for the advancement of medical research and therefore the improvement of people’s quality of life.

Animal research results in increased understanding on the nature of various diseases which results in scientific advances that improve the quality of life for human beings. Opponents of animal research overlook this and blindly declare that animal experimentation is both cruel and unnecessary. These groups who include animal rights extremists and anti-vivisectionists refuse to see the negative consequences that would result from abolition of all animal research and continue to call for its total abolition.

Festing and Wilkinson declare that responsible scientists do not want to use animals unnecessarily or cause them suffering when it can be avoided. Animal research only occurs when it is unavoidable and even then, within a well established ethical framework. The article reveals that the UK is the country with the most comprehensive ethical framework which has been made into law.

This framework as articulated in Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 requires that all research which involves animals be fully assessed for harm that will occur to animals before the proposed research is approved. From this assessment, a conclusion is drawn of whether the potential benefits of the research outweigh the harmful effects to animals.

The UK also introduced local controls in 1998 which are aimed at promoting good animal welfare and ensuring that animal research is justified. These local controls which are embodied in an Ethical Review Process provide independent ethical advice for example where projects are applying for licenses.

The review process also promotes more awareness of animal welfare issues by both the scientific and general population. Application of replacement, reduction and refinement (generally referred to as the 3Rs) is also promoted by this Ethical Review Process.

Opinion polls indicate that while the general public views use of animals for research as an ethical dilemma, majority of the people deem it as acceptable. People agree that animal research is justifiable for medical purposes but not for cosmetic testing.

Medical general practitioners support animal research even more since they are aware of the contribution that it makes to human health. The article shows that many GPs confirmed that animal research had resulted in major medical advances. The GPs also demonstrated their support for testing new drugs on animals before undertaking human trials.

The article states that the UK Freedom of Information Act has resulted in higher access by the general public to information on animal research. A Select Committee of the House of Lords stated that the availability of information about animal research to the public made it possible to engage in productive discussions on the issue. The authors however voice concerns that extremist groups may use this information to target individual researchers.

Major inquiries conducted in the UK on the use of Animal research have concluded that the use of animals in research is justifiable if it improves human health. Despite this, animal rights groups continue to oppose animal research and are using inaccurate and misleading information to sway public opinion on the issue. This misleading information, which is backed by faulty analysis of data by the animal right groups, is what is used to lobby government officials and mislead the public.

The article demonstrates that over the years, animal research has shrunk in size which is a sure sign of the commitment by scientists to come up with replacements for animal research. Despite animal research becoming a small part of biomedical research, it is still an indispensable part. The authors note that while UK promotes the development of high-quality research that is aimed at developing alternative techniques to animal research, it is still unrealistic to expect the alternative techniques to completely replace animal research.

This is because it is as yet impossible to mimic the physiological functioning of entire living organisms and until this is done, animal research is the only means. Despite these limitations, non-animal tests still have great use since they are useful in that their use before the animal testing stage results in fewer animals being used.

For example, microdosing reduces the number of animals needed in a study by making it possible to use humans to measure how minute doses of compounds move in the body. Even so, this method has a number of setbacks since it cannot predict toxicity or side effects and as such, it cannot completely replace animal research.

The authors reveal that the claims made by anti-vivisection activists that research into replacements to animal research has been neglected is based on ignorance since there is no field in biomedical research named alternatives research.

The authors assert that good science is designed to minimize the number of animals that are used in research without compromising the validity of the experimentation since if the data obtained is insufficient to enable precise statistical analysis, repeat experiments will be necessary which will lead to even more animals being used. Strict regulations combined with adequate training to animal technicians on the importance of following regulations results in a culture of care which is best for the animals.

While it would be ideal if replacement to animal research were found, this may never be achieved. Even so, there have been tremendous advances in the last few decades which have resulted in fewer animals being required for animal research. Standards have also been set which mean that the animals are treated with care and unnecessary pain and suffering is avoided.

Simple methods such as improved animal husbandry and housing can help to improve the physiological needs of the animals and improve their well being. The refinement of the procedures and especially pain management is an important factor. The article advocates for considerate handling of animals and the giving of anesthetics to help reduce pain that the animals experience as they are experimented upon.

The article concludes by declaring that animal research is in fact ethically and morally justifiable. Numerous benefits have been accrued due to animal research and without it public health and medical research would suffer severely. The article emphasizes that while animal research cannot be completely replaced, it is desirable that researchers work hard to reduce the number of animals needed.