10 FALL | 2013 ALN World | alnmag.com
Helen Kelly and Anthony James
How might it influence laboratory animal science?
The Global Rise to Prominence
of Ethical Oversight
Ethical Review is a hot topic. It is debated fiercely at forums on the future of research and ardently by members of the general public. Research professionals working in the globe’s remote corners
hasten to demonstrate good faith and proclaim a genuine
wish to do right by laboratory animals. Biomedical science
sweats under the bright lights of high-profile controversy
and image management. Anything might go viral on
And while unethical once meant negligence and abuse,
the measures of pain, distress and suffering—along with
the discussions about them—are highly nuanced. Such
conspicuous and particulate examination raises finely-
drawn targets for those who worry that when it comes
to ethical oversight, institutional politics outweighs the
societal ethic or the welfare of the animals.
The public nature of the debate brings key dilemmas
front and centre.
• If most research is funded by public monies,
shouldn’t the public have a major say in whether a
project goes ahead?
• Which is more likely to produce decisions based
on science and ethics rather than vested interests—local self-regulation or national oversight?
• What level of pain, distress or suffering is ethical?
• Is any level of pain, distress or suffering ethical?
• And, if one decides to hedge on that—almost
always to choose the lesser of perceived evils—
then, since by definition an ethical question summons judgment supported by selected facts and
INTRODUCE MORE ETHICAL TRAINING
The chief problem is that, in the eyes of most scientists, animal research is not seen as a major moral issue.
Part of what I have termed ‘scientific ideology’, adherence to which is a major commitment in becoming
a scientist, is affirming that ‘science has nothing to do with ethics’, since ethics functions in the realm of
values, and science deals strictly with facts. Questions like ‘what entitles us to use animals for our benefit’
are excluded from scientific legitimacy and are thus rarely discussed.
Fortunately, this can be rectified by education. I have found this to be the case during more than
20 years of teaching science and ethics. Since the likelihood of any human activity being ethics-free is
extremely small, it is not difficult to get students to recognise the ethical components implicit in the use of
human and animal subjects in invasive ways. I also explain the insidious ways in which ideologies are
imposed on people and look at historical abuses of human and animal subjects that have resulted from scientific
ideology. Obviously, it is more difficult to penetrate different cultures with no tradition of obligations to animals.
The next step in a move toward more ethical practice in animal experimentation is first and foremost, the introduction of a
significant ethics vector into the training of nascent scientists. In some countries, articulated principles of animal ethics must be
embodied in legislation in order to set ground rules for committee deliberation. Until the scientific community acknowledges the
fact that science will be conducted on a social-ethical playing field, it will be at odds with society in general, and see its freedom
gradually eroded as society imposes what it sees as ethical requirements on scientific activity.
Bernard E. Rollin, PhD is a pioneer and celebrated champion of veterinary ethics. He currently works as a
distinguished Professor of Philosophy in the Animal Sciences at Biomedical Sciences Department at Colorado State
University at Fort Collins in the United States.
Bernard E. Rollin