Today, more than 100 million nonhuman animals (animals) are used in research each year around the world. Although this is a staggering number, it really is a very conservative estimate. Experiments involving animals entail harms from the time animals are bred to the time they are killed. Like humans, animals suffer physically and emotionally.
Recently there have been some significant changes in animal research policy in the United States. Last year, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) adopted demanding principles and rules about the use of chimpanzees in research—almost all chimpanzees used in federally sponsored research will be phased out of research in the United States. This shift in federal policy also opened the door to consider how other animals are treated in research and what can be done to make their lives better. Indeed, there is a lot of room for major improvements in all aspects of animal research.
A new collection of essays titled “Rethinking the ethics of research involving nonhuman animals” published in the prestigious journal Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics has responded to this opportunity. This novel collection of articles, edited by Georgetown University's Tom Beauchamp, PhD, Hope Ferdowsian, MD, MPH, and John Gluck, PhD, challenges traditional notions about the use of animals in research. In these essays authors explore how major concepts used in human research can be applied to decisions about the use of animals in research.
The collection begins with an article by Jeffrey Kahn, PhD, MPH, who was chair of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee on the Use of Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research, which was commissioned by NIH to provide recommendations that later became NIH policy. Professor Kahn explores the implications of the IOM Committee’s deliberations and findings for animals other than chimpanzees. Other contributing authors explore how concepts and principles conventionally reserved for human research—like autonomy, nonmaleficience (“do no harm”), vulnerability, and justice—could and should be applied to decisions about animal research. The essays examine problems with existing animal research guidelines and regulations, including the Federal Animal Welfare Act (see also) that doesn't protect more than 99 percent of animals used in research, and offer alternative ways of approaching decisions about animal research, such as models resembling how decisions about pediatric research are made.
This special edition of Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics is very special and most welcomed. It is a refreshing evaluation of the ways we currently treat animals and how we could improve our treatment of animals in ways that are ethically coherent and compassionate. As long as animals are used in research, and let's hope that the use of animals is phased out as soon as possible, we are obligated to make their lives the very best they can be. And, treating research animals more humanely and really taking into account what they need and want to have "good lives," will make for better and more reliable science. It's a win-win situation for all involved.
I highly recommend this collection for all researchers. It would be perfect for courses in a wide variety of disciplines. Indeed, It should be required reading and rereading for everyone who in one way or another works with nonhuman animals. We need to move on rapidly from the same old same old.
Marc Bekoff's latest books are Jasper's story: Saving moon bears (with Jill Robinson; see also), Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservation (see also), and Why dogs hump and bees get depressed (see also). Rewilding our hearts: Building pathways of compassion and coexistence will be published fall 2014.