Policies, Responsibilities, and Procedures
The use of animals in research is one of the most controversial area of research ethics. While animal research has improved the health of animals and humans, animal rights groups have been vocal and violent in their opposition to experimentation on animals.
Key ethical questions concerning animal research include the following:
- Can the potential benefits to human health and welfare justify harm or discomfort to animals?
- Do animals have moral standing, or rights similar to or different from those of humans, which should influence how we understand the ethics of research with animals?
- If animals have moral standing, do all animals have the same moral standing? (For example, is experimenting with insects morally equivalent to experimenting with non-human primates?)
- Do researchers have obligations towards animals under their care and control that they do not have towards wild animals of the same species because of the relationship created by having the animals in their care?
Most people who accept animal research believe that researchers have responsibilities towards animal subjects. The most basic responsibility is that experiments must have scientific merit. In addition, many researchers embrace the three “R’s” of animal research:
- Replacement—replacing animals with other experimental systems, such as tissue cultures or computer modeling, when possible and replacing “higher” animals with “lower” animals.
- Reduction—using the minimum number of animals for valid research results and not repeating one’s own or another’s experiments without compelling reasons.
- Refinement—designing research to minimize harms to animals including pain, suffering, disability, and death.
What Rules Apply?
In 1966, Congress passed the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) establishing legal standards for laboratory animal care and use and appointing the US Department of Agriculture as the agency responsible for implementing and enforcing the law. It applies to all animal research. Public Health Service’s (PHS) Policy on the Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (2000) also applies to PHS funded research. The Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) implements PHS policies.
Federal rules for animal research programs are summarized in the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee Guidebook, issued most recently in 2002 by OLAW and the Applied Research Ethics National Association (ARENA). ARENA was integrated into Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research (PRIM&R) in 2006. The rules require institutions engaged in animal research to establish an animal care and use program with clear lines of authority and responsibility. The program must include:
- An Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC)
- Procedures for self monitoring (facilities inspections)
- An adequate veterinary care program
- An occupational health and safety program
- A personnel training program
- An environment, housing, and management program for animals
- Appropriately maintained facilities for housing and support
The rules also specify the authority of IACUCs. IACUCs must review all projects involving animal to ensure they meet humane and scientific standards. They can approve, disapprove, or require changes for approval of projects. They can suspend or terminate approval of research that is not being conducted in accordance with the IACUC's decisions, conditions, and requirements, or that has been associated with unexpected serious harm to animal subjects. IACUCs also conduct semiannual reviews of the institution’s program. IACUCs, or their administrative offices, conduct animal care and use training programs. At the UW-Madison, the Research Animal Resource Center (RARC) provides support and training to investigators and laboratory staff necessary to provide the highest quality care for the University's research animals.
Association for the Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International (AAALAC) is a private organization, sponsored by research institutions, that accredits animal research programs.