ORI Introduction to RCR: Chapter 4. The Welfare of Laboratory Animals
Even with all of the care and review that currently is used to assure the responsible use of animals in research, animal research is still controversial and raises concerns that cannot easily be set aside.
Pain and suffering. Some experimental information cannot be gained without subjecting animals to pain and suffering. Researchers who study the effects of severe trauma, such as child abuse, can learn a great deal about physiological change by subjecting animals to different levels of pain and suffering. This can be done by administering mild electric shocks, forcing animals such as rats to swim until they reach exhaustion, or subjecting them to other traumatic treatments. How much pain and suffering is acceptable in experiments is not easily determined.
Concern for different species. There is widespread agreement that some animals, such as primates and household pets, deserve more protection than other animals, such as worms and clams. There is less agreement about the relative protection that is needed for species within general groups of animals, such as cats, dogs, pigs, rabbits, mice, and rats. What moral considerations set one species apart from another when making decisions about the use to which it can be put in experiments?
Unnecessary experiments. Members of the public disagree about the use to which animals can reasonably be put in research, testing, and teaching. Animals are used to test the safety of experimental drugs, but should they also be used to test the toxicity of chemicals or cosmetics (as once was common, but has largely been abandoned)? Should they be used to train surgeons to do elective surgery? Do researchers sometimes use more animals in an experiment than is absolutely necessary or use animals when other means of testing would provide the same information?
Discussions about the responsible use of animals in research are not likely to dissipate in the near future. If animals are essential to your research and cannot be replaced; if you cannot reduce the number without compromising the experiment; and if you cannot further refine your methods to reduce pain and suffering, then presumably you have done all you can to meet your responsibility. However, do not forget that society does not have to permit the use of animals in research. It can seek to protect animals through complex and expensive regulations if it loses confidence in the research community’s ability to regulate itself.