I’ve been very disturbed about the recent events at UC Santa Cruz where the homes of researchers were firebombed by animal rights activists. I can’t imagine a threat to my family like this. I just can’t even imagine it, it is so horrible.
Drugmonkey has a nice post up about this topic- and well, since I actually teach a couple of hours on the ethical use of animals in research to graduate students in biomedical sciences, medical students and sometimes undergraduates, I thought I would add my two cents worth as well. First, there is a very useful chapter about this very subject in a book entitled ‘Scientific Integrity’ by Francis Macrina… I believe that the operative section is chapter 6- ‘Use of Animals in Biomedical Experimentation’, much of what I have written below is taken from this chapter. I would like to have students leave my class with a basic understanding in a couple of areas.
1. 20-30 million animals are estimated to be killed in research in the United States each year (older figures from the 1980s found here say 17-22 million, 85% rodents). Compare this to the number of livestock animals killed in this country each year- which is estimated to be 10 billion (according to the Humane Society) (that includes 8 billion chickens annually).
2. The leaders of the ‘animal rights’ movement are generally respected philosophers such as Peter Singer (faculty at Princeton, published the book Animal Liberation in 1975 beginning the modern animal rights movement) and Tom Regan (Professor emeteritus in Philosophy at NC State, wrote The Case for Animal Rights and other books) who strive to live in an ethically consistent way. This is not the lunatic fringe people, these are rational, respected scholars who can and do argue the case, from different perspectives, that it is unethical to use animals in research.
Singer believes that animals and humans have an ‘equal interest in being free from torment’ and that that experimenters who use animals in research ‘reveal a bias in favor of their own species whenever they carry out experiments on nonhumans for purposes that they would not think justified them in using human beings’ . (just FYI, he does not believe, at least from what I understand- that animals have ‘rights’). Regan comes from a different perspective- ‘capacities do not distinguish humans from other animals ….’ and thus ‘there can be no solid moral distinction between humans and other animals’. Regan DOES believe that animals have ‘rights’.
3. The general membership of the animal rights movement is not generally as ethically consistent (as are the leaders), but they are very concerned about the use and treatment of animals in research- we scientists can not ignore this.
4. The American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine, the board certified specialty veterinarians that care for nearly all of the laboratory animals in this country are concerned about the ethical use of animals in research and have made a public statement on reduction, refinement, and replacement … or the 3Rs…
PUBLIC STATEMENTS: On The 3 R’s
The American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine fully supports the tenets of the 3Rs: Reduction, Refinement and Replacement. ACLAM supports the search for scientifically valid alternative methodologies that will reduce or replace the use of animals or refine the techniques that must be used to continue to advance our knowledge base through research, testing and teaching. ACLAM believes that every effort should be made to refine techniques in order to minimize potential pain and distress. Diplomates of ACLAM are uniquely qualified to contribute to the development, implementation and evaluation of techniques which refine research methodology. ACLAM is committed to the humane use of research animals.
Revised November 2000
5. A Brief Legislative History (From Table 6.1 in ‘Scientific Intergrity’)
- 1960 Legislation first proposed to require animal researchers to be licensed.
- 1963 NIH publishes voluntary ‘Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals’revised in (65, 68, 72, 78, 85, 96, and aka the ‘Guide’)
- 1966 Laboratory Animal Welfare Act enacted by Congress (strengthened in 70, 76, 85 , now the Animal Welfare Act) (Required registration of research facilities, and dog dealers- research facilities had to buy their dogs/cats from licensed dealers, and now mandates humane care and treatment of dogs, cats rabbits, hamsters guinea pigs and non-human primates… but rats and mice were not covered).
- 1985 Health Research Extension Act: NIH must establish guidelines for the use of animals in biomed/behav research. First law covering US Public Health Service
- 1986 Public Health Service Policy on the Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals is published by NIH. All USPHS labs and USPHS funded labs must comply with PHS policy and the Guide.
- 1996 US National Academy of Sciences publishes the ‘Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals‘ – this work is broadly accepted in national/international circles. This work gives many many details of how research involving animals should be carried out- and it covers rats and mice. Includes many details including qualifications/training of professional staff, housing facilities and requirements, occupational health coverage for staff, the physical environment, and others. (I’m sure there is something more recent as well that I’m missing still.)
6. IACUCs… very important… all research involving animals is regulated by Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees. The different regulations (AWA, USPHS act, and The Guide) listed above governing animal research generally all require an IACUC- and these allow for different sized IACUCs and different makeup of this group- but they generally ALL REQUIRE 1 member be a veterinarian, and 1 member of the public. The AWA requires the smallest total group (at least 3 members)- but generally in my experience the size of the IACUC is proportionate to the amount of animal research going on at a particular location.
7. What does the IACUC do???
- evaluates the institutions animal care/use programs.
- evaluates facilities (every 6 months).
- evaluates/recommendations to all aspects of an institutions animal program – including training of personnel.
- evaluates all investigators Animal Care and Use Protocols…. at institutions of the size that I am at this can be roughly 200 – 300 of these annually, sometimes more, sometimes less.
- And probably other stuff that I’m not thinking of right now
8. And finally- when IACUCs are evaluating Animal Care and Use Protocols… what do they look for..?
Well… to name a few things:
- will experiments be conducted in accordance with Animal Welfare Act and the Guide for the care and use of laboratory animals?
- protocols must minimize discomfort/distress.
- any procedure that causes more than momentary/ slight pain must have appropriate sedation, analgesia, anesthesia.
- animals that would suffer severe/chronic pain must be euthanized.
- are animals housed under appropriate conditions, to maximize health and comfort.
- a qualified veterinarian must provide care.
- AVMA panel on euthanasia recommendations must be followed when deciding how to euthanize.
I’m sure there are a few things I’m not thinking of… you will certainly remind me…