The use of animals in research is one of the most controversial areas of research ethics, and has many people with strong opinions both for and against it. Research with animals, like research with people, must pass rigorous scientific and ethical review. The ethical foundation is the philosophy of utilitarianism, which deems an action acceptable only if potential benefits outweigh potential harms. Animal research ethics are applied and taught at multiple places within the university and are built into the review of every proposed use of 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, and should they 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 due to the implications of caring for these animals?
The wide range of students, faculty and scientists at UW-Madison who use animals in research believe that the use of animals in medical research is ethical when performed under strict regulation, in situations where practical alternatives do not exist. The ethical decision amounts to a trade-off between the harm that may be done to the animals and the benefits to suffering patients, today and in the future.
In addition, researchers embrace the three "R's" of animal research:
• Replacement -using non-animal alternatives, such as cell culture, or choosing a species lower on the phylogenetic tree (mice instead of monkeys)
• Reduction -using the smallest number of animals necessary for valid scientific results
• Refinement -choosing procedures that minimize pain and distress.
What Rules Apply?
Both federal and university bodies regulate research using vertebrate animals:
• Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW), National Institutes of Health
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 animal research projects 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. Six Animal Care and Use Committees oversee animal research at UW-Madison, with assistance from the Research Animal Resources Center (RARC). The RARC also provides veterinary, laboratory, and training services to investigators and laboratory staff in support of quality animal care.
The 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; UW-Madison has achieved this accreditation in four of the five schools comprising its animal program.
For further information about the use of animal in research on UW-Madison's campus, please visit theAnimals in Research and Teaching page.