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1. Ethical Issues in the Use of Non-Human animals in Research The main reasons for carrying out research on animals: ã Medical research – usually justifiable as the…
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  • 1. Ethical Issues in the Use of Non-Human animals in Research The main reasons for carrying out research on animals: • Medical research – usually justifiable as the outcomes directly relieve human suffering (but this is more medical than psychological) • Helps us understand ‘natural principles’ eg. learning • Convenient way of testing such principles Ethical Guidelines: They fall into 3 main categories; 1) the quality of the research 2) the degree of animal suffering 3) the certainty of benefit 1) The Quality of the Research Although it may be argued that the answer to this is subjective and tends to be determined by those carrying out the research (there is a great deal of argument between psychologists as to what constitutes high-quality research), the way in which funding is granted has had a big impact on raising standards. Eg. The sheer expense of animal research means that institutional committees are likely to award money only to animal research of the highest quality in terms of design and procedures- details of which must be submitted for strict scrutinisation. 2) The Degree of Animal Suffering This is difficult to establish as we cannot get inside their minds to determine their way of thinking. In this respect we have to measure their fear by their behaviour. Again this is difficult as some animals, when feeling threatened, will ‘go rigid’ and quiet as they think this is the safest thing to do. But different species react in different ways and so there is need to increase our knowledge of animal behaviour so that we can recognise the signs of what is/what is not stressful behaviour in different species of animals. 3) The Certainty of Benefit Most people believe that human suffering is worse than animals suffering some moderate discomfort in the course of research. However, it is difficult to predict how much someone’s lives might be changed/how they might benefit. Eg. It has been found that a certain memory circuit in rats and monkeys is the same as humans’. Such research has revealed that damage to brain cells caused by Alzheimer’s’ disease can be either treated with drugs or replaced by grafts. Sufferers of this type of dementia experience severe memory loss, confusion, loss of a sense of self-identity, double-incontinence and need 24 hour care. Imagine watching your mother or father degenerate like this in front of you. So the question is raised: does the end justify the means? No doubt that Alzheimer’s sufferers and their families will answer ‘yes’. 1
  • 2. Extracts taken from the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, 1986 1) The Law – There are specific laws in the UK that protect the rights of animals. If these are breached then the researchers will be prosecuted. 2) Ethical Considerations – If animals are constrained, harmed or distressed, the ‘knowledge gained?’ question must be asked. This must be more than simple curiosity and alternatives must be used wherever possible. 3) Species – some species are more sensitive than others and so are more likely to suffer – so a knowledge of the species history is paramount 4) Number of animals – smallest amount must be used; the design of the study should address this factor. 5) Endangered Species – must not be taken from the wild/manipulated in the wild (unless its to address conservation issues) 6) Caging and Social Environment – cages must take into account the social behaviour of the animal. Eg. no overcrowding/ no isolation for social animals 7) Motivation – when arranging deprivation schedules (of food and water) normal eating habits and its metabolic requirements must be considered. Eg. a short period of deprivation for one species may be unacceptably long for another species 8) Aversive stimuli and stressful procedures – procedures that cause pain or distress are illegal in the UK (unless the researchers hold a Home Office License/relevant certificates); they must use other methods if possible; suffering must be kept to a minimum and it must be justified; the procedure must first be assessed and passed by the Home Office. To measure suffering Dawkins (1985) said that 3 factors can be used 1) the animals’ state of health 2) signs of stress 3) the animals’ behaviour Question What ethical considerations would you have to address if you were asked to conduct an experiment with baby monkeys to investigate attachment effects? This clearly lends itself to an essay-type response but you can use bullet points if you wish (so that you have some good revision notes) – just put them in some sort of logical order! 2
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