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Ethics of Medical Research with Animals: Science, Values, and Alternatives

Project launched in June 2011

Principal InvestigatorsThomas H. MurrayGregory Kaebnick, and Susan Gilbert 

Funder:The Esther A. and Joseph Klingenstein Fund

Project background

Research involving animals has been a cornerstone of medical progress for more than two centuries. For most of that time, it has also met with moral objections because of the suffering it can cause the animals. Though animal welfare laws in the United States and abroad have reduced the number of animals used in biomedical research and ameliorated their pain, ethical concerns remain, and it is not only animal rights groups that have them, but also veterinarians, physicians, policy-makers, ethicists, and biomedical researchers themselves.

There are strong indications that the nature of the arguments about animal research is changing in fundamental and profound ways. New initiatives in the United States are seeking alternatives to animal testing. The longstanding view that one is either pro-medical progress (and therefore endorses the status quo of animal research) or pro-animal welfare (and therefore is willing to settle for fewer cancer treatments, and so on, in exchange for ending or drastically reducing animal-based research) is giving way to more nuanced thinking. The new position upholds the values of both medical progress and animal welfare and wants to greatly increase the use of alternatives to animals.

Project goals and activities

The goal of the project was to bring together people with different points of view and different areas of expertise on animal research ethics and alternative models to share their knowledge, exchange ideas and insights, and produce unbiased educational resources. A multidisciplinary workshop, held at Yale University in November 2011, explored ethical and scientific issues in animal research and the use of alternatives. From the workshop, Hastings Center editors produced a set of educational materials for biomedical researchers, scholars, students, commentators in ethics and animal research, Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees, policymakers, and journalists who follow animal research issues. One of these resources is a Hastings Center special report,”Animal Research Ethics: Evolving Views and Practices,” written by workshop participants. Another is a Web site, animalresearch.thehastingscenter.org. The project was coordinated by The Hastings Center and uses the resources of the Yale-Hastings Program in Ethics and Health Policy, a partnership between the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics and The Hastings Center.