Animal Centered Research
The Animal Centred Research Project aims to develop an ethical framework for the involvement of animals in research which is informed by animal-centered principles and which explicitly recognizes animals’ autonomy, interests and role, in order to support a nuanced ethical approach to animal research and the best possible research for the benefit of animal partakers and wider society.
Benefits and limitations of humane animal research principles
The involvement of animals in research procedures that can harm them and to which they are deemed unable to consent raises fundamental ethical dilemmas. Proposed over 60 years ago, the principles of Replacement, Reduction and Refinement (3Rs) address these dilemmas: wherever possible, animal use in research procedures should be replaced with alternative methods or more complex species should be replaced with species deemed less sentient; the number of animals used in research procedures should be reduced as far as possible; research procedures should be refined to minimize any negative impact on the animals involved.
The 3Rs are widely regarded as the gold standard for humane animal research, and the best compromise between animal welfare and research aims. But, while their application has yielded significant benefits for both the welfare of research animals and the quality of animal research, they also have various limitations. Most notably, within the 3Rs framework animals are still fundamentally instruments of research rather than participants in research. This contrasts with frameworks regulating the involvement of participants in human-centered research, which protect their autonomy and wellbeing, and require their just treatment.
From humane research to animal-centered research
This project aims to explore the possibility of developing an animal centered approach to the use of animals in research by rearticulating the 3Rs framework and integrating the following principles:
1. animals should be involved in research procedures only when these are directly relevant and beneficial to them (principle of relevance);
2. all involved individuals should be equitably protected, not in virtue of their attributed capacities but of their role as research participants (principle of impartiality);
3. research procedures should give priority to their biological integrity and individual autonomy (principle of welfare);
4. individuals’ informed consent should always be garnered, comprising mediated consent from legal guardians and welfare experts in the animals’ best interests, and contingent consent from the animals themselves, as expressed by their willingness to engage and chosen modalities of engagement (principle of consent).
Ultimately, the project aims to provide a resource for researchers and practitioners whose work involves animals and for whom the application of animal-cantered technologies, methods or frameworks may be relevant.
Relevance, Impartiality, Welfare and Consent:
Principles of an Animal-Centered Research Ethics
This paper explores the applicability of an animal-centered ethics to animal research, whereby animals would be regarded as autonomous subjects, legitimate stakeholders in and contributors to a research process, with their own interests and capable of consenting and dissenting to their involvement. We propose the ethical principles of relevance, impartiality, welfare and consent, and a scoring system to help researchers and delegated authorities assess the extent to which a research procedure aligns with them. This could help researchers determine when being involved in research is indeed in an animal’s best interests, when a procedure could be adjusted to increase its ethical standard or when the use of non-animal methods is more urgently advisable.