Journal of Philosophy, Science & Law
10, April 5, 2010
Animal Research, Animal Welfare, and the
Adapted from a paper presented as a plenary session to the annual general
meeting of American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) in
Denver, CO, November 2009.
University Distinguished Professor, Colorado State University
last 50 years have witnessed a dazzling array of social and ethical revolutions
in Western society. Such movements as
feminism, civil rights, environmentalism, affirmative action, consumer
advocacy, pro-and anti-abortion activism, homosexual rights, children’s rights,
the student movement, antiwar activism and public rejection of biotechnology
have changed the way in which governments and public institutions comport
themselves. This is equally true for
private enterprise: to be successful,
businesses and institutions must be seen as operating solidly in harmony with
changing and emerging social ethics.
only is financial success tied to accord with social ethics but, even more
fundamentally, freedom and autonomy are as well. Every profession – be it
medicine, law or agriculture – is given freedom by the social ethic to pursue
its aims. In return, society basically says to professions it does not
understand well enough to regulate, “you regulate yourselves the way we would regulate you. But we will know if
you don’t self-regulate properly and then we will regulate you.” A classic example of this state of affairs is
provided by the fate of the accounting profession after the Enron scandal.
Accountants must now dot every “I” and cross every “T”, and their freedom has
thereby been eroded.
research is, of course, an institution subject to the same requirements we just
described. And, in the 1970s and 1980s, it too was significantly out of step
with societal ethics, judging by letters to Congress, media coverage, protests,
and demands for new legislation. Beginning in the late 1960s, international concern
about the welfare of animals in all aspects of animal use began to emerge, a
movement that continues to burgeon. Whereas in Europe the societal focus tended
to fall on animal agriculture, in the US it was animal research that first
occupied social scrutiny, with agriculture increasingly emerging as a concern over
the last several years. There are many reasons for this disparity – agriculture
was invisible to the urban population and did not receive a great deal of media
attention; Americans until very recently thought farms were Old McDonalds’
pastoral units; and most importantly, the U.S. public is both scientifically
illiterate and suspicious of science – as is illustrated by the Creationist
movement. In a Pulitzer-Prize winning book published in the 1960s, Anti Intellectualism in American Life, historian
Richard Hofstadter chronicled the historical roots of anti-intellectualism, and
many signs of its current robustness are evident, ranging from public
preoccupation with crystals and mystical thought; to the astounding 33.7
billion dollars society spends on evidentially baseless alternative medicine (Americans Spend Billions on Alternative
Medicine 2009), to the fact that books on crypto-zoology, i.e. the branch
of biology dealing with such organisms as the Loch Ness monster, the abominable
snowman or Yeti, or the chupacabra, beings not proven to exist, significantly
outsell books on zoology.
any event, the ill-advised responses of the scientific community to public
concerns about the ethics of animal research are a matter of historical record.
As a person instrumental in the writing of the 1985 laws protecting research
animals, I was very involved in researching -- in vain -- for defenses of
animal research conducted in ethical terms – after all, the question of our
right to hurt animals for human benefit is a legitimate and serious ethical
question. I found nothing couched in moral terms, but rather emotional
diatribes. For example, in the 1984 film “Will I Be All Right, Dr.”, a
frightened child utters the phrase before an operation and the narrator
basically affirms that any constraints on animal use would render medicine
incapable of curing children. I happened to attend the film’s premier before an American Society of Laboratory Animal Practitioners (ASLAP) group. The only comment came
from one laboratory animal veterinarian who affirmed, “I am ashamed and
appalled to be associated with a film pitched lower than the worst
anti-vivisectionist clap trap”.
“argument” could be found in advertisements in national magazines like Time saying that over 90% of the animals
used in research are rats and mice, and “you kill them in your kitchen anyway”.
Judging by the mail I saw coming to Congress, these arguments did not play well
in Peoria, i.e. made ordinary people angry, rather than convinced them. Further,
the Helms Amendment, declaring rats and mice not to be animals, did not sit
well with the public or, for that matter, with many scientists who thought it
was absurd that most of the animals used in research are not animals for
purposes of the Animal Welfare Act (USDA
has No More to Say over Rats, Mice and Birds 2001).
more example of ethical absurdity is provided by a 1982 review of my book, in
which I described our proposed legislation that passed in 1985. The review
appeared, amazingly enough, in The New
England Journal of Medicine, and referred to me as “exonerating the Nazis”
and supplying a “false cloak of morality for lab trashers” (Visscher 1982). (On
a related note, I was put on the Institute for Laboratory Animal
Research (ILAR) Council of the National Academies 25 years later.)
This was the same week that The Animals’ Agenda, a radical animal rights
journal, called me a “sellout” for “accepting the reality of science.”
many in this audience are probably not surprised at the absurdity promulgated
by radicals, the research community’s reaction is shocking. How do we in fact
explain the absence of rational ethical discussion of animal research? This
question has occupied much of my thinking, writing, and teaching for my entire
answer is to be found in the concept of ideology. An ideology is a set of
beliefs that is basic and unquestioned among a population. These beliefs are
presuppositional to that population. Those of us who went to religious schools
were infused with religious ideology – others are grounded in racist ideology;
liberal ideology; Marxist ideology, etc. Essential to ideology is its virtually
universal acceptance among certain sub-groups of society, or for certain
ideologies such as Nazism, acceptance by the society as a whole.
century science has also been captive to an ideology significantly violative of
common sense and common morality, that I have called the “common sense of science”
and that I learned as a science major in college (Rollin 2006). This ideology
was based in the positivistic belief that science deals only with what is
testable, observable, and empirical-- facts. Based on this belief, science
denied the relevance of ethics to science for, as Wittgenstein remarked, if one
takes an inventory of all the facts in the universe, one does not find it a fact that “killing is wrong” (Wittgenstein
1965). Hence the belief spread that science is “value-free” in general and
“ethics-free” in particular. This positivistic dogma can be found in science
texts and in the scientific community’s regular failure to engage ethical
issues science occasions.
second component of scientific ideology working synergistically with the first
affirmed that science could not talk of consciousness and felt pain in
organisms, particularly in animals. Thus 20th century biomedical
science, despite its Darwinian base, was agnostic and atheistic about animal
thought and feeling (Rollin 1989).
ideology occasioned great harm to science’s ability to engage ethical
issues. I will illustrate its powerful
influence in a series of anecdotes. The first group of stories illustrates the
“science is ethics-free” dogma.
In about 1990, James Wyngaarden, the then Director of NIH and therefore
arguably the chief representative of biomedicine in the U.S., was visiting his
alma mater. He was talking to a group of students informally, and was
apparently unguarded in his remarks, not realizing that a student reporter for Michigan State News, the school paper,
was present. The students asked him about the ethical issues associated with
genetic engineering. His reply was astonishing: He opined that “though
scientific advances like genetic engineering are always controversial, science
should never be hampered by ethical considerations”.
At an American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) meeting in the
early 1980’s, I ran a full day session on ethics and animal research. At the
end, the reporters present converged on the president of AALAS, asking him to
respond to my points. “Oh there are no issues in animal research,” he said,
“God said we can do whatever we want with animals.” (When the reporters asked
me to respond, I facetiously said that what he said could not possibly be true.
“Why?” they asked. “Because he is at the Blank Vet School,” I replied, “and if
God chose to reveal himself at a vet school, it would surely be Colorado, which
is, after all, God’s Country.”)
In 2001, I was part of the World Health Organization group that was charged
with setting guidelines for the use of antibiotics in animal feeds, since their
indiscriminate use was driving evolution of resistance to anti-microbial agents
and endangering human health. I was asked to give the keynote speech defining
the ethical dimensions of the issue. When I finished, I asked for questions.
One veterinarian, who was in fact the FDA employee in charge of managing the
issue, leapt up and said to me “I am offended!” “By what?” I asked. “By the
presence of an ethics talk at a scientific conference. Ethics has nothing to do
with this issue. It is strictly a scientific question!” I calmly said, “Let me show you that you are
wrong. Suppose I give you an unlimited research budget to determine when to
stop or curtail the use of antibiotics in feeds. We do the research and find
out that current use levels kill (or sicken) 1 person in 500, or 5000, or
50,000, or 500,000, or 5,000,000. Even when we know this data, it does not tell
us where the risk of morbidity or mortality tells us to discontinue such
antibiotic use. That is an ethical decision.” She then kept quiet for the rest
of the conference.
A few years before Dolly the cloned sheep was announced, I received a Saturday
afternoon call from a research official at the Roslin Institute, asking me to
chat about the ethics of “hypothetically” producing a cloned animal. “It’s your
nickel,” I said, finally deploying that wonderful locution stolen from old
“hard-boiled” 1940’s detective novels and noir films, “Keep talking!” I told
them that there were two major concerns: does cloning harm the animal, and does
it create social, ecological, or disease dangers. More important than these
legitimate concerns, I continued, was what I called “A Gresham’s Law for
Ethics” (Rollin 1995). Gresham’s Law in economics asserts that “Bad money
drives good money out of circulation.” In
the same way, “Bad Ethics drives good ethics out of circulation.” So, for example, after World War I, German
currency (the Deutschemark) was so inflated that it took a wheel barrow wheel
full of them to buy a loaf of bread. In such an economy, rational people pay
their outstanding debts with Deutschemarks, not with gold, which they
hoard. So too in ethics, I
continued. Any new technology, be it the
computer or biotechnology, creates a vacuum in social ethical thought, and
fear. “What effect will this have on our
lives? Is it good or bad? What do we
need to control?” If the scientists do
not inaugurate rational discussion, that lacuna will be filled by doomsayers
with vested interest, such as Jeremy Rifkin. “So”, I concluded, “that is your biggest worry. You must create an educated populace on
cloning, and help them define the issues, or the public will be told that it
‘violates God’s will’, and how can you respond to that?”
I suspected, it was as if our conversation had never taken place! Some years later, Dolly was announced to a
completely uninformed public. Time/Warner did a survey one week after the announcement. And, fully 75% of the U.S public affirmed
that cloning “violated God’s will!” (CNN/Time 1997).
ideology’s denial of consciousness and pain is also easy to illustrate, as the
following vignettes show:
In the early 1980s, when my colleagues and I had pretty well drafted the key
concepts of our proposed federal laboratory animal legislation and Colorado
Representative Pat Schroeder had committed to carrying it forward, we were told
by congressional aides that we needed to provide clear evidence of the need for such law, both because the
medical research community was a major financial contributor to congressional
campaign war-chests, and because that same community claimed to be already
controlling pain in research animals. In essence, I was charged with proving
they were not. I did so by doing a literature search on analgesia for
laboratory animals or, indeed, any animals. What did I find? Two references:
one of which said there ought to be papers on this issue, and one saying we
don’t know much, and proceeded to list the little bit that was known, namely
the efficacy of aspirin and morphine for some pain. If analgesia were indeed
widely used, I told Congress, I would have been able to find a significant
literature on its theory and practice. Textbooks of veterinary anesthesia
before the late 1980s did not even mention felt pain, i.e. that pain that hurt (Lumb 1963; Lumb and Jones1972).
Around 1980, when I was developing and pressing the federal legislation for
laboratory animals adopted in 1985, I was invited by AALAS to discuss my
reasons for supporting legislative constraints on science on a panel with half
a dozen eminent laboratory animal veterinarians. By way of making my point, I
asked them all to tell me what would be the analgesic of choice for a rat used
in a limb-crush experiment, assuming analgesia did not disrupt results that
were being studied. The consensus response was, in essence, “How should we
know? We don’t even know for sure if animals feel pain!” Interestingly, five
years later after the laws passed, I phoned one of those veterinarians,
pointing out that as of now, he was required to know the answer to my question. He then rattled off five different analgesic
regimens. I asked him, “You were agnostic five years ago, where did you get
your information?” “From the drug companies!” he said. Puzzled, I asked if they
now worked on rat analgesia. “No”, he said, “but all human analgesics are
tested on rats.” The point is that he knew this five years earlier, but did not
then see it as relevant to rat pain.
In 1982, I debated a famous pain physiologist who argued that since the
electrochemical activity in the cerebral cortex of the dog, the information
processing area, was different from that of humans, the dog did not “really”
feel pain. In my rebuttal, I pointed out that he did pain research on dogs and
extrapolated the results to people. Thus either his speech was false, or his
life’s work was.
thus did painful things to animals, shielded by an ideology that distanced them
from ethics and denied pain. Indeed, the research community also did atrocious
things to human subjects in virtue of the same ideological denial. Until the
late 1980s, human infants experienced open heart surgery without anesthesia
using paralytic drugs because “babies can’t feel pain, or “don’t remember it so
it does not matter.” Ironically, the public credibility of science was another
victim of this ideology.
science is value-free, it is conceptually impossible to condemn data
falsification, cheating, and other behaviors dubbed “misconduct in science,” a
major issue for the research community. Implausibly, such behavior has
sometimes been dismissed as evidence of “temporary insanity” (Rollin 2006). In
fact, proliferation of such behavior has ironically created a demand that
science and ethics be taught! But teaching it is not easy in the face of
entrenched ideology. And it is very labor-intensive.
we drafted the federal laws for laboratory animals, a major purpose of these
laws was to undercut ideology, since few things less powerful than law can
displace widespread ideology. I had been arguing for years against scientific
ideology claims. First of all, science is fraught with value judgment and even
ethical judgments. To affirm that double blind randomized clinical trials are
better sources of knowledge than the Magic 8 Ball is a value judgment. To
demand higher statistical certitude when testing the safety of a human drug
versus an animal drug is an ethical value judgment. To say that the value of
the knowledge gained from an invasive animal experiment is of greater
significance than the animal pain or death is again an ethical judgment. To
fund the study of cancer but not baldness is again an ethical judgment. And so
on. And to do pain research on animals is to affirm that they feel pain, or
else they are poor models.
the force of these arguments, I never dislodged anyone’s ideological beliefs,
anymore than showing a racist who affirms, “All black people are stupid,” a
smart black person disconfirms their ideology. Thus, just as Civil Rights law
helped undo racist ideology, we believed that laws aimed at scientific ideology
might help undo it.
protocol review has certainly introduced ethical discussion into animal
research science. Questions discussed range from whether we should allow a
researcher to do a surgery they are not expert in, to whether we should allow
food deprivation for motivation in a psychology experiment. How much pain
should we allow if science is studying pain? Or pain control? Should we apply
the same degree of scrutiny to mice as to dogs? If a protocol using horses is
asking the same logical sort of question as one using mice, and the horse
protocol gets by with 10 horses, should we allow the other protocol to use 1000
mice? Should universities do invasive contract research and training for
private entities? Should universities allow research into “pest” extermination?
Should researchers be allowed to feed live prey in research? And, although the
law says we cannot address this question, I never found an institution that did
not conduct a cost benefit analysis about whether the result of a given piece
of research justifies the animal suffering it takes to achieve it.
discussions are of course not restricted to committee members – they soon
become common coin in an institution and thus at least some of the “value free”
component of scientific ideology has been successfully eroded by the law. The
law has also been spectacularly successful regarding pain control. Since 1985,
we have gone from the pathetic two papers I found on animal analgesia to what
one of my anesthesiologist colleagues estimates is between eight and ten
thousand papers, with a correlative increase of analgesic use. And, equally
heartening, the research community has begun to realize that the ways in which
animals can be miserable go far beyond physical pain – fear, loneliness,
boredom, anxiety, social isolation are obvious examples.
it the case, then, that everything is fine – that we have transcended or are at
least in the process of transcending ideology, and are now on the right road?
Not so fast. There are still a number of issues that researchers are morally
and prudentially obligated to address.
indicated earlier that failure to accord with societal ethical demands by a
profession can rapidly erode autonomy. This year was the 50th anniversary of Russell and Burch’s classic book, The Principles of Humane Experiment of Technique (Russell and Burch
1959), wherein they articulated the notion of the 3 R’s – Reduction, Refinement
and Replacement. The 3 R’s are taken quite seriously in Europe – last February
I gave the keynote speech to some 300 people celebrating the anniversary in
Utrecht. It is clear that part of what
society had in mind when it began to morally question animal research was
alternatives. This is clearly recognized in the European Union; less so in the
U.S. A recent study entitled “Journal editorial policies, animal welfare, and
the 3 R’s” published in the American
Journal of Bioethics (Osborne, Payne and Newman 2009), clearly demonstrates
that adherence to alternatives is nowhere near as prevalent as it should be
anywhere in the Western World, given societal ethical concern for research
the words of the abstract, this study “evaluates the editorial policies of a
randomized sample of English language peer-reviewed journals that publish
original research involving the use of animals. The aim is to identify whether
journals have editorial policies relating to the use of animals in research
that they are prepared to publish and whether any policies are likely to
promote animal welfare and dissemination of information of the 3Rs (reduction,
refinement, replacement) within the scientific community. The results
demonstrate that a significant proportion of journals publishing original
research involving animals do not have any editorial policy relating to the use
of animals. Of those journals that do have policies, the majority simply
request that the research be carried out in accordance with standard regulatory
requirements” (Osborne, Payne and Newman 2009).
maximum possible score for journals emphasizing animal welfare and the 3Rs in the
study is 12. The average score across 288 journals was a dismal 1.51 – the
maximum score of any journal was a 9 (Osborne, Payne and Newman 2009, p. 56).
is an ominous portent for animal research. It shows clearly that the research
community has not taken seriously socio-ethical demands. As Dr. Albert Koltveit
of the Journal of the American Veterinary
Medical Association told me when I addressed the Society of Biology Journal
Editors, “journal editors are the guardians of the gates for animal welfare” –
what journals demand, authors do. As the authors of the study say, journals
must revise their policies in the area.
the public thinks of ethics and animal research it thinks of “alternatives to
animals.” When we wrote our legislation in the 70s and 80s, there was in fact a
competing bill being written, called the Research Modernization Act. I attended
a meeting of those drafting the law, whose focus was on alternatives. At the
meeting, I asked the woman behind the law, “What do you mean by an alternative?”
Waving her hands, she replied, “Oh you knew, a plastic dog that howls when you
cut it and bleeds ketchup that they can do their experiments on.” I
intentionally wrote her off as scientifically illiterate and not to be taken
seriously, yet I soon found that such a view was all too common. Some
congressional staffers, for example, asked me why, if we can send a man to the
moon, we can’t model a mouse on a computer. My response has always been, “if we
could model a mouse on a computer, we would not need to.” In other words, if we
knew enough about mouse physiology and cell biology and metabolism to create a
computer replicate of the mouse, we probably would not need to bother, as we
would know the full biology of the animal.
we cannot underestimate the degree of scientific illiteracy rampant in the U.S.
public. First described with regard to intellectuals in universities by C.P.
Snow in the 1950s as “the two cultures in conflict” i.e. science and everything
else, there is little reason to believe things have improved. As Keith Black MD
wrote in the Cedars-Sinai Neurosciences Report (Black 2004),
America’s best and
brightest used to go into science and medicine, but no longer. The United
States consistently ranks in low comparison to other developed countries on
assessments of scientific literacy. “One half of the American public does not
know the earth goes around the sun once a year, and believes that the earliest
humans lived at the same time as the dinosaurs.” [NSF]….. A 1996 National
Assessment of Educational Progress survey found that 43 percent of high school
seniors did not meet the basic standard for scientific knowledge.
Jon Miller of Northwestern, who studies scientific literacy in the U.S.,
affirms that only 20-25% of Americans are “scientifically savvy and alert… [the
rest] don’t have a clue” (Dean 2004). According to Miller, U.S. adults didn’t
know what molecules are, fewer than a third know that DNA is the key to
heredity, and only 10% know what radiation is. 16% of high school science
teachers are Creationists. Two thirds of the U.S. public wants creation taught
along with evolution, according to a 2004 CBS news poll (Dean 2004).
should not surprise us, given Richards Hofstadter’s Pulitzer Prize winning 1964
book mentioned earlier, pointing out the deep current of anti-intellectualism
in American history going back to the founding of this country. And not only is the U.S. anti-intellectual;
we are openly hostile to science. As Jeffrey Sacks wrote in Economist, Sept. 22, 2008: “By
anti-intellectualism I mean an aggressively anti-scientific perspective, backed
by disdain for those who adhere to science and evidence”. And consider that
stem cells and biotechnology have been widely rejected.
this noted, it is easy to see why the Research Modernization Act had a good
deal of support, and might have passed had it been the only proposal. It would
have cut the biomedical research budget by up to 60% and put that money into
“alternatives” as described earlier. And given the results of the AJOB article,
it is not hard to imagine a disillusioned public again supporting a similar
is sometimes forgotten that Russell and Burch described three varieties of
alternatives, Reduction, Refinement, and Replacement. The laws of 1985 have,
through the IACUCs, driven more careful attention to statistics, probably
resulting in a net reduction of animals used, though sometimes leading to a
demand for more animals when the power of an experiment is deemed insufficient.
The basic thrust of these laws is refinement and thus much has been done with
regard to pain control, though distress has lagged behind. So it is essential
to stress to the public the refinement and reduction that has been achieved.
has not done well, and that is a problem when it is what society generally
understands by “alternatives.” This is due in part to the innate conservatism
of science, possessed of an “if it works don’t fix it attitude.” Great progress
in replacement has been made in toxicology, particularly regarding cosmetic
testing. But more money and educational effort must be expended to accelerate
more area must receive more attention to augment animal welfare and decrease
animal suffering. While at most 15% of research animals are deployed in
projects involving pain and suffering, almost 100% are kept under conditions
that violate their biological and psychological needs and natures. During the
1980s, Dr. Tom Wolfle and I stressed the ethical need for developing housing
for animals that fits their natures. There is certainly some effort in that direction,
but not enough. I helped accelerate some of it as external reviewer for the
1996 Guide. When the Colorado Federation of Animal Welfare Administrators
toured our research facility, their only complaint was the impoverished and
sterile environments in which the animals were kept, and they were correct. I
have no problem with talking of “animal happiness”, which I define as
fulfilling their nature and the needs flowing therefrom. We should aim not only at the alleviation of
suffering but also the promotion of animal happiness.
Let us recall the need for constantly
monitoring societal ethical concerns, and for staying abreast of them in our
actions. Failure to do so can mean loss of freedom and the advent of onerous
and restrictive regulation.
Spend Billions on Alternative Medicine,” U.S News and World Report, July 30, 2009.
K.L., “Scientific Illiteracy in the United States,” Cedars-Sinai Neurosciences Report, Fall 2004, http://www.csmc.edu/6603.html (last visited March 23, 2010).
C., “Scientific Savvy? In the US, Not Much,” New York Times, August 30, 2005.
W.V., 1963. Small Animal Anesthesia.
Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger.
W.V., Jones EW. 1973. Veterinary Anesthesia.
Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger.
Americans Say Cloning Is Wrong,” CNN/Time,
March 1, 1997.
N.J., Payne D , Newman M, “Journal Editorial Policies, Animal Welfare, and the
3 R’s,” American Journal of Bioethics, Volume 9, December 2009.
B.E., Science and Ethics, Cambridge,
Cambridge University Press, 2006.
B.E., The Unheeded Cry: Animal
Consciousness, Animal Pain, and Science, Oxford University Press, 1989.
B.E., The Frankenstein Syndrome: Ethical
And Social Issues in the Genetic Engineering of Animals, Oxford, Oxford
University Press, 1995.
Russell, W.M.S., Burch R. The
Principles of Humane Experimental Technique, London, Methuen, 1959.
“SRI on the Rise,” Green
at Work Magazine, Nov-Dec 2001.
“USDA has No More to Say over Rats, Mice and Birds,” American Association of Anatomists, Action
Alert, May 14, 2002, http://www.anatomy.org/ABOUT/rats-mice-birds__action.htm (last visited March 23, 2010).
Visscher, M., “Review of Animal Rights and Human Morality,” New England Journal of Medicine Vol. 306,
“Will I Be All Right Doctor”, Foundation for Biomedical
Wittgenstein, L., “Lecture on Ethics,” Philosophical Review, Vol. 74:1, 1964.