Published online by Cambridge University Press: 14 September 2015
Current regulations and widely accepted principles for animal research focus on minimizing the burdens and harms of research on animals. However, these regulations and principles do not consider a possible role for assent or dissent in animal research. Should investigators solicit the assent or respect the dissent of animals who are used in research, and, if so, under what circumstances? In this article we pursue this question and outline the relevant issues that bear on the answer. We distinguish two general reasons for respecting the preferences of research participants regarding whether they participate in research—welfare-based reasons and agency-based reasons. We argue that there are welfare-based reasons for researchers to consider, and in some cases respect, the dissent of all animals used in research. After providing a brief account of the nature of agency-based reasons, we argue that there is good reason to think that these reasons apply to at least chimpanzees. We argue that there is an additional reason for researchers to respect the dissent—and, when possible, solicit the assent—of any animal to whom agency-based reasons apply.
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25. Thanks to Rahul Nayak for helpful discussion regarding these points.
26. As discussed above, our investigation of the nature of agency-based reasons for respect can be pursued without engaging with the literature on autonomy. However, it is worth noting that Tom Beauchamp and Victoria Wobber defend the claim that chimpanzees are capable of autonomous action. Beauchamp and Wobber specify that they are analyzing autonomy “as a psychological mechanism of decision and action” and state that “no feature in our analysis is built on a moral notion, nor is our goal to reach moral conclusions,” although they indicate that the implications of their claims about autonomy are “morally substantial.” See Beauchamp, T, Wobber, V.Autonomy in chimpanzees. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 2014:117–32, at 118CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed.
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