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The Ethical Challenges of Animal Research: Honoring Henry Beecher’s Approach to Moral Problems

  • HOPE R. FERDOWSIAN and JOHN P. GLUCK
Abstract:

In 1966, Henry K. Beecher published an article entitled “Ethics and Clinical Research” in the New England Journal of Medicine, which cited examples of ethically problematic human research. His influential paper drew attention to common moral problems such as inadequate attention to informed consent, risks, and efforts to provide ethical justification. Beecher’s paper provoked significant advancements in human research policies and practices. In this paper, we use an approach modeled after Beecher’s 1966 paper to show that moral problems with animal research are similar to the problems Beecher described for human research. We describe cases that illustrate ethical deficiencies in the conduct of animal research, including inattention to the issue of consent or assent, incomplete surveys of the harms caused by specific protocols, inequitable burdens on research subjects in the absence of benefits to them, and insufficient efforts to provide ethical justification. We provide a set of recommendations to begin to address these deficits.

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Notes

1. Beecher, HK. Ethics and clinical research. New England Journal of Medicine 1966;274:1354–60.

2. Beecher, HK. Experimentation in man. JAMA 1959;169(5):461–78.

3. Beecher, HK. Ethics and the explosion of human experimentation. In: The Beecher Papers. Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University; 1965.

4. See note 3, Beecher 1965.

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7. See note 1, Beecher 1966, at 1354.

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9. See note 8, Friedenfelds 2007:79–103.

10. See note 8, Friedenfelds 2007.

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13. Russell, WMS, Burch, RL. The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique. London: Methuen; 1959.

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33. In recent years the area of applied statistics has seen the development of analysis methods that are able to overcome the problem of nonrandom assignment and small sample sizes. For example, James Heckman and his research group have shown how these methods can be used to analyze human studies with many practical problems (e.g., failed randomization, small samples, and large numbers of outcome measures). Specifically, they reanalyzed the data from the classic HighScope Perry Preschool study from the 1960s that followed the effect of an early enrichment intervention with at-risk children from early childhood until the age of 40. In general, these data showed that early intervention benefited females early in development and males later in life. See Heckman, J, Moon, SH, Pinto, R, Savelyev, P, Yavitz, A. Analyzing social experiments as implemented: A reexamination of the evidence from the HighScope Perry Preschool Program. Quantitative Economics 2010;1:146.

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37. Also see McMillan, FD, ed. Mental Health and Well-Being in Animals. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Professional; 2005.

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43. See note 20, Institute of Medicine 2011.

44. Taglialatela, JP, Russell, JL, Schaeffer, JA, Hopkins, WD. Communicative signaling activates “Broca’s” homolog in chimpanzees. Current Biology 2008;18:343–8.

45. See Beauchamp, TL, Wobber, V. Autonomy in chimpanzees. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 2014;35(2):117–32.

46. See Korsgaard, C. Interacting with animals: A Kantian account. In: Beauchamp, TL, Frey, RG, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Animal Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press; 2011, at 91118.

We are grateful to Martina Darragh, M.L.S., for her early assistance in identifying reference materials and cases for the manuscript.

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Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics
  • ISSN: 0963-1801
  • EISSN: 1469-2147
  • URL: /core/journals/cambridge-quarterly-of-healthcare-ethics
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