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


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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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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