Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Is There a Role for Assent or Dissent in Animal Research?


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.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

TL Beauchamp , HR Ferdowsian , JP Gluck . Rethinking the ethics of research involving nonhuman animals: Introduction. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 2014;35(2):91–6.

P Gagneux , JJ Moore , V Ajit . The ethics of research on great apes. Nature 2005;437:27–9.

D Wendler . Should protections for research with humans who cannot consent apply to research with nonhuman primates? Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 2014;35(2):157–73.

J Johnson , ND Barnard . Chimpanzees as vulnerable subjects in research. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 2014;35(2):133–41.

G. Dworkin Acting freely. Nous 1970;4:367–83

H. Frankfurt Freedom of the will and the concept of a person. Journal of Philosophy 1971;68:829–39

G. Watson Free agency. Journal of Philosophy 1975;72:205–20

T Beauchamp , V. Wobber Autonomy in chimpanzees. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 2014:117–32, at 118

EW. Menzel Chimpanzee spatial memory organization. Science 1973;182(4115):943–5

E Herrmann , V Wobber , J. Call Great apes’ (Pan troglodytes, Pan paniscus, Gorilla gorilla, and Pongo pygmaeus) understanding of tool functional properties after limited experience. Journal of Comparative Psychology 2008;122:220–30

HJ Glock . Can animals act for reasons? Inquiry 2009;52(3):232–54, at 249.

J Call , B Hare , M Carpenter , M Tomasello . “Unwilling” versus “unable”: Chimpanzees’ understanding of human intentional action. Developmental Science 2004:488–98

NE Newton-Fisher . Hierarchy and social status in Budongo chimpanzees. Primates 2004;45(2):81–7

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics
  • ISSN: 0963-1801
  • EISSN: 1469-2147
  • URL: /core/journals/cambridge-quarterly-of-healthcare-ethics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 2
Total number of PDF views: 36 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 184 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 21st July 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.