Should biomedical research with great apes be restricted? A systematic review of reasons

BMC Medical Ethics 22 (1):1-20 (2021)
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BackgroundThe use of great apes (GA) in invasive biomedical research is one of the most debated topics in animal ethics. GA are, thus far, the only animal group that has frequently been banned from invasive research; yet some believe that these bans could inaugurate a broader trend towards greater restrictions on the use of primates and other animals in research. Despite ongoing academic and policy debate on this issue, there is no comprehensive overview of the reasons advanced for or against restricting invasive research with GA. To address this gap, we conducted a systematic review of the reasons reported in the academic literature on this topic.MethodsSeven databases were searched for articles published in English. Two authors screened the titles, abstracts, and full texts of all articles. Two journals specialized in animal ethics, and the reference lists of included articles were subsequently also reviewed.ResultsWe included 60 articles, most of which were published between 2006 and 2016. Twenty-five articles argued for a total ban of GA research, 21 articles defended partial restrictions, and 14 articles argued against restrictions. Overall, we identified 110 reason types, 74 for, and 36 against, restricting GA research. Reasons were grouped into nine domains: moral standing, science, welfare, public and expert attitudes, retirement and conservation, respect and rights, financial costs, law and legal status, and longer-term consequences.ConclusionOur review generated five main findings. First, there is a trend in the academic debate in favor of restricting GA research that parallels worldwide policy changes in the same direction. Second, in several domains (e.g., moral standing, and respect and rights), the reasons were rather one-sided in favor of restrictions. Third, some prominent domains (e.g., science and welfare) featured considerable engagement between opposing positions. Fourth, there is low diversity and independence among authors, including frequent potential conflicts of interests in articles defending a strong position (i.e., favoring a total ban or arguing against restrictions). Fifth, scholarly discussion was not the norm, as reflected in a high proportion of non-peer-reviewed articles and authors affiliated to non-academic institutions.



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Author Profiles

Javiera Perez Gomez
Marquette University
David DeGrazia
George Washington University
Bernardo Aguilera Dreyse
University of Sheffield

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What Do Chimeras Think About?Benjamin Capps - 2023 - Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 32 (4):496-514.

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References found in this work

Entangled empathy: an alternative ethic for our relationships with animals.Lori Gruen - 2015 - New York: Lantern Books, a division of booklight.
How to write a systematic review of reasons.Daniel Strech & Neema Sofaer - 2012 - Journal of Medical Ethics 38 (2):121-126.
Autonomy in chimpanzees.Tom L. Beauchamp & Victoria Wobber - 2014 - Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 35 (2):117-132.
Is There a Role for Assent or Dissent in Animal Research?Holly Kantin & David Wendler - 2015 - Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 24 (4):459-472.

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