The ethics of using nonhuman animals in biomedical research is usually seen as a subfield of animal ethics. In recent years, however, the ethics of animal research has increasingly become a subfield within research ethics under the term “animal research ethics”. Consequently, ethical issues have become prominent that are familiar in the context of human research ethics, such as autonomy or self-determination, harms and benefits, justice, and vulnerability. After a brief overview of the development of the field and a discussion (...) of relevant theoretical ethical frameworks, I consider two of these issues, namely autonomy and self-determination on the one hand, and harms and benefits on the other hand. My concern is with philosophical and ethical issues, rather than animal research oversight. I focus my discussion on nonhuman primates, as the most plausible nonhuman candidates for this approach. I conclude that the approach, although promising, depends strongly on the moral status of nonhuman research subjects. (shrink)
The Weatherall report on the use of non-human primates in research was published in 2006. Its main conclusion was that there is a strong scientific case for the use of non-human primates in some cases, but the report stressed the importance of evaluating each case in the light of the availability of alternatives. In addition to arguing for the scientific necessity of using non-human primates in research, the report also provided an ethical justification. As could be expected, the report was (...) harshly criticised by animal rights groups, but in the academic literature, only two critical replies appeared. In what follows, I will describe the ethical justification for non-human primate research as it is laid out in the Weatherall report and then consider the criticism in the academic literature. I conclude that the report’s ethical justification for the use of non-human primates in research, in particular in basic neuroscientific research, has not been convincingly challenged by its critics. Since the criticism of the report is limited and represents only a small part of the academic discussion about the use of non-human primates in research, and a still smaller part of the ethical discussion about animal research, it is important that the discussion continue both at the academic and social level. (shrink)
One of the most controversial areas of animal research is the use of nonhuman primates for fundamental research. At the centre of the controversy is the question of whether the benefits of research outweigh the harms. We argue that the evaluation of harms and benefits is highly problematic. We describe some common procedures in neurological research using nonhuman primates and the difficulties in evaluating the harm involved. Even if the harm could be quantified, it is unlikely that it could be (...) meaningfully aggregated over different procedures, let alone different animals. A similar problem arises for evaluating benefits. It is not clear how benefits could be quantified, and even if they could be, values for different aspects of expected benefits cannot be simply added up. Sorting harms and benefits in three or four categories cannot avoid the charge of arbitrariness and runs the risk of imposing its structure on the moral decision. The metaphor of weighing or balancing harms and benefits is inappropriate for the moral decision about whether to use nonhuman primates for research. Arguing that the harms and benefits in this context are incommensurable, we suggest describing the moral consideration of harms and benefits as a coherent trade-off. Such a decision does not require commensurability. It must be well-informed about the suffering involved and the potential benefits, it must be consistent with the legal, regulatory and institutional framework within which it is made, and it must cohere with other judgments in relevant areas. (shrink)
Following the Second Summit on Human Gene Editing in Hong Kong in 2018, where the birth of two girls with germline genome editing was revealed, the need for a responsible pathway to the clinical application of human germline genome editing has been repeatedly emphasised. This paper aims to contribute to the ongoing discussion on research ethics issues in germline genome editing by exploring key issues related to the initial applications of CRISPR in reproductive medicine. Following an overview of the current (...) discussion on bringing germline genome editing into clinical practice, we outline the specific challenges associated with such interventions and the features that distinguish them from conventional clinical testing of new medical treatments. We then review proposed ethical requirements for initial heritable genome editing, such as the absence of reasonable alternatives, the existence of sufficient and reliable preclinical data, appropriate informed consent, requirements related to safety, and long-term follow-up. (shrink)
Prematurely born children who have underdeveloped lungs may suffer a potentially fatal condition called respiratory distress syndrome. A U.S. company developed a drug, called Surfaxin, to treat such poorly functioning lungs. A placebo-controlled study was planned in four Latin American countries. At the time, in 2001, four treatments were already on the market, although not available to the research populations used in the study. This case is usually discussed as part of the standard of care debate or offered as an (...) example of exploitation. However, what concerns us in this case is rather the choice given to the parents of a prematurely born child under these circumstances: “You can give consent for your child's participation in this study. Half of the babies enrolled will receive sham air and are as likely to die as if they had not enrolled. The other half will receive an active treatment and are more likely to survive.” The parents can vastly increase their baby's chances of survival by participating in the study. Can the consent be voluntary? Do the parents have any meaningful choice? (shrink)
About ten years ago, reports of lab-grown “mini brains” or “brains in a dish” appeared in the media, falling somewhere between the curious and the alarming. The trigger of these reports was a new method to grow three-dimensional neural tissue from human stem cells that recapitulates, to some degree, the early development of brain tissue. Despite their relatively small size and other limitations, such model systems capture in part the structure and functions of regions of the human brain and can (...) also be combined to form so-called assembloids. (shrink)
Brain research in neuroscience and related fields is changing our understanding of the brain and its relation to the mind and to human behavior, giving a new impetus to the problem of free will and moral responsibility. The reactions have covered the entire range, from claims to the effect that neuroscientific research is showing that our folkrnason, Ph.D., is Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Department of Social and Moral Philosophy, University of Helsinki, Finland. His research interests include bioethics, neuroethics, and (...) the philosophy of science. He coedited The Ethics and Governance of Human Genetic Databases and Blood and Data: Ethical, Legal and Social Aspects of Human Genetic Databases.FootnotesThe research for this paper was conducted as a part of Neuroscience and Norms: Ethical and Legal Aspects of Norms in Neuroimaging / Ethical Concepts and Norms, a project funded by the Academy of Finland. (shrink)
In her reply to my critical assessment of objections to the Weatherall report’s justification of non-human primate research, Catia Faria focuses on three objections which she entitles ‘the disanalogy’, ‘the utilitarian calculus’ and ‘species overlap’. Faria finds my assessment unconvincing, butI argue that the objections still fail.
In Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, Fanny, an 18-year-old orphan who lives with her aunt Lady Bertram, received an attractive offer of marriage, which she vehemently rejected and is not prepared to reconsider.