I recently walked past a poster on campus that read “Have you witnessed animal rights abuses in UBC labs? Contact us…”
This got me thinking about a course I took last semester on Injury Bio-Mechanics. In short, it’s the application of the same engineering principles you use to analyze a bridge – what forces it can take before it bends or breaks – but applied to the human body to prevent injury and design solutions for improved safety (ie. seatbelts and airbags). In the same way you need to know the strength of concrete and steel, you need those values for living tissue too. Yes, cadaver testing is possible, but it still doesn’t answer all of the critical questions about injury thresholds. Enter animal testing.
Throughout the course, we looked at a few examples of testing (not necessarily at UBC) that seemed to push ethical boundaries, if not my own personal comfort level. In one particular study, researchers replaced the top portion of a monkey’s skull with clear plastic in order to observe how the brain shifts inside the skull during an acceleration. Yes, a live monkey.
Coming back to the poster I saw on campus, I didn’t think it was really asking the right question. Working around research at UBC you get a clear message that ethics are extremely important as an institution. I can’t imagine how anyone can conduct unethical research, given the amount of paperwork, rigorous systems, committees, and review boards that are required for approval. Maybe the bigger questions are not whether ethical guidelines are followed at UBC, but rather, the greater philosophical implications of our currently defined set of ethics.
Can any science folks or grad students out there add some insight?