Ethics of Animal Testing

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?

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3 Responses to “Ethics of Animal Testing”

  1. Blake Frederick


    There are a number of developed ethical frameworks to tackle the questions you’ve raised when it comes to animal testing. One such framework states that we should act in such a way to minimize overall pain and suffering for all beings that are able to feel pain and suffering. In addition, no being’s pain and suffering is any more or less valuable than another. Under this framework, certain types of medical testing may be permitted, but many would not. The example that you’ve provided would likely be unethical under this framework since the monkey will presumably undergo an immense amount of suffering over the course of experimentation. Do not allow the existence of beaurocracy and regulations curb your critical thinking on this issue. Ethics, properly understood, is not something that is handed down by committees.

  2. Dominika Ziemczonek

    I think the framing of the question is wrong too, not just the question in itself. Animal rights violations are subjective, based on what rights we believe animals deserve. What is a “rights” violation for one may be common practice for another.

    In general, I view the animal rights issue as so subjective and case-dependent, it’s difficult for me to come up with a concrete set of rules. I wonder how UBC (and other research institutions) account for these variables when writing up an ethics code for research. Does anyone know how much flexibility there is in that regard?

  3. Tom

    “Do not allow the existence of beaurocracy and regulations curb your critical thinking on this issue. ”

    Be real.

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