The UBC/animal research debacle continues this past week with an article in the Georgia Strait.
I am cautiously supportive. Even though I believe that animal research is sometimes justified (AFTER exhaustive tissue culture testing and AFTER we understand a certain system well and ONLY IF the people using the animals are well trained in both methodology and ethics… which doesn’t happen nearly enough…)
I think that any amount of attention towards the welfare of animal research is a good thing. 🙂
I used to work in animal research, as I’ve mentioned before. A lot of things convinced me to change careers, and this was one of them.
One of the turning points for me was a biomedical ethics course I took at UBC. I took this class after I had been out of school and working in biomedical research for a few years. Initially, I only took it because I thought it would be an easy class. But in the end, it really opened my eyes. Even though the class focused on human biomedical ethical decisions, much of the underlying theory can be applied to research animal ethics. And I realized then, that a lot of biomedical research cannot be justified morally. Some, yes. But not all.
For example, one underlying idea in moral philosophy and ethics is the idea of “use”. Do we have a right to “use” another creature for our own purposes? Many would argue yes from a utilitarian perspective – the argument of “the greater good”. But even while “using” we have responsibilities.
The Canadian Council for Animal Care recognizes animals as sentient – in other words, capable of feeling, capable of pain. Of suffering. There are good guidelines in place in this book. And yet, they are not mandatory. And yet, UBC continues to let researchers with foreign credentials do research on mice with standards that are unacceptable in North America. There are labs which refuse to give animals the proper pain medications or use proper, sterilized instruments. Veterinarians are handcuffed by institutional rules which do not allow them to conduct surprise visits on animal facilities. Technicians who care for the animals are overworked and under-educated, and not allowed the time to train properly.
So what would I tell UBC?
Teach your technicians and students and staff how to use and care for animals so that we do not use more than necessary. Stop allowing PIs to coerce grad students into to use mice just so that they can get their name on another publication. And give the public the means to shut down those labs who violate the standards of animal care in North America.