ANIMAL USE CASE STUDIES
In the consideration of animal use in science and medicine, several different ethical considerations are pertinent. One, that of the more extreme animal "rights" groups, considers animals as moral agents equal to humans, based on the ability of animals to feel pain. A second framework views animals as objects of human welfare, whether they be pets, participants in sport, or working. (The Humane Society and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have been around since the late l800's.) The third view considers animals primarily as objects of human utility, necessary for herding, packing, food, or income.
The idea of animals as full moral agents appeals to our sympathy with other living things, but it unfortunately disregards the role of human interdependence in the biosphere, and leads to convoluted moral justifications for using (or not using) animal products, medicine, or certain foods. For example, to live this philosophy many humans try to separate themselves from the food web, shown in part by the growing move to vegetarianism (plants as living organisms don't seem to count, one of the difficulties), even though humans are omnivorous by evolution, physiology, and nutritional needs.
The second view, in which animals are accorded an intermediate status is the one traditionally encompassed and practiced most widely. Complex relationships with animals as both objects of affection and utility are not only possible, but necessary in agrarian societies. The mule is called by name, the prize pig is pampered, the herd dog perhaps has the best spot in front of the fire. Few of us today raise the pigs we eat, or the corn, for that matter, and thus have lost the sense of daily interdependence many of our grandparents had, and our rural neighbors still have, with their animals. Even though we have lost the "utility with welfare" relationship, and primarily keep animals as pets or for sport, we still often accord them a special status, loved and prized, yet less than other humans.
In contrast, researchers in science and medicine have viewed animals as objects of utility. Although the majority of scientists are careful with their animals both because it is the "right" thing to do and because good research requires animals in good condition, there have been, in fact, some abuses which the animal rights movement has exposed. As a result, scientists today work under a stringent set of guidelines under the Animal Welfare Act. This act established Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUCs) responsible for monitoring standards of animal care within a given institution, or under the Public Health Service, which specified the responsibilities of the IACUCs. Any investigator receiving federal funds is subject to inspection by the USDA (under the Animal Welfare Act), or by the NIH, or both. Proposed procedures are carefully scrutinized first to ascertain the necessity of using a particular animal, then to ensure that the discomfort to the animal will be minimized with appropriate measures.
It is very difficult to find any medical procedure that does not involve using animal models first. When an animal rights activist says, "Don't t ell me we're talking about my grandmother!" the only response can be, "We are talking about your grandmother, and you, your children, your friends, and even your cat." Would we, even if we could, go back to the days when it was not uncommon for a family to lose half its children to diseases which are today easily prevented or cured by vaccines and antibiotics? Even though alternatives to animal testing decrease the number of animals used in research, animal use cannot be eliminated without severely curtailing our ability to improve treatment and prevention of serious illness. The dilemma is to balance the maximum human benefit with a respect for the welfare of the animals used, and to minimize the numbers of animals used when possible and appropriate.
Using These Case Studies:
The purpose of these case studies is to help students to consider the broader ethical aspects of the issue, and to alert students that there are significant standards which must be maintained when animals are used in research. There are several useful strategies for using case studies outlined elsewhere in other modules which would be appropriate for use with the ones given here. In general, groups of three or four are good for the initial discussions because students tend to think at higher ethical levels (in Kohlberg's model) when working in groups rather than individually. The role of the teacher is to prod students to these higher levels.
CASE STUDY ONE:
George is a seventeen-year-old high school student who has contracted a mild, but painful, eye infection. His doctor prescribed a medication which would relieve the symptoms and combat the infection. If left untreated, this type of infection usually clears up spontaneously within two weeks. George is responsible for driving himself and his younger sister to school and other activities each day.
George has been concerned about the unnecessary use of animals in product
testing for several years, and he has learned that the Draize test was used in
testing the safety of this medication. The Draize test involves applying the
tested product to the eyes of rabbits to look for irritation and other side
effects. Although there are alternative ways to test for many such products,
the Draize test remains the most reliable test for this particular medication.
Should George use the medication?
Should George use the medication?
A. In small groups, consider the following questions. Have one member of the group record the group's answers.
B. What if George had found that his infection, if left untreated, has a high probability of leading to further complications, including blindness?
You and three other students have been appointed to a committee to approve science fair projects using animals. The following proposals have been submitted:
A. Pat wants to study the effect of differing doses of ethyl alcohol on the ability of white mice to learn their way through a maze. Pat plans to carry out this project at home in the basement, which has an unused heated and lighted room. Pat has raised white mice successfully for several years and takes good care of them.
B.Lynn has arranged to work with a biochemist, Dr. Hinerman, in a nearby university laboratory to determine levels of certain blood proteins in a guinea pig model of a newly discovered genetic disorder. (A guinea pig "model" means that there is a strain of guinea pig which has the same, or very similar, disorder as that seen in humans). Her experiments would require her to draw blood from the guinea pigs once a day for six weeks. Three months ago Dr. Hinerman was advised by the USDA inspector that outdated food was being used in the animal room. Because he adheres to high standards of animal maintenance and care, Dr. Hinerman was surprised to find that a bag of food which had expired (by two days) was indeed in the animal room. He immediately disposed of the food and reprimanded the graduate student responsible. Since that time there have been no other instances of standards violations in his lab.
Lynn is a senior, has maintained high grades in high school, and plans a career in science. A good science fair project will help her get a needed scholarship to her chosen university. Without the scholarship, she will have to work at least half-time to afford to attend college and will not be able to take the full course load required of a science major.
C.Chris wants to study the effect of varying acid and salt concentrations on the viability of several species of common plant and animal plankton in the nearby bay. Chris has been concerned about the reports of acid precipitation in his area, and wants to use his results as a measure of its effect on the estuary ecosystem. He proposes to use the LD50 test, in which he will find the concentration of acid and salt that kills 50% of the organisms tested, and to compare his results with the conditions in the bay.
Which of the proposals will you approve? Consider the following questions for EACH.
Erin's best friend Frank has been diagnosed with a rare leukemia. Fortunately, a new therapy involving a modified bone marrow transplant has been tested on chimpanzees and has now been approved for experimental use in humans. Frank is a candidate for this therapy; in fact, it his best hope for survival. A bone marrow transplant requires a good tissue match, which is usually available from a family member. Unfortunately, Frank was adopted by his parents as a baby, and no one in his immediate family has a sufficiently good match. Erin, although a member of a group which opposes the use of animals in research, agreed to be tested only to demonstrate her support for Frank and, you guessed it, has the best tissue match. What should she do? Consider the following questions in your deliberations:
While visiting her younger brother's third grade class as part of a student tutoring program, Carolyn noticed that the water bottle in the class's hamster cage was dirty, and that the wood shavings in the bottom of the cage were far from fresh. In fact, they stank, and Carolyn worried that the smelly shavings and dirty water bottle might indicate general disregard for the hamster's welfare. Her brother Dan, a rather lively child, was often in trouble with his teacher, and in fact, had been in trouble just the day before. What should Carolyn do?
There are many articles in newspapers and magazines on this issue, many of which are influenced by the extreme views of animal "rights" groups. Out of nearly forty books in the Princeton libraries, more than half were of the "anti-vivisection" type. Because it is more difficult to find articles that concern the complexity of the issue, it is that type that I am including here.