Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Old-Fashioned Science or Necessary Evil?

The international debate over animal testing got a shot in the arm last week when renowned primatologist Jane Goodall urged the European Union to find alternatives to experimentation on animals. Armed with 150,000 signatures and a lifetime of heralded research, Goodall called for the introduction of a Nobel Prize to reward research that avoids testing on live, sentient beings.

Goodall delivered her message as the EU prepares to update its 22-year old directive on animal testing. Scientists and animal rights campaigners also descended on Brussels to join the debate over how to proceed on the controversial issue.

Campaigning for animal rights is nothing new for Goodall (pictured), who founded the Jane Goodall Institute in 1977 to “advance the power of individuals to take informed and compassionate action to improve the environment for all living things.” Goodall also heads up Advocates for Animals, an animal rights organization in Edinburgh, Scotland.

It didn’t take long following Goodall’s call to action in Brussels for supporters of animal research to chime in. Colin Blakemore, professor of neuroscience at Oxford, argues that while strict controls should be required, animal experimentation is a necessary evil in the world of scientific research. Blakemore is no stranger to controversy; according to a 2003 article, he endured over a decade of attacks and abuse by animal rights campaigners for engaging in experiments that led to the deaths of newborn kittens.

The animal testing debate clearly raises important ethical questions (not to mention the blood pressure of its participants). Which procedures should be considered acceptable, and at what expense to the animals? How can we determine when animal suffering is “minimized?” Should animals be considered part of the polity?

Perhaps the most important question relates to the human mind. Goodall mentions that the “amazing human brain” should work to find new ways of testing that don’t involve animals. The brain’s capacity to reason gives humans an incredible gift—one filled with responsibility. As new methods of conducting scientific research evolve, the debate over that responsibility will define the future of animal experimentation.

1 comment:

Lynn said...

Wasn't the founding of the Positive Psychology movement an outgrowth of the human response to the dreadfully depressing data that was collected in animal experiments which demonstrated the phenomenon of "Learned Helplessness," an insidious form of hopelessness?

If that research experiment was indeed the impetus for a new movement, one can conclude that conducting animal experiments with a severe negative outcome resulted in unintended consequences for the researchers. In my opinion, that is a major reason to reconsider current animal research practices.

Life forms are interdependent; how could we not anticipate that experimental practices which involve cruelty to animals could traumatize humans actively performing the research? How do we justify that part of any experiment?

Are IRBs accountable when they fail to consider the incidental psychological impact on the researchers in any live animal investigation (especially one that intends to inflict pain). If the individual members of review boards had to publicly defend approvals, things would change.