Adventures in Ethics and Science

As a quick follow-up to yesterday’s post about the suit filed against UCSF, I thought I’d point out some resources relevant to the federal regulations (in the U.S.) governing the use of animals in scientific research.

These are the regulations currently in place — whether you think they do too little to protect the welfare of animals or too much to restrict scientific research, they’re the rules of the game. If the feds are not satisfied that they are being met, the feds are within their rights to withdraw federal funding from the institution that is out of compliance.

  • The text of the Animal Welfare Act. (You may want to grab a legislative assistant as you read through this one.)
  • The text of the Health Research Extension Act of 1985. (Ditto.) These two pieces of legislation set up the responsibilities of the IACUC and requirements on the composition of the IACUC.
  • The Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.
  • The website of the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW), which organizes many useful links to policies, educational resources, etc.
  • From the National Academy of Sciences, the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.
  • A very useful guide, How to Work With Your Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). This walks you through what the not-entirely-congruent laws require of the IACUC in terms of protocol reviews, reviews of facilities, reporting to federal agencies, etc. There’s also a nice discussion of the minimal requirements the feds put on the composition of the IACUC under the AWA and the HREA. (In both cases, at least one member of the IACUC must be a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, with training or experience in laboratory animal science and medicine, and another must be someone who is completely unaffiliated with the institution whose IACUC it is. The PHS policy also requires a member who is a practicing scientist experienced in research involving animals and a member “whose primary concerns are in a nonscientific area”.)

OK, this isn’t actually light reading. But it’s important reading, in that it lets you see the existing standards that institutions conducting animal research using federal funds must meet, and the role of the IACUC in making sure the standards are met. And, these standards go beyond simply making sure animals have clean cages and adequate daily care. The IACUC is charged with making sure, for example, that researchers have considered alternative methods that could reduce animal distress. The researchers can make an argument as to why these alternative are unacceptable within the research project, but they are required to consider them, and it’s part of the charge of the IACUC to make sure this requirement is met.

Comments

  1. #1 Neuro-conservative
    August 1, 2007

    All well and good, but a problem emerges if a radical group such as PCRM tries to hijack these standards, by claiming that “alternative methods” must include computer simulations or just abandoning the research altogether.

    More broadly, there is a general tendency amongst regulatory bureaucracies (such as IACUCs and IRBs) to over-regulate. My experience (direct and vicarious) suggests that this is a much more prevalent problem than under-regulation leading to mistreatment of animal or human research participants.

  2. #2 AK
    August 3, 2007

    I dunno if you still get the alumni magazine as I do, thanks to CTY, but there was a feature in the November 2006 issue of Johns Hopkins about the Center for Alternative Animal Testing and its founder that describes attempts over the 25 years to build a rational but ethical consensus on this topic:

    “To me, the thing that makes Alan Goldberg a genius is the way he found the broad middle ground when everybody on one side was screaming, ‘Don’t tell me how to run my lab!’ and everybody on the other side was screaming, ‘Don’t you dare ever touch an animal!'” he says. “He just marched steadily and unabashedly through all that, inviting everyone to come along with him.”

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