Bioethics Blogs

Ethics: Is it the Thought That Counts?

by Derek Fong, VMD, DACLAM, clinical veterinarian at the University of Colorado Denver

John P. Gluck, PhD, professor emeritus of psychology and senior advisor to the president on animal research ethics and welfare at the University of New Mexico and research professor at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University, painted a broad overview of animal research and ethics during his talk yesterday at the 2014 Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) Conference.

Dr. Gluck highlighted numerous historical events where concern about progress may have outstripped ethical reflection. For example, he noted that J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, expressed regret over his role in its development. He described his own work as a graduate student in the Harlow Primate Laboratory during the 1960s and 1970s, where ethics was considered basic husbandry, such as clean cages. He recalled the surprise he and others felt when a colleague raised an ethical question about the use of animals in research.

While emphasizing the importance of the historical perspective, Dr. Gluck was clear that the role of ethics in science has improved, but is still not ideal. He shared an example of a bone marrow transplant patient who had undergone numerous procedures and clinical trials and wanted to leave the hospital, knowing she would likely die from infection, but would spend her remaining time with her family at home. However, the doctor running the clinical trial persuaded her to stay in the hospital, where she ended up dying two weeks later. This example struck home with me—my wife is a clinical psychologist on a bone marrow transplant unit and addresses these issues commonly.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.