Bioethics Blogs

Opening up the animal house

Many, many years ago, while working part time in the press office of one of the UK’s biggest medical research charities, I was appalled to learn that its policy on dealing with all enquiries about experiments involving animals was not to answer them direct. Callers were instead advised to contact the Association of Medical Research Charities for a general statement about policy on animal work.

Admittedly this was in the days when animal rights activism was in one of its more violent phases. But, even so, defensiveness of this kind was hardly calculated to dispel suspicions that what went on in the labs was so appalling that it couldn’t be discussed.

A pressing need for greater openness was recognised in the Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ 2005 report The ethics of research involving animals. Paragraph 15.52 of the report argued that to improve and sustain public trust, researchers at animal research facilities must find more ways to open themselves to dialogue.

“We therefore recommend that those involved in animal experimentation should take a proactive stance with regard to explaining their research, the reasons for conducting it, the actual implications for the animals involved and the beneficial outcomes they intend for society. These discussions should take the form of a two-way process, in which scientists not only inform the public about their research, but also listen to and understand concerns by members of the public.” 

Easy to say – but not so easy to put into effect when the culture that had grown up was one characterised by reticence bordering on secrecy.

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.