Bioethics Blogs

Criminology and Research Ethics: Drawing the Line in Animal Research


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By: Michael S. Dauber

“In order to study blood-spatter patterns, a group of researchers in New Zealand strapped pigs to a surgical table and shot them in the head. Some of these animals were alive. Nasty, for sure, but apparently humane. The study has been justified by the government-funded Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR), one of the collaborators, because if translatable to humans, the findings might have use in solving crimes involving gunshot wounds.”[1]

Research ethics has been a hot subject in recent years, especially when it relates to experiments involving harm towards animals. Many object to the practice entirely, citing the fact that they believe killing is always wrong, the notion that our treatment of non-human animal subjects is speciesist[2] (meaning discrimination based on species), and that it is wrong to use animals for experiments that have no way to consent to research participation.

Considering the study[3] referenced above, I will evaluate whether or not killing the pigs for criminology research was permissible.

The primary ethical principle behind research involves the significance of the benefit we would derive from the experiments balanced against the quantity and type of harm we do to the creatures involved, and whether or not we have moral restrictions against doing certain things at all. In a way, the ethical principles relevant to research ethics bear a resemblance to Thomas Aquinas’s Just War Theory. Aquinas argued, among other things, that we could only engage in what was considered a “just war” if (1) one had “just cause,” or an adequate, compelling reason, (2) one had a high probability of success, and (3) one had no other options.

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.