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Considering the Perspectives of Non‑human Animals in Research Ethics

Posted by nte on May 26, 2016 in In Action

Fenton, A., Peña-Guzmán, D., & Crozier, G.K.D. (26 May 2016). Considering the perspectives of non-human animals in research ethics. Panel presentation at the Canadian Bioethics Society 2016 Annual Meeting, Toronto, ON.  


This panel questions various ways in which the attitudes and agencies of non-human animals might be relevant to the ethics of biomedical research. Andrew Fenton explores the idea that some animal research subjects might have decisional authority to consent to certain procedures or dissent from research. Positive reinforcement training is increasingly championed in animal welfare science; where it encourages not just habituation to stressors but a kind understanding, we can begin to sensibly talk about consent. This begins to align us with what we might call the tripartite decisional authority view coming out of recent pediatric bioethics. Under this view, a child’s dissent can terminate their participation in non­beneficial research even if they lack a capacity to assent or consent to research. In this way, consent and dissent can be relevant to animal research ethics. Fenton argues that this enables animal bioethicists to critically discuss obligations of capacity building in laboratory contexts. David Peña-Guzmán's paper turns to anecdotal and empirical research on animal behavior that points to the possibility that many non-human animals have the capacity to express preferences that impact the ethics of animal research and that ought to be given a prominent place in philosophical debates about the ethics of research involving animals. In particular, this presentation explores reports of animals (such as donkeys, horses and dogs) rejecting their conditions of existence and of animals (such as elephants and marine mammals) expressing explicit defiant behaviors under conditions of captivity. While paying close attention to the threat of anthropomorphizing animals, Peña-Guzmán also presents some of the emerging research in the field of "animal suicide." What might these behaviors in the animal kingdom tell us about animals' capacity to express dissent? G.K.D. Crozier and Timothy Krahn extend previous work each has independently conducted on empathy theory into a new paper that examines the implications of Ethics of Care for animal research. They argue that more attention to Care Ethics in animal research ethics could re-adjust whose voices are heard and how they are weighted. Most commonly, animal research ethics deliberations are driven by scientists and by decision-making bodies that operate at some distance from day-to-day care provided to particular research subjects. Accordingly, ethics decision-making is often dominated by abstract, rule-driven considerations of duties to research subjects. Care Ethics starts with the compelling moral significance of attending to and meeting the needs of the particular others with whom we are often inter-dependently related and for whom we take responsibility. Crozier and Krahn argue that a Care Ethics orientation would increase focus on the lab technicians whose particular considerations (including relevant emotions and values such as love, trust, and care) could otherwise be undervalued and marginalized. They also consider how the risks of ‘paternalism’ that are often leveled against Care Ethics in the context of clinical care could manifest in the animal research context (i.e., caregivers making decisions on the presumed best interests of their patients because of putative insider knowledge).