Dr. John Gluck, Faculty Affiliate of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, is featured in this Sunday’s New York Times with an opinion piece entitled Second Thoughts of an Animal Researcher.
In it, Gluck draws parallels between the patients’ rights movement of the 1970s, which impacted and in some ways spurred the founding of the KIE, and what he sees as an ongoing struggle to protect and promote the rights of non-human research subjects.
In 1974, a federal commission was formed to develop ethical principles for human research. For nearly four years, the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects in Biomedical and Behavioral Research met monthly to develop ethical principles that we rely on for human research. The principles set down in the resulting Belmont Report reflect the moral dimensions of human research that now govern this work. The report revolutionized the understanding of voluntary and informed consent, fair subject recruitment, and the importance of conducting risk-benefit analyses. No such document exists for animal research.
Acknowledging that our serious work as scientists can be a source of pain and distress to sentient, helpless and non-consenting beings can be difficult. The federal government should establish a national commission to develop the principles to guide decisions about the ethics of animal research. We already accept that ethical limits on experiments involving humans are important enough that we are willing to forgo possible breakthroughs. There is no ethical argument that justifies not doing the same for animals.
Drawing on his own experiences as a primate ressearcher, Gluck paints a vivid picture of the moral harms he believes much medical research can visit upon its non-human subjects. The piece is also a call to action: Gluck notes an impending NIH meeting convening experts in science, policy, ethics, and animal welfare to discuss the current frameworks governing biomedical and behavioral research on primates.