Human and animal research both operate within established standards. In the United States, criticism of the human research environment and recorded abuses of human research subjects served as the impetus for the establishment of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, and the resulting Belmont Report. The Belmont Report established key ethical principles to which human research should adhere: respect for autonomy, obligations to beneficence and justice, and special protections for vulnerable individuals and populations. While current guidelines appropriately aim to protect the individual interests of human participants in research, no similar, comprehensive, and principled effort has addressed the use of (nonhuman) animals in research. Although published policies regarding animal research provide relevant regulatory guidance, the lack of a fundamental effort to explore the ethical issues and principles that should guide decisions about the potential use of animals in research has led to unclear and disparate policies. Here, we explore how the ethical principles outlined in the Belmont Report could be applied consistently to animals. We describe how concepts such as respect for autonomy and obligations to beneficence and justice could be applied to animals, as well as how animals are entitled to special protections as a result of their vulnerability.
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