Skip to main content Accessibility help

The Ethical Challenges of Animal Research: Honoring Henry Beecher’s Approach to Moral Problems



In 1966, Henry K. Beecher published an article entitled “Ethics and Clinical Research” in the New England Journal of Medicine, which cited examples of ethically problematic human research. His influential paper drew attention to common moral problems such as inadequate attention to informed consent, risks, and efforts to provide ethical justification. Beecher’s paper provoked significant advancements in human research policies and practices. In this paper, we use an approach modeled after Beecher’s 1966 paper to show that moral problems with animal research are similar to the problems Beecher described for human research. We describe cases that illustrate ethical deficiencies in the conduct of animal research, including inattention to the issue of consent or assent, incomplete surveys of the harms caused by specific protocols, inequitable burdens on research subjects in the absence of benefits to them, and insufficient efforts to provide ethical justification. We provide a set of recommendations to begin to address these deficits.



Hide All


1. Beecher, HK. Ethics and clinical research. New England Journal of Medicine 1966;274:1354–60.

2. Beecher, HK. Experimentation in man. JAMA 1959;169(5):461–78.

3. Beecher, HK. Ethics and the explosion of human experimentation. In: The Beecher Papers. Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University; 1965.

4. See note 3, Beecher 1965.

5. Harkness, J, Lederer, S, Wikler, D. Laying ethical foundations for clinical research. Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2001;79(4):365–6.

6. Rothman, D. Strangers at the Bedside: A History of How Law and Bioethics Transformed Medical Decision Making. New York: Basic Books; 1991.

7. See note 1, Beecher 1966, at 1354.

8. Friedenfelds, L. Recruiting allies for reform: Henry Knowles Beecher’s “Ethics and Clinical Research.” In: Lowenstein, E, McPeek, B, eds. Enduring Contributions of Henry K. Beecher to Medicine, Science, and Society. Danvers, MA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2007, at 85.

9. See note 8, Friedenfelds 2007:79–103.

10. See note 8, Friedenfelds 2007.

11. Phinizy, C. The lost pets that stray to the labs. Sports Illustrated 1965 Nov 29;3649; available at (last accessed 7 Jan 2015).

13. Russell, WMS, Burch, RL. The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique. London: Methuen; 1959.

14. See, further, Curzer, HJ, Wallace, M, Perry, G, Muhlburger, P, Perry, D. Environmental research ethics. Environmental Ethics 2013;35(1):95114.

15. Panksepp J, Reiss D, Edelman D, Van Swinderen B, Low P, Koch C. The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness. Presented at the Francis Crick Memorial Conference on Consciousness in Human and Non-Human Animals; 2012 July 7; Churchill College, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK; available at (last accessed 7 Jan 2015).

16. Goodman, JR, Borch, CA, Cherry, E. Mounting opposition to vivisection. Contexts 2012;11:68. The authors compared Gallup Organization poll results from 2001 and 2011. Information from the Gallup Organization is available at (last accessed 19 Jan 2015).

17. Matthews, RA. Medical progress depends on animal models—doesn’t it? Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 2008;101:95–8.

18. Perel, P, Roberts, I, Sena, E, Wheble, P, Briscoe, C, Sandercock, P, et al. Comparison of treatment effects between animal experiments and clinical trials: Systematic review. BMJ 2007;334(7586):197.

19. Ioannidis, JPA. How to make more published research true. PLoS Medicine 2014;11(10):e1001747.

20. Institute of Medicine. Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research: Assessing the Necessity. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2011.

21. Greek, R, Shanks, N. FAQs about the Use of Animals in Science. Lanham, MD: University Press of America; 2009.

22. APHIS. Rats/Mice/and Birds Database: Researchers, Breeders, Transporters, and Exhibitors. A database prepared by the Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, under an interagency agreement with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service. Washington, DC; 2000.

23. Pankevich, DE, Wizemann, TM, Mazza, AM, Altevogt, BM. International Animal Research Regulations: Impact on Neuroscience Research. Workshop summary. Washington, DC: The National Academy Press; 2012.

24. Langford, DJ, Bailey, AL, Chanda, ML, Clarke, SE, Drummond, TE, Echols, S, et al. Coding of facial expressions of pain in the laboratory mouse. Nature Methods 2010;7:447–9.

25. Kääb, S, Nuss, HB, Chiamvimonvat, N, O’Rourke, B, Pak, PH, Kass, DA, et al. Ionic mechanism of action potential prolongation in ventricular myocytes from dogs with pacing-induced heart failure. Circulation Research 1996;78:262–73.

26. Spragg, DD, Leclercq, C, Loghmani, M, Faris, OP, Tunin, RS, DiSilvestre, D, et al. Regional alterations in protein expression in the dyssynchronous failing heart. Circulation 2003;108:929–32.

27. Chakir, K, Daya, SK, Tunin, RS, Helm, RH, Byrne, MJ, Dimaano, VL, et al. Reversal of global apoptosis and regional stress kinase activation by cardiac resynchronization. Circulation 2008;117:1369–77.

28. Conti, G, Hansman, C, Heckman, JJ, Novak, MFX, Ruggiero, A, Suomi, SJ. Primate evidence on the late health effects of early-life adversity. PNAS 2012;109(23):8866–71.

29. See, for example, Harlow, HF, Zimmermann, RR. Affectional responses in the infant monkey. Science 1959;130:421–32.

30. See, for example, Blum, D. Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection. Cambridge, MA: Perseus; 2002.

31. Spock, B. The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care. New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce; 1946.

32. Rutter, M, Andersen-Wood, L, Beckett, C, Bredenkamp, D, Castle, J, Groothues, C, et al. Quasi-autistic patterns following severe early global privation. English and Romanian Adoptees (ERA) Study Team. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 1999;40:537–49.

33. In recent years the area of applied statistics has seen the development of analysis methods that are able to overcome the problem of nonrandom assignment and small sample sizes. For example, James Heckman and his research group have shown how these methods can be used to analyze human studies with many practical problems (e.g., failed randomization, small samples, and large numbers of outcome measures). Specifically, they reanalyzed the data from the classic HighScope Perry Preschool study from the 1960s that followed the effect of an early enrichment intervention with at-risk children from early childhood until the age of 40. In general, these data showed that early intervention benefited females early in development and males later in life. See Heckman, J, Moon, SH, Pinto, R, Savelyev, P, Yavitz, A. Analyzing social experiments as implemented: A reexamination of the evidence from the HighScope Perry Preschool Program. Quantitative Economics 2010;1:146.

34. Zoladz, PR, Conrad, CD, Fleshner, M, Diamond, DM. Acute episodes of predator exposure in conjunction with chronic social instability as an animal model of post-traumatic stress disorder. Stress 2008;11(4):259–81, at 262.

35. See note 34, Zoladz et al. 2008, at 262.

36. See Gregory, NG. Physiology and Behavior of Animal Suffering. Oxford: Blackwell Science; 2004.

37. Also see McMillan, FD, ed. Mental Health and Well-Being in Animals. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Professional; 2005.

38. See note 36, Gregory 2004, and note 37, McMillan 2005, and also Bekoff M, Meaney CA, eds. Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press; 1998.

39. See, for example, Jensen, P, Toates, FM. Who needs “behavioural needs”? Motivational aspects of the needs of animals. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 1993;37:161–81.

40. Newman, JL, Perry, JL, Carroll, ME. Social stimuli enhance phencyclidine (PCP) administration in rhesus monkeys. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior 2007;87(2):280–8.

41. Lutz, CK, Novak, MA. Environmental enrichment for nonhuman primates: Theory and application. ILAR Journal 2005;46(2):178–91.

42. Zwischenberger, JB, Wang, D, Lick, SD, Deyo, DJ, Alpard, SK, Chambers, SD. The paracorporeal artificial lung improves 5-day outcomes from lethal smoke/burn-induced acute respiratory distress syndrome in sheep. Annals of Thoracic Surgery 2002;74:1011–18.

43. See note 20, Institute of Medicine 2011.

44. Taglialatela, JP, Russell, JL, Schaeffer, JA, Hopkins, WD. Communicative signaling activates “Broca’s” homolog in chimpanzees. Current Biology 2008;18:343–8.

45. See Beauchamp, TL, Wobber, V. Autonomy in chimpanzees. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 2014;35(2):117–32.

46. See Korsgaard, C. Interacting with animals: A Kantian account. In: Beauchamp, TL, Frey, RG, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Animal Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press; 2011, at 91118.

We are grateful to Martina Darragh, M.L.S., for her early assistance in identifying reference materials and cases for the manuscript.


Related content

Powered by UNSILO

The Ethical Challenges of Animal Research: Honoring Henry Beecher’s Approach to Moral Problems



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.