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Is There a Role for Assent or Dissent in Animal Research?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 September 2015

Abstract:

Current regulations and widely accepted principles for animal research focus on minimizing the burdens and harms of research on animals. However, these regulations and principles do not consider a possible role for assent or dissent in animal research. Should investigators solicit the assent or respect the dissent of animals who are used in research, and, if so, under what circumstances? In this article we pursue this question and outline the relevant issues that bear on the answer. We distinguish two general reasons for respecting the preferences of research participants regarding whether they participate in research—welfare-based reasons and agency-based reasons. We argue that there are welfare-based reasons for researchers to consider, and in some cases respect, the dissent of all animals used in research. After providing a brief account of the nature of agency-based reasons, we argue that there is good reason to think that these reasons apply to at least chimpanzees. We argue that there is an additional reason for researchers to respect the dissent—and, when possible, solicit the assent—of any animal to whom agency-based reasons apply.

Type
Special Section: Moving Forward in Animal Research Ethics
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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References

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11. For a contractarian view of animals’ moral status, see, e.g., Carruthers P. Animal mentality: Its character, extent, and moral significance. In: Beauchamp T, Frey RG, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Animal Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2011:373.

12. Kant famously argues that we have only indirect obligations regarding animals. See Kant I. Lectures on Ethics. Heath P, Schneewind J, eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1997.

13. Nozick R. Anarchy, State, and Utopia. New York: Basic; 1974, at 35–42.

14. Here our understanding of dissent is similar to that of Andrew Fenton. See Fenton A. Can a chimp say no? Envisioning chimpanzee dissent in harmful research. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 2014;23:130–9.

15. These thoughts reflect the content of section B1 of the Belmont Report; available at http://www.hhs.gov/ohrp/humansubjects/guidance/belmont.html#xrespect (last accessed 1 Mar 2015).

16. Note that the existence of agency-based reasons does not depend on a commitment to any particular ethical theory. Consequentialists can understand agency-based reasons as special sorts of welfare-based reasons. That is, the freedom to control the course of one’s life is valuable to a person in a way that is important for her welfare. Proponents of a deontological or rights-based account, by contrast, can understand agency-based reasons as appealing to people’s right or claim to be able to decide the course of their lives.

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20. See note 5, National Institutes of Health 2015.

21. See note 5, National Institutes of Health 2015.

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24. For an explanation and defense of a narrative view of personal identity, see Schectman M. The Constitution of Selves. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press; 1996.

25. Thanks to Rahul Nayak for helpful discussion regarding these points.

26. As discussed above, our investigation of the nature of agency-based reasons for respect can be pursued without engaging with the literature on autonomy. However, it is worth noting that Tom Beauchamp and Victoria Wobber defend the claim that chimpanzees are capable of autonomous action. Beauchamp and Wobber specify that they are analyzing autonomy “as a psychological mechanism of decision and action” and state that “no feature in our analysis is built on a moral notion, nor is our goal to reach moral conclusions,” although they indicate that the implications of their claims about autonomy are “morally substantial.” See Beauchamp, T, Wobber, V.Autonomy in chimpanzees. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 2014:117–32, at 118CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed.

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30. Goodall J. The Chimpanzees of Gombe. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; 1986.

31. See note 27, Tomasello, Call 1997, at chap. 3.

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38. See Newton-Fisher, NE. Hierarchy and social status in Budongo chimpanzees. Primates 2004;45(2):81–7CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed.

39. See note 30, Goodall 1986.

40. See note 8, Institute of Medicine 2011.

41. See note 9, Kahn 2012.

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