Ethics and the use of laboratory animals

This website does not attempt to discuss the ethics of animal research in detail, but it lists specific resources that are relevant to those planning animal experiments.
Harm-benefit assessment is discussed in a separate section.
Implementation of the Three Rs, and assessment of a draft research protocol using the Three S's, help to reduce the potential harms and thereby influence the ethical review of a study.
The PREPARE guidelines contain more resources to aid planning of animal research and testing.

Two pioneers within animal ethics must be mentioned:

The English philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) wrote, in his Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation (1780):

'The day may come when the rest of animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny... It may one day come to be recognized that the number of legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or perhaps the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month old... The question is not, Can they reason? nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”

The English physician and physiologist Marshall Hall (1790-1857), in his book Principles of Investigation in Physiology (1835), outlined five principles to govern animal experimentation, which are just as valid today:

  • An experiment should never be performed if the necessary information could be obtained by observations
  • No experiment should be performed without a clearly defined and obtainable, objective
  • Scientists should be well-informed about the work of their predecessors and peers in order to avoid unnecessary repetition of an experiment
  • Justifiable experiments should be carried out with the least possible infliction of suffering (often through the use of lower, less sentient animals)
  • Every experiment should be performed under circumstances that would provide the clearest possible results, thereby diminishing the need for repetition of experiments.

These principles contain many of those embodied in the principle of the three Rs of Russell and Burch which were developed more than 120 years later.

Norecopa also endorses the principles embodied in a Culture of Care and a Culture of Challenge.

What is sentience? Which animals are sentient, and why does this matter? The RSPCA Science and Policy Group has produced a quiz on the subject.

Information sheets and other resources for ethical review of animal experiments (RSPCA)

In the UK, the local animal welfare bodies also undertake ethical review and are called AWERBs (Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Bodies). Several presentations on ethics and ethical review can be downloaded from the website of a forum held in 2017: Putting Ethics into the AWERB
See also:

Other resources

Books and journals

Selected papers

Further reading

The majority of the references below have been kindly provided by members of the Comparative Medicine discussion list (CompMed) on the Internet, to whom we am extremely grateful. Please note that many of them are now old and this list will probably be revised heavily in the near future. Errors or suggestions for additions can be sent to

  • Morton, D.B. & Griffiths, P.H.M. (1985): Guidelines on the recognition of pain, distress and discomfort in experimental animals and a hypothesis for assessment. Veterinary Record 116, 431-436.
  • Pluhar E. (1985): On the genetic manipulation of animals. Between the Species 1:13.
  • Regan T. (1986): The Case for Human Rights
  • Rollin B.E. (1986): The Frankenstein thing: the moral impact of genetic engineering of agricultural animals on society and future science. In: Genetic Engineering of Animals.  Basic Life Sciences 37:285.
  • Pluhar E. (1986): The moral justifiability of genetic manipulation. Betw. Spec. 2:136.
  • Bateson, P. (1986). When to experiment on animals. New Scientist 109(1496): 30-32.
  • Fox M. (1986): On the genetic manipulation of animals: a response to pluhar. Betw. Spec. 2:51.
  • Jones D.D. (1986): Legal and regulatory aspects of genetically engineered animals. Basic Life Sciences 37:273.
  • Fox M. (1988): Genetic engineering biotechnology: animal welfare and environmental concerns. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 20:83.
  • Murphy C. (1988): The new genetics and the welfare of animals. New Scientist 10:20.
  • Raines L.J. (1988): The mouse that roared. Issues in Sci. and Technol. 64.
  • Mager D. (1989): Uncertainties about painless animals. Bioethics 3:226.
  • Dresser R. (1989). Developing standards in animal research review. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 194(9): 1184-1191.
  • Berkowitz D.B. (1990): The food safety of transgenic animals. Bio/Technol. 8:819
  • Dresser R. (1990). Review Standards for Animal Research: A Closer Look. ILAR News 32(4): 2-7.
  • Hallerman E.M. & Kapuscinski A.R. (1990): Transgenic fish and public policy: regulatory concerns. Fisheries 15:12.
  • Hallerman E.M. & Kapuscinski A.R. (1990): Transgenic fish and public policy: anticipating environmental impacts of transgenic fish. Fisheries 15:2.
  • Hooper M.L. (1990): Genetically engineered animals: implication for human diseases.  Biofuture January 1990:30.
  • Raines L.J. (1990): Public policy aspects of patenting transgenic animals. Theriogenology 33:129.
  • Smith J.A. & Boyd K.M. (1991): Lives in the Balance: The Ethics of Using Animals in Biomedical Research. Oxford University Press, Oxford. The Boyd Group has written a discussion paper entitled Genetic engineering: animal welfare and ethics.
  • Straughan R. (1991): Social and ethical issues surrounding biotechnological advance. Outlook on Agric. 20:89
  • Krypsin-Sorensen I. (1991): The application of transgenic techniques to common domestic animals and fish. Scand. J. Lab. Anim. Sci. 18(3): 81-9.
  • Fox M. (1992): Superpigs and Wondercorn: The Brave New World of Biotechnology and Where It All May Lead.   New York, Lyons & Burford.  ISBN 1-55821-182-9.
  • Porter D.G. (1992): Ethical scores for animal experiments. Nature 356:101-102.
  • Meyer O. (1993): Implications of animal welfare on toxicity testing. Hum. Exp. Toxicol. 12(6):516-21.
  • Boisvert D. P. & Porter D. G. (1993).  Ethical Scoring Systems.  In: Animal Welfare Conference Proceedings. (ed. N. E. Johnston), pp. 23-27. Clayton, Australia: Monash University.
  • Naquet R. (1993): Ethical and moral considerations in the design of experiments. Neuroscience. 57(1): 183-9.
  • Theune E.P. & de Cock Buning Tj. (1993): Assessing Interests. An Operational Approach. In: Science and the Human-Animal Relationship (ed. E. K. Hicks), pp. 143-159. SISWO: Amsterdam.
  • Thompson P.B. (1993): Genetically modified animals: ethical issues. J. Animal Sci. (71) Suppl 3: 51-6.
  • Theune E.P. & de Cock Buning Tj. (1994): A Comparison of Three Models for Ethical Evaluation of Proposed Animal Experiments.  Animal Welfare 3:107-128.
  • Giraud R. (1994): Ethical considerations in the use of transgenic animals.  Between the Species, Winter/Spring 1994:55.
  • Lehndahl U. & Törnell J. (1994): Transgena djur - djur med skradddarsydda gener.   Den svenska Laekartidningen, 91(17), 1711-1717.
  • Pinkert (1994): Transgenic Animal Technology: A Laboratory Handbook. Academic Press, San Diego.
  • Andaeng M. & Aehrlund-Richter L. (1995): Embryokloning - accelererad utveckling i djurmodeller aktualiserar den humanetiska debatten.   Den svenska Laekartidningen, 92(11): 1078-1086.
  • Mepham T.B. (1995): An ethical matrix for animal production. New Farmer & Grower Spring 1995, 14-15.
  • Morton, D.B. (1995): Recognition and assessment of adverse effects in animals. In Animals in Science Conference Proceedings: Perspective on their Use, Care and Welfare (ed. N. E. Johnston), pp 131-148. Clayton, Australia: Monash University.
  • Moore C.J. & Mepham T.B. (1995): Transgenesis and animal welfare. ATLA 23(3): 380-397.
  • Poole T.B. (1995): Welfare considerations with regard to transgenic animals. Animal Welfare 4:81-85.
  • Boisvert D. P. & Porter D. G. (1995). Ethical Scoring Systems.  In: The World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences: Education, Research, Testing (ed. A. M. Goldberg & L. F. M. van Zutphen), pp 637-641.  Alternative Methods in Toxicology and the Life Sciences Series  - Vol. 11, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. Publishers, New York.
  • Hubrecht R. (1995): Genetically modified animals, welfare and UK legislation.  Animal Welfare 4:163-170.
  • Sandøe P., Forsman B. & Kornerup Hansen A. (1996): Transgenic animals: the need for ethical dialogue.   Scand.J.Lab.Anim.Sci. 23: Suppl.1, in press.
  • Mepham T.B., Combes R.D., Balls M., Barbieri O., Blokhuis H.J., Costa P., Crilly R.E., de Cock Buning T., Delpire V.C., O'Hare M.J., Houdebine L-M., van Kreijl C.F., van der Meer M., Reinhardt C.A., Wolf E. & van Zeller A-M. (1998): The use of transgenic animals in the European Union.   Report and Recommendations of the 28th ECVAM Workshop. ATLA 26: 21-43.
  • The Journal ATLA (Alternatives to Laboratory Animals) has published the results of an ECVAM Workshop on The Use of Transgenic Animals in the European Union (Ben Mepham et al., 1998).
  • Dol et al. (eds.) (1999): Recognising the intrinsic value of animals: beyond animal welfare
  • ANZCCART (1999).   In the September 1999 newsletter from ANZCCART (Australian and New Zealand Council for the Care of Animals in Research and Teaching), there is an article entitled Ethical and Welfare Implications associated with Transgenic Animals.   The newsletter may be downloaded here as a pdf file.
  • The Critical Role of Non-Human Primates in Research (2016) on
This page was updated on 15 February 2024

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