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:
Delivering effective ethical review: the AWERB as a 'forum for discussion'
Ethical oversight..? Time to reflect on the meaning of ethical review on research involving animals (Hawkins & Jennings, RSPCA, 2019)
Ethics assessment in different countries: United Kingdom (part of the EU SARTORI project, 2015)

Other resources

Is animal research ethical? (Understanding Animal Research, February 2022)

Animal Ethics Dilemma: An interactive learning tool for university and professional training.

Teachers resources for sessions about animal research

Research ethics courses as a vaccination against a toxic research environment or culture (Yeo-Teh & Tang, 2020) 

The Research Council of Norway and the National Committee for Research Ethics in Science and Technology (NENT) collaborate with guidelines for ethical research. The Committee has produced general guidelines for research ethics in science and technology, which contain sections on the protection of animals used in research. There is more information on the Norwegian-language version of this page.

The Research Council is one of many funding bodies which has endorsed Joint European funding principles for research involving animals.

The Animals in Science Department of the RSPCA has a section on Ethical Review and a collection of resources on animal sentience.

A good life for laboratory rodents? (Makowska & Weary, 2020)

The ethics of research involving animals, a Report issued by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

Ethics training for laboratory animal users (Smith & Jennings, 1998) 

Ethical considerations in fish research

Animal Welfare in Different Human Cultures, Traditions and Religious Faiths (Szücs et al., 2012)

The European politics of animal experimentation: From Victorian Britain to 'Stop Vivisection' (Germain et al., 2017)

A collection of books on animal experimentation

AWSELVA (The Animal Welfare, Science, Ethics and Law Association)

The benefits of animal research to the animals themselves (an article by the EARA)

Forty reasons why we need animals in research (statement from the organisation Understanding Animal Research).

CARE - Caring for Animals in Research and Education

Sense about Science

The ethics of animal research (Festing & Wilkinson, 2007, Research Defence Society

Why the mouse?

Why testing on prisoners is a bad idea

Of Fur, Feather and Fin: Human's Use and Concern for Non-Human Species 

Animal Ethics for Veterinarians

Animal Research Nexus (AnNex): delivering new thinking, research and engagement to increase understanding of the social relations round animal research

Forsøk med dyr - er det etisk forsvarlig? by Svein Aage Christoffersen, published in Tidsskriftet for Den norske lægeforeningen in March 1997: 117(8), 1068-9.

Peter Sandøe, Professor in Bioethics at the University of Copenhagen has written several articles on animal ethics. He is one of the authors of "Animal Ethics Dilemma", an interactive learning tool involving case studies for University and professional training, available free on the Internet, to help the user to obtain a better understanding of his/her own and others' ethical views.

Predictability and Utility of Animal Models

Etiske vurderinger ved xenotransplantasjon, published in Tidsskriftet for Den norske lægeforeningen, by Arnt E. Fiane et al.

The journal Forskningsetikk

The Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics has arranged a summer school on The Ethics of Animal Experimentation

The Journal of Animal Ethics

The Society for Veterinary Medical Ethics

The journal Food Ethics had a special issue on Veterinary Medical Ethics in March 2018, parts of which are relevant to laboratory animal science.

The Palgrave Macmillan Animal Ethics Series, including "The Costs and Benefits of Animal Experiments" by Andrew Knight.

"Forskningsbehov innen dyrevelferd i Norge" (Research needs within animal welfare in Norway). This Norwegian report from 2005 provided an introduction to definitions of animal welfare and an overview of current knowledge. It was financed by the Norwegian Research Council and pointed out research needs in this field.

Resources on research integrity

The European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity

Ethics for researchers (EU guidance for the 7th Framework Programme, 2013)

Further references

The majority of these references 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

These references are divided arbitrarily into:

1. References
2. Other sources, including journals, policy statements and videofilms

1. References

Recognising the intrinsic value of animals: beyond animal welfare

Andaeng M. & Aehrlund-Richter L. (1995): Embryokloning - accelererad utveckling i djurmodeller aktualiserar den humanetiska debatten.   Den svenska Laekartidningen, 92(11): 1078-1086.

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.

Bateson, P. (1986). When to experiment on animals. New Scientist 109(1496): 30-32.

Berkowitz D.B. (1990): The food safety of transgenic animals. Bio/Technol. 8:819

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.

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.

Dresser R. (1989). Developing standards in animal research review. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 194(9): 1184-1191.

Dresser R. (1990). Review Standards for Animal Research: A Closer Look. ILAR News 32(4): 2-7.

Fox M. (1986): On the genetic manipulation of animals: a response to pluhar. Betw. Spec. 2:51.

Fox M. (1988): Genetic engineering biotechnology: animal welfare and environmental concerns. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 20:83.

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.

Giraud R. (1994): Ethical considerations in the use of transgenic animals.  Between the Species, Winter/Spring 1994:55.

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.

Hubrecht R. (1995): Genetically modified animals, welfare and UK legislation.  Animal Welfare 4:163-170.

Jones D.D. (1986): Legal and regulatory aspects of genetically engineered animals. Basic Life Sciences 37:273.

Krypsin-Sorensen I. (1991): The application of transgenic techniques to common domestic animals and fish. Scand. J. Lab. Anim. Sci. 18(3): 81-9.

Lehndahl U. & Törnell J. (1994): Transgena djur - djur med skradddarsydda gener.   Den svenska Laekartidningen, 91(17), 1711-1717.

Mager D. (1989): Uncertainties about painless animals. Bioethics 3:226.

Mepham T.B. (1995): An ethical matrix for animal production. New Farmer & Grower Spring 1995, 14-15.

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.

Meyer O. (1993): Implications of animal welfare on toxicity testing. Hum. Exp. Toxicol. 12(6):516-21.

Moore C.J. & Mepham T.B. (1995): Transgenesis and animal welfare. ATLA 23(3): 380-397.

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.

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.

Murphy C. (1988): The new genetics and the welfare of animals. New Scientist 10:20.

Naquet R. (1993): Ethical and moral considerations in the design of experiments. Neuroscience. 57(1): 183-9.

Pinkert (1994): Transgenic Animal Technology: A Laboratory Handbook. Academic Press, San Diego.

Pluhar E. (1985): On the genetic manipulation of animals. Between the Species 1:13.

Pluhar E. (1986): The moral justifiability of genetic manipulation. Betw. Spec. 2:136.

Poole T.B. (1995): Welfare considerations with regard to transgenic animals. Animal Welfare 4:81-85.

Porter D.G. (1992): Ethical scores for animal experiments. Nature 356:101-102.

Raines L.J. (1988): The mouse that roared. Issues in Sci. and Technol. 64:

Raines L.J. (1990): Public policy aspects of patenting transgenic animals. Theriogenology 33:129.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Thompson P.B. (1993): Genetically modified animals: ethical issues. J. Animal Sci. (71) Suppl 3: 51-6.

2. Other sources

Ethics of animal research in human disease remediation, its institutional teaching; and alternatives to animal experimentation

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 (ATLA 1998, 26:21-43).   The text is available here on the AltWeb site.

The Micro-injection Workshop, a comprehensive collection of information on many aspects of transgenic animals.

The Swedish Medical Research Council has produced a videofilm on the use of transgenic animals, including ethical aspects.   The film is available both in English and Swedish versions.  The film may be ordered from Swedish Science Press,  P.O. Box 118, S-751 04 Uppsala, Sweden. tel: +46 18 36 55 66, fax: +46 18 36 52 77.   Price: SEK 500 (English version) or SEK 300 (Swedish version) + postage.

The archives of the Applied Ethology e-mail mailing list include a large discussion of transgenic animals in 1995.

Information about transgenics is available from the National Institutes of Health and the United States Department of Agriculture.

The Canadian Council for Animal Care (CCAC) has prepared Guidelines On Transgenic Animals.

The journal Transgenic Research.

The Critical Role of Non-Human Primates in Research  

This page was updated on 27 April 2022

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