Animal research has always been a topic of ethical consideration in the scientific community. With experiments on humans being largely barred by numerous ethical and legal rulings put into place, using animals for potentially dangerous and invasive experiments remained the only way of testing various medical and chemical components that had the potential of improving human life. At the same time, the uncertain nature of experimental benefits to humankind coupled with pain and animal suffering has made many oppose animal experimentation. The purpose of this paper is to analyze a specific example of a research study involving animals that had ethical issues and suggest several ways in which these issues could be avoided.
Existing Ethical Framework for Animal Experimentation
Ethical issues occur not only during the experimentation phase, as the effects of research could take place long after, affecting not only the animal but also any of its potential offspring. Covering the entirety of ethical issues within a single framework is impossible due to how many there are. However, the scientific community and the councils of animal care utilize a set of principles and guidelines known as the three Rs that can be applied to animal experimentation. These Rs stand for (Ormandy, Dale, & Griffin, 2011):
- Reduction of animal numbers necessary for experimentation
- Refinement of practices to reduce pain and suffering
- Replacement of animals with non-animal test subjects when possible.
Naturally, this framework does not cover other major issues that arise out of animal research, such as invasiveness of procedures and unanticipated welfare concerns.
Generation of Red Fluorescent Protein Transgenic Dogs
The article published in 2009 in Genesis, the journal of genetics and development, featured transgenic experimentation on beagle dogs, which involved implanting fluorescent pigment through the retrovirus gene delivery method (Hong et al., 2009). The purpose of the study was to test the capabilities of the method as well as creating strains of dogs with fluorescent stem cells, which would enable the scientists to perceive the development of many diseases in ultraviolet light (Hong et al., 2009). Although the study conforms to the three Rs of animal ethical guidelines, it raises questions in regard to the additional ethical criteria not covered by the framework. The invasiveness of the procedure at the fetal stage is much higher than if the fluorescent material had been introduced into the organism physically. The direct benefits of human healthcare are also unclear – the perception of disease development in ultraviolet does not seem to lend any benefits from a short-term perspective. Lastly, the potential for unforeseen side effects to the next generations of dogs is very likely, as long-term effects of invasive genetics have not yet been fully understood.
How Could These Ethical Issues be Avoided?
The main ethical issue with this study is that the goal of the research does not correspond with the risks for the animals involved in the research. Finding and offering a more concrete and pressing reason for genetic experimentation on dogs other than testing out the capacity for introducing new genes via the retrovirus gene delivery method. In order to avoid major ethical contradictions, every research involving genetics and potential animal harm must be done for the purpose of significantly bettering human welfare. At the same time, if it is possible, more researched and predictable alternatives must be taken. Physical injection of the fluorescent colorant into cells and tissues, while an invasive procedure, is well-studied and does not offer as many unforeseen consequences, as it does not alter the creature’s genetic material.
Hong, S. G., Kim, M. K., Jang, G., Oh, H. J., Park, J. E., Kang, J. T., … Lee, B. C. (2009). Generation of red fluorescent protein transgenic dogs. Genesis, 47(5), 314-322.
Ormandy, E. H., Dale, J., & Griffin, G. (2011). Genetic engineering of animals: Ethical issues, including welfare concerns. The Canadian Veterinary Journal, 52(5), 544-550.