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L Grayson. The British Library, 2000, £35, pp 300. ISBN 071230858X
The use of animals for the purpose of scientific research is an emotive subject. The moral arguments often exhibit polarised positions: the scientific demand for absolute freedom of research, and the abolitionist demand for a total ban on all animal experiments. At one extreme are those who argue that research on animals is essential in the battle against disease, and on the other extreme it is argued that the cost in terms of animal suffering is too high and that if experiments were prohibited medical researchers would find some other means of ensuring scientific progress. The rhetoric employed is also suggestive of a polarity: experimenters are accused of cruelty and indifference, whereas campaigners on behalf of animals are accused of irresponsibility and insensitivity towards the wellbeing of humans. Yet to ask which side is right is to betray a misunderstanding of the complex nature of the debate, in which a plethora of interrelated ethical and scientific issues find expression in a wide spectrum of viewpoints.
One of the strengths of Animals in Research is that Grayson recognises the complexity of this issue, and in the opening chapter, which surveys the moral and philosophical debate over animal research, there is an appeal for constructive listening. Avoiding either extreme, Grayson opens with a comprehensive survey of the many different standpoints that have found expression in the animal research debate. The second and third chapters focus on public perspectives on animal research and the development of legislation and regulations since the Victorian period. The fourth chapter investigates issues that have drawn the attention of scientists and animal rights and welfare groups since the 1886 act which dealt with research on animals.
As in most ethical debates neither side offers support for needless suffering, and the way forward lies in the consideration of ways to minimise any necessary suffering both in general and individually. Chapters five and six therefore address the three Rs (replacement, reduction, and refinement) which have emerged as objectives on which otherwise disparate parties can agree. Replacement and reduction seek to minimise the number of animals used in research and refinement is bound up with the minimisation of pain, distress and lasting harm inflicted upon animals. This discussion is the most significant part of the book, as it indicates the possibility of dialogue and consensus among medical scientists, animal welfare campaigners, government bodies, teachers, and regulatory agencies. Grayson recognises that medical scientists are ethical and shows how the research community have demonstrated that scientists are taking legitimate concerns about animal welfare seriously. She refers to the British Association for the Advancement of Science which maintains that continued research involving animals is essential for the conquest of many unsolved medical problems, but recognises that those involved must respect animal life, using animals only when essential, and should adopt alternative methods when available. Grayson also refers to a survey of British doctors in 1993, which indicated 94% agreement that animal research was important to medical advance, while 92% favoured more investment in the development of non-animal alternatives (36).
The final two chapters look to the future. Grayson argues that the debate on animal research is likely to intensify, with concern over transgenic animals and the use of animals as organ transplant sources. For those who are interested in the ongoing debate over animal research the final chapter provides comprehensive details of relevant organisations and web sites.
This is an excellent introduction to the animal experiment debate. Each chapter is carefully balanced and is free from the emotive rhetoric which so often clouds the arguments. Moreover, there are summaries, lists of publications, and information about interest groups which are relevant to each standpoint covered in the book. Animals in Research is an essential source for teachers and researchers in the veterinary sciences, and it will be of considerable value to the ethicist who is concerned with the broader moral issues related to medical research and human wellbeing.