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Different views on ethics: how animal ethics is situated in a committee culture
  1. M Ideland
  1. Dr Malin Ideland, School of Teacher Education, Malmö University, 205 06 Malmö, Sweden; malin.ideland{at}


Research that includes non-human animal experimentation is fundamentally a dilemmatic enterprise. Humans use other animals in research to improve life for their own species. Ethical principles are established to deal with this dilemma. But despite this ethical apparatus, people who in one way or another work with animal experimentation have to interpret and understand the principles from their individual points of view. In interviews with members of Swedish animal ethics committees, different views on what the term ethics really means were articulated. For one member, the difficult ethical dilemma of animal experimentation is the lack of enriched cages for mice. For another, the ethical problem lies in regulations restraining research. A third member talks about animals’ right not to be used for human interests. These different views on “ethics” intersect once a month in the animal ethics committee meetings. There is no consensus on what constitutes the ethical problem that the members should be discussing. Therefore, personal views on what ethics means, and hierarchies among committee members, characterise the meetings. But committee traditions and priorities of interpretation as well are important to the decisions. The author discusses how “ethics” becomes situated and what implications this may have for committees’ decisions.

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  • Competing interests: None.

  • Funding: The article is an outcome of the project Dilemmas with transgenic animals, funded by the Swedish Research Council.

  • Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • i These different ethical views can probably be related on a theoretical level to different philosophical theories concerning animal welfare and animal rights.4 9 10 The aim of the present paper, however, is not to examine whether the committee members are utilitarists or speciesists. The purpose is to look into different private views and analyse their impact—or lack of it—on the committee meetings.

  • ii In using “The Other”, I am not referring to the animals, as, for example, Haraway does in her studies about animal experimentation,21 but to the opponents of animal experimentation. They are much more present in the interviews with scientists than the animals are. The ethical problem is, according to the scientific discourse, the people who have concerns about the use of animals, not the use of animals itself. The ethical evaluation should be a consensus decision made in the name of Science.

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