Assessing the ethics of scientific research: the use of invertebrates in respirometers has ethical implications.
The use of animal models in biological experiments has a long history. Indeed, many of our most important discoveries were made possible by using animal test subjects. However, using animals at any time during an experiment has ethical implications that need to be evaluated.
Any scientific research involving animals will have to satisfy an ethics board as to the justification for using and/or experimenting on animals. Two key issues that scientists have to consider might include: what suffering or pain will the animal experience and are there alternatives to using animals? There is a process in the UK called the 3R’s – replacement, refinement and reduction of the use of animals in research (Festing, S. and Wilkinson, R.). This process, while acknowledging that animals may be required in certain circumstances, aims to ultimately reduce these to only the most essential experiments.
There is often a difference in concern between invertebrates and vertebrates in terms of what ethical rules apply to them. Most people probably care less about the fate of cockroaches or crickets in a respirometer experiment than about the use of mammals in medical research. However, it is still important to evaluate the ethical use of invertebrates in the same way as vertebrates. In addition to the issues of pain/suffering and replacement, we should consider:
- whether the animals can be released back into their natural habitat
- whether it is ethical to remove them in the first pace
- whether we can minimise any pain or suffering that may take place in the experiment.
The IBO has published a document on the use of animals in experiments and it is very clear that any animal (invertebrate or not) must be treated ethically and must not be subject to any suffering or environment outside its normal range. This link from the Nuffield Foundation outlines an experiment based on this; take note of their ethical issues paragraph after the methods.
Allott, Andrew, and David Mindorff. Biology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. Print.
Festing, Simon, and Robin Wilkinson. The Ethics Of Animal Research. Talking Point On The Use Of Animals In Scientific Research. EMBO Reports 8.6. 2007: 526-530. Web. 27 Jan. 2016.