These consider some of the issues relating to the use of animals in biomedical research:
The 3Rs (the reduction, refinement and replacement of animals in research) are principles that were developed over 50 years ago in order to encourage a more ethical approach to the use of laboratory animals. Specifically the aim of the 3Rs is to reduce the number of animals used in research, to refine experimental procedures to cause less suffering and to replace animal experiments with non-animal ‘alternatives’.
The 3Rs may improve the lives of some laboratory animals to some extent, which of course has merit. However there is concern that this ethical framework, developed in the 1950s, may no longer be fit for purpose (Ashall and Millar 2013) and there is also evidence that opportunities to implement the 3Rs may be missed (van Luijk et al 2013; Balcombe et al 2013). One commentator has suggested that the 3Rs function primarily to achieve consensus within a contested domain (Hobson-West 2009).
However a more fundamental problem with the 3Rs is that they are based on an assumption that animal research is scientifically valid and that it is therefore a ‘necessary evil’. As such, they have the effect of deflecting attention away from the central issue, which is doubt over the scientific validity of using animals as models of human disease.