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Ethics and welfare of animals used in education: an overview

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Ethical, regulatory and scientific issues arise from the use of animals in education, from secondary level schooling through to veterinary and medical training. A utilitarian cost–benefit analysis can be used to assess whether animals should be used in scientific education. The 'benefit' aspect of this analysis can be examined through comparative studies of learning outcomes from animal-based versus alternative training methods, while the 'cost', in terms of harms to the animals used, can be subject to technical assessment using Russell and Burch's (1959) 3Rs rationale. Science has only just begun to delineate the effects of educational exercises on the welfare of subject animals. It has also begun to develop technologies and modes of instruction that reduce, refine or replace animal use in education, and instances of their successful implementation in the UK and in the USA will be highlighted. The implementation of these alternatives to animal use is inconsistent, and barriers to the adoption of alternatives include specific curriculum and legislative requirements, traditional educational methodology, and resource and training limitations, particularly when the alternative methods involve new technologies. A further problem arises from the lack of existing research data comparing the educational value of alternative, with traditional animal-based, instruction methods. Greater consistency in the use of methods that reduce, refine or replace harmful animal use could be achieved through improved knowledge of the extent and type of alternative resources currently used in particular fields of scientific education; international comparisons of educational practice; close scrutiny and harmonisation of evaluation methods; and consistency in the ethical review of educational animal use. Information and training, both in the 3Rs and in the use of specific alternative methods, could be disseminated throughout the life sciences. Evaluative research of the educational efficacy of traditional animal-based methods versus refinements or replacements would provide high quality data on which to base decisions regarding teaching methods. Since educational exercises involving animals also impart ethical training, whether inadvertently or directly, instruction in applied ethics should be considered a key element of any education program involving animals.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2004-02-01

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