Ethical Review - Ethical Review: introduction

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Scientific research needs to take place within a framework that allows for ongoing critical evaluation of the ethical and welfare issues relating to the use of animals.

This includes consideration of the validity and justification for using animals - the potential harms for animals, likely benefits of the research and how these balance; experimental design; implementation of the 3Rs; animal husbandry and care and other related issues such as staff training.

Ethical review requires decisions that impact on whether, and how, animals are used. These involve value judgements that are likely to change with time and with the perspectives, priorities, interests and expertise of those making them - and with the context in which they are made. The judgements are influenced by prevailing societal attitudes, which in turn are affected by concern generated by particular research directions, rapid developments in technology (e.g. genetic engineering and stem cell technology) and increasing understanding of animals and their ability to suffer.

Ethical review is recognised as a dynamic process rather than a single 'event' that takes place before an individual research project is authorised. Instead, ethical review should encompass the lifetime of a project from the concept stage of project design, through to completion of the work and application of the results. During this process, every opportunity should be taken to ensure the ethical and welfare aspects are carefully considered.

A number of stakeholders can have an input, including:

  • research funders
    (in academia or industry)
  • regulatory bodies
    (and others whose requirements include tests on animals)
  • the local ethical review process
    (or in other countries an ethics committee or animal care and use committee)
  • the licensing authority
    (in the UK, the Home Office)
  • a national ethics or similar committee
    (such as the UK Animal Procedures Committee)
  • journals publishing research

    Each of these can add value since they may examine a different aspect of animal use or bring a different set of perspectives to the issues under discussion. Including animal welfare and wider societal perspectives within the review process is very important.

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    © RSPCA 2013. All rights reserved.
      Ethical Review: introduction
    An introduction to the role of ethics committees in considering ethics, animal welfare and implementation of the 3Rs...
      Ethical review in the UK and around the world
    Background information relating to the establishment of systems of ethical review...
      Assessing harms and benefits
    Considering the harms and benefits of proposed animal use is integral to assessing the justification and necessity for animal use and implementing the 3Rs...
      Severity of suffering
    Accurately assessing, and acting to reduce, the nature and level of animal suffering is very important...
      Retrospective review
    On completion of a project it is essential for thoughtful reflection to take place...
      Housing and care
    Good practice for animal housing and care...
    The RSPCA sees the involvement of "lay" perspectives as essential to a successful ethical review process...
      Events and newsletters
    Find out about forthcoming events for members of ethical review committees and read newsletters from previous meetings...
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