Whose Rights are Right?: The Debate Over Animal Rights in Research

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STUDENT VOICES | CHYNN PRIZE HONORABLE MENTION

By Brianna Blunck

Animal research has been conventionally practiced under the notion that it has played a vital role in scientific and medical advances, but our use of animals should not continue without periods of reflection on the morality and necessity of their use. George Yancy, PhD and professor of philosophy at Emory University, in his talk Teaching Dangerously, spoke regarding white privilege. He called upon people to enter what he referred to as “danger zones,” where people become un-sutured or open to engage in discourse that, while uncomfortable, would help bring rise to awareness of issues so embedded that one might not realize the extensity of. I, analogous to Yancy, call upon people to enter the “danger zone” of the ethical consideration and its implications for the use of animals in research. By applying care ethics and features from the Belmont Report, it is evident that we need to evaluate our mainstream stance on the permissibility of animals used in research. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is an animal rights organization that is often criticized for its extreme marketing and communication tactics. However, I believe PETA’s messages positively force the public into danger zones regarding the plight of animals for our usage. Undercover videos reveal the gruesome scenes of animals being electrocuted, strangled, skinned alive, confined to tiny cages, etc. “in the food, animal, experimentation, entertainment, clothing, and pet-trade industries” (“Animal Issues”). Unfortunately, videos and advertisements like PETA’s are often disregarded because they reveal violent processes on animals that often raise empathy towards the animals that go into our products and entertainment. Society at large prefers to maintain a considerable distance between the living animal and the finished product.   

During the spring of 2016, I joined the 3% of the U.S. population of vegans. Vegans do not use any product that is derived from an animal or is tested on one. I do not consume meat (including fish) or dairy, wear leather or suede, or wear any product tested on an animal, such as makeups. Prior to becoming a vegan, I was a vegetarian for two years. My decision to become a vegetarian was driven by gaining knowledge of the atrocities in the meat industry through organization’s like PETA. My decision to become a vegan was driven by my desire to reach a level of consistent ethical consideration for all animals in all the facets of my life. I personally believe in condemning the usage of animals at all levels, but I understand that it would be unrealistic for all humans to give up engrained lifestyles. However, I argue against the use of animals in research because I believe that positive change for an increase in animal rights in this field is possible.

We should bring to fruition various premises that call for equal consideration of all species by employing philosophical ideologies. Arguments for animal rights are rooted in the application of virtue ethics under the criteria of sentience. Aristotle’s model of virtue ethics is exclusive to humans because the distinct capacities of knowledge and understanding of virtue that humans have are what give he believes gives moral worth. Claims for animal welfare are derived from the premise that the capacity for animals to feel pain -their sentience- gives them value and necessitates their moral consideration. Tom Regan, an American philosopher who specializes in animal rights, argues that a being’s usefulness can never outweigh its value and gives living things the right “to be treated in ways that do[es] not reduce [them] to the status of things” (Regan 490). Utilitarianism is one of the most common theoretical perspectives used to undermine the argument against the use of animals in research. Utilitarianism states that “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reserves of happiness” (Mill Chapter 2). Those who adhere to speciesism, the philosophy that nonhuman animals are available for humans unrestricted use, apply utilitarianism by promoting drug testing on animals rather than humans. However, the sentience criterion, “implies that the interests of certain nonhuman animals ought to be accorded the same weight as is accorded to the interests of human beings” (Singer, “All Animals are Equal” 477).

Research can take several forms, but specifically field research and controlled experiments utilize animal subjects. Field research, or ethnography, is regularly practiced on animals by researchers observing an animal’s natural habitat. This research is critical to understanding the patterns of animal behavior in the wild. There is no debate over disclosure of the researcher’s role because the only way to conduct ethnography in the wild is covertly. On the other hand, controlled experiments are regularly practiced on animals in drug, food, and cosmetic tests. The same ethical concerns for human involvement in controlled experiments should apply to animals.

Countering the claims of benefits from using animals in research is evidence that animal tests do not always reliably predict results in human beings. A 2013 study published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America found that despite being successful in animal tests, nearly 150 clinical trials to reduce inflammation in critically ill patients failed (Junhee, Seok et al.). An additional study conducted in 2013 and published in the Archives of Toxicology stated that, “the low predictivity of animal experiments in research areas allowing direct comparisons of mouse versus human data puts strong doubt on the usefulness of animal data as key technology to predict human safety” (Leist). Instead, alternative testing methods now exist that can replace the need for animals. There are commercially available products that mimic human skin by creating sheets of human skin cells in vitro, which can produce more relevant results than animal testing (Rogers). Computer models, such as virtual reconstructions, “can predict the toxicity of substances without invasive experiments on animals” (Watts). Thomas Hartung, professor of evidence-based toxicology at Johns Hopkins University, argues for alternatives to animal testing because “we are not 70 kg rats” (Humane Society International). For the reasons explained above, experimenters might fail to follow clinical equipoise, the notion that other available treatments should be used instead if they cause less harm.

People often confront me with the Desert Island Argument: if I was on a deserted island, would I eat meat to survive? In extreme situations, yes. In relation to research, I understand that it is a lot more difficult to never use an animal in fields such as academia and medicine. A solution is to apply care ethics, which places human obligation to animals as much as we decide to incorporate them into our lives. Animal research inflicts more pain and suffering on animals through controlled experiments than what they would endure in the wild, so our duty is to remove that suffering as best as we can. Rolston takes the question of “Can they suffer” and narrows it to “Is the human-inflicted suffering excessive to natural suffering?” (Rolston 61).

The Belmont Report summarizes ethical principles and guidelines that pertain to human subjects used in research. Principles include respect for persons, beneficence, and justice as they apply to informed consent, assessing risks and benefits, and the selection of subjects. Features of the Belmont Report should be considered when using animals in research even though animals are not subject to the concerns of anonymity or confidentiality. “Respect for persons” entails acknowledging humans as autonomous agents. To respect animals would require acknowledging nonhumans as more than just materials. Beneficence is the obligation to make efforts to serve “well-being,” which includes minimizing harm and maximizing benefits, and should be applied when using animals. Justice requires that careful consideration be included in the fairness of choosing individuals and groups for research. If animals are worthy of equal consideration, we must reflect on why we choose one species over another for our research?

To proceed with any research involving human participation, informed consent is required from the participant. He or she must be considered a reasonable volunteer, without the forces of coercion, undue influence, or unjustifiable pressure acting on them. If a human wants to stop the research, he or she can speak up and say so. Animals are not given the choice on whether they want to begin or end participating in a study, but I am sure if their cages were open they would try to escape.

Because I am vegan I come from a rhetorical position. It is easier for me, as an individual, to remain unfaltering on the side that argues against the use of animals. To expect the same resolute following of a vegan lifestyle on a larger population would be impossible on several assertions. There are “Desert Island Argument” exceptions, where animals might need to be used. The role of animals in accordance to humans is an ethical debate that is seeded in different beliefs regarding the worth of animals. To reconcile our usage our positions with animals requires the application of care ethics.

Works Cited

Animal Issues. (n.d.). Retrieved March 25, 2017, from http://www.peta.org/issues/

Junhee Seok et al., “Genomic Responses in Mouse Models Poorly Mimic Human Inflammatory Diseases,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), Feb. 11, 2013

Leist, Marcel and Hartung, Thomas, “Inflammatory Findings on Species Extrapolations: Humans Are Definitely No 70-kg Mice,” Archives of Toxicology, 2013

Regan, Tom. “The Case for Animal Rights.” Disputed Moral Issues: A Reader. New York: Oxford UP, 2007. 489-492. Print.

Rogers, Kara. “Scientific Alternatives to Animal Testing: A Progress Report,” britannica.com, Sep. 17, 2007.

Rolston III, Holmes. “Higher Animals: Duties to Sentient Life.” Environmental Ethics: Duties to and Values in the Natural World. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1988. 45-78. Print.

Singer, Peter. “Becoming a Vegetarian…” Animal Liberation. New York: Avon, 1975. 162-189. Print.

Singer, Peter. “All Animals Are Equal.” Disputed Moral Issues: A Reader. New York: Oxford UP, 2007. 477-485. Print.

Watts, Geoff. “Alternatives to Animal Experimentation,” BMJ, Jan. 27, 2007

Yancy, George, Ph.D. “Teaching Dangerously.” 2017 Lecture Series: Human Rights in the New

Age of American Politics. Fordham University, Bronx. 22 Mar. 2017. Lecture.

Ethics & Society Newsfeed: December 8, 2017

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Technology Ethics

Artificial Intelligence Seeks An Ethical Conscience
“Leading artificial intelligence researchers gathered this week for the prestigious Neural Information Processing Systems conference have a new topic on their agenda. Alongside the usual cutting-edge research, panel discussions, and socializing: concern about AI’s power.

Four ethical priorities for neurotechnologies and AI
“Artificial intelligence and brain–computer interfaces must respect and preserve people’s privacy, identity, agency and equality, say Rafael Yuste, Sara Goering and colleagues.”

Can we teach robot ethics?

When man meets metal: rise of the transhumans

The Ethics of Self-Driving Cars

Bioethics/Medical Ethics

First Baby Born To U.S. Uterus Transplant Patient Raises Ethics Questions
“…talking about the birth of a baby boy to a mother who underwent a uterus transplant last year. It’s a first in the U.S., but in Sweden, eight babies have been born to mothers with uterus transplants. Not everyone is celebrating though.”

2017’s Word Of The Year In Health Law And Bioethics: Uncertainty

In the World of Online Health Quizzes, Who’s Looking Out for Consumers?

His Tattoo Said ‘Do Not Resuscitate.’ Doctors Wanted Another Opinion.

The ‘smart pill’ for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder raises tricky ethical questions

Conjoined Twins Ethical Dilemma: When Parents Need to Sacrifice One Life for the Other

The Ethics of a Child’s Future Fertility

Research Ethics

Purdue University Mounted a Child Nutrition Study. It Went Very, Very Wrong.

Politics

Ethics panel denied details on lawmakers accused of harassment
“Members of Congress voiced frustration Thursday that they remain in the dark about exactly how many of their colleagues have been accused of sexual harassment due to confidentiality rules they’re hoping to reform.”

McConnell: Moore will face Senate ethics probe if he wins election

Ethics Committee launches investigation into Farenthold sexual harassment allegations

Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes cleared of wrongdoing in House ethics probe

Former Ethics director to file second complaint against Kellyanne Conway

Business Ethics

Auditors and ethics: its worse than you think
“A decline in ethics would ultimately have a ripple effect into the economy with the poor the most likely collateral damage”

Changing Culture and Ethics at Uber

What’s The Difference Between Business Etiquette And Business Ethics?

Sustainable finance: Can socially responsible investing mitigate climate change?

Ethics and Pop Culture

Plastic Surgeons Weigh In On The Ethics Of Celebrity-Inspired Procedures
“And while we’re all for a person’s right to choose whether or not plastic surgery is for them, we couldn’t help but wonder about the ethics behind celebrity-inspired procedures. For instance, what do doctors do if they think a client’s desire for change verges on obsession? Do they refuse procedures or go a different route?” 

Sia tweets a long response to article criticising her collaboration with a child dancer

Dangerous Ethics Oversight in Purdue Child Nutritional Study: Fordham University’s Dr. Celia Fisher Weighs In

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This past July. an $8.8 million dollar, camp-like nutrition study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was shut down, resulting in a vast internal investigation at Purdue University, one of the nation’s top research institutions, and raising several issues about research ethics and the role of institutional review boards (IRBs), according to Undark. What went wrong? A video of an adolescent girl showering in a dormitory was posted on social media.

The study, Camp DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)  was designed to evaluate effects of a low sodium diet on 11- to 15-year-old boys and girls with elevated blood pressure. Purdue University were set to host the children in campus housing for seven weeks in the summer.

The University President Mitch Daniels shut down the study two weeks early after the incident was reported to the police and the county prosecutor began looking into additional allegations of crimes among adolescents in the study. Daniels An investigation led by Purdue University’s Vice President for Ethics and Compliance, Alysa Christmas Rollock was launched soon after. Rollock’s investigation, which Purdue University released November 28, shows over “thirty incidents of threats, violence, or sexual abuse among the study participants, many involving calls to campus police. (Two participants were arrested in the first few days of the study.)” Additionally, Rollock reported several “instances of non-compliance on the part of the study’s principal investigator, or PI, Connie Weaver, that may have contributed to unsafe conditions for the minor participants” as well as “various conflicts of interest inherent in the study’s design.”

Dr. Celia Fisher, Professor of Psychology and Ethics at Fordham University and Director of the University’s Center for Ethics Education explained to Undark that “even if the NIH approved the trial design for the Camp DASH study, they would have relied on the university’s IRB to work out the details for the protection of study participants.”

Fisher, who has been working in the field of research ethics involving vulnerable populations for several decades, and who chaired the creation of the current American Psychological Association Ethics Code, said that she would have expected Purdue University’s IRB approval to be contingent on the “gold standard in counselors.” She continued, after discovering the counselors were primarily undergraduate students, “To have a sleepover camp for young teenagers supervised by 18 to 21-year-olds who do not have an adult supervisor there monitoring…I can’t even.”

Because no federal regulations require that members of IRBs be “scientists or know anything about scientific ethics,” Fisher explained, “not all IRBs are created equal…and vary significantly from institution to institution.” IRBs are typically pulled from university faculty and not paid for their work on the board. She added that because there is a “diverse range of expertise” among IRB members that is not well-suited to every study, “They [IRB members] may try very hard to apply ethical standards, but if they have no understanding of the type of research that’s being conducted, then they may not be able to identify all the risks and benefits of the participation.”

The problem, Fisher concluded, with most university IRB members is that the “lack of expertise and the lack of funding that they get” despite being genuinely interested in the protection of human subjects.”

As a result of the investigation, the study’s remaining three summers of the study are cancelled and “all of the collected data will be thrown out.” The biomedical institutional review board (IRB) of the University stated in late November that future study applications submitted by Weaver will not be reviewed until she submits a “comprehensive remediation plan,” including training and oversight by an outside mentor, according to the article.

Weaver, the study’s PI, released a statement last Tuesday that said, “I am deeply saddened by the instances that caused Camp DASH to end early. As the principal investigator, I accept responsibility for events that occurred at Camp DASH. The safety and security of research participants always comes first.”

Please visit Undark to read the full article, “Purdue University Mounted a Child Nutrition Study. It Went Very, Very Wrong.


Celia B. Fisher, Ph.D. is the Fordham University Marie Ward Doty University Chair in Ethics and Director of the Center for Ethics Education and the HIV and Drug Abuse Prevention Research Ethics Training InstituteFisher’s  Decoding the Ethics Code: A Practical Guide for Psychologist, is now in its fourth edition from Sage Publications.

 

Ethics & Society Newsfeed: World AIDS Day 2017

World AIDS Day, December 1, 2017
National Aids Trust (NAT)

“World AIDS Day takes place on the 1st December each year. It’s an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness. Founded in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day.”

The theme of this year’s World AIDS Day, as promoted by NAT,  is “Let’s End It.” This year, NAT is asking everyone to join the fight to end the negative impacts of HIV including isolation, stigma and HIV transmission. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there were 36.7 million people living with HIV at the end of 2016 and 20.9 million people living with HIV were receiving antiretroviral therapy globally. This year, WHO is advocating for access to safe, effective, quality and affordable HIV services, medicines and and diagnostics other health commodities for all those in need with their slogan “Everybody counts.”

Please visit the World AIDS Day website for more information about the history of the day and how to get involved, support and show solidarity with the millions of people living with HIV.

HIV/AIDS in the News

World AIDS Day 2017 Theme, Facts and Events: Everything You Need to Know

World AIDS Day: I have HIV and I’ll work to end this epidemic until I no longer can

The Global HIV/AIDS Epidemic Explained in 3 Charts

The Global Gag Rule Impacts Hard-Fought Progress On HIV/AIDS Relief

On World AIDS Day, “encouraging signs” seen in fight against HIV

NIH Statement on World AIDS Day 2017

World Aids Day 2017: Donald Trump breaks tradition by not mentioning LGBT community in proclamation

It’s World AIDS Day and this is what the White House page still looks like

Continue reading “Ethics & Society Newsfeed: World AIDS Day 2017”

Fordham University Ethics & Society Master’s Student Working to Eradicate Poverty

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On October 17th, 2017, Omar Lebron, a graduate student of Fordham University’s Master of Arts in Ethics and Society program, moderated the event “Answering the Call of October 17 to end poverty: A path toward peaceful and inclusive societies” at the United Nations in New York to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Please read Omar’s thoughts below and watch the video from the event..

STUDENT VOICES

By Omar Lebron

“You always have the poor with you…” (Mark 14:7), prophetic biblical words presented to us by Jesus Christ, exposing humanity’s inability to address those that live outside the reach of protection by state and government conditions. In ATD (All Together in Dignity) Fourth World Movement, extreme poverty is the focus as its base feature in a primary methodology in the developmental policy approach, addressing forms of poverty in collaboration with the United Nations. These forms represent the underlying assumptions associated by the behaviors of those who live in extreme poverty. Persons who live in destitute conditions due in large part of the status of poverty, accumulate behaviors relating to humiliation and exclusion. The NGO ATD Fourth World addresses these behaviors by focusing and introducing the removal of humiliation and exclusion to those of dignity and inclusion.

Understanding that the economic approach is not the only way extreme poverty paralyzes individual and social growth, ATD’s founder Father Joseph Wresinski brought to the public square an awareness on extreme poverty as a violation of a person’s human rights stating that, “Wherever men and women are condemned to live in extreme poverty, human rights are violated.  To come together to ensure that these rights are respected is our solemn duty.”  The depths of information within the statement preludes the tools and perspectives on achieving a new normality in terms of how poverty affects short and long term on individuals and societies.  Of remarkable notice is the dearth of common thought where poverty is highlighted by a monetary achievement.  Thirty years ago on October 17th, 1987, Father Wresinski formed a “Call to Action” on the steps of a park outside of Paris, France where 100,000 people stood in solidarity to those victims living in the harshest of conditions per each society.  Completely void is a financial solution from the crippling, disabling realities of living in extreme poverty.  Five years after that “Call to Action,” the United Nations adopted the “International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.”  On October 17th of each year, there is a commemoration to this commitment described in the words of Father Wresinski at the United Nations known as the “International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.”

Dealing with exclusion and humiliation is ATD Fourth World’s mission and overreaching ambition.  Its goals begin with both these forms associated with persons living in extreme poverty, and acknowledges that through commitment and consistency a new way of living becomes achievable. Within its name as an organization are its organizational leadership components using artifacts, espoused values and underlying assumptions, all necessary to address the sociological cultural habitat transcendent throughout all who live in extreme poverty, regardless of location, state or government.
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Fordham University’s Dr. Celia Fisher Weighs in on Researchers Using Real Guns in Study with Children in Mic

In a recent study, researchers asked children ages 8 – 12 years old to watch 20-minute clips of PG-rated movies that either included or did not include gun violence. The objective of the study was to test whether children exposed to gun violence in movie clips would 1) handle a real gun longer and 2) pull the trigger more times than children not exposed to the same clip edited to not contain gun violence.

The children were then placed into a university laboratory containing toys, games and a real, 0.38 caliber gun which was disabled and modified to have a sensor counting trigger pulls with the door closed. A research assistant sat in an exterior greeting room if the children had questions. The study found that children who watched the clip containing guns were more likely to use the guns themselves than the children who watched the clip that did not contain guns (median trigger pulls were 2.8 compared to 0.01 and median number of seconds holding the gun were 53.1 compared to 11.1, respectively). Roughly 27% of children informed the assistant about the gun or handed it over and a small number aimed the gun at other children.

Although this study was approved by the scientists’ institutional review board, many ethicists believe the potential harm of the study was “not worth it,” including Dr. Celia Fisher, director of Fordham University’s Center for Ethics Education. “In any kinds of ethics evaluation, we have to balance the risk against the benefit. I think the study’s results are not of great scientific importance because we already know what the result is going to be. We have decades of scientific research showing that kids will imitate aggressive behavior they view on the TV screen,” Fisher told Mic.
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Hospice and Palliative Care

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STUDENT VOICES | CHYNN PRIZE THIRD-PLACE WINNER

By Maia Lauria

I first stumbled upon the issue of palliative care during a particularly hard time in my life. I was twenty years old, and for the first time having to confront the realities of watching a loved one die. Up until then, death had been a decently abstract concept to me. My grandmother had passed away when I was a child, but I was too young to be exposed to any part of the process. My uncle had also passed away when I was a teenager, but due to the suddenness of the death and geographical distance, I did not play a role in the event. I had never attended a funeral, let alone seen a corpse. The case of Monica was very different. For the first time, I became intimately involved in the dying process; and through this, became aware of the workings of the hospice and palliative care system that has become incredibly common throughout the country.

Monica was my mother’s best friend, and a pseudo-mother to my sister and I. In 2007, doctors found a malignant tumor in her colon, leading to multiple surgeries and the administration of rounds of chemotherapy. After some years of remission, the cancer returned in 2011, spreading to more of her internal organs. Once again, different treatments were administered, with waves of optimism and pessimism. Ultimately, in the summer of 2015, after attempting a failed experimental treatment, she was told that there was no more the doctors could do, and that she probably only had a couple more weeks to live. Receiving this news, she opted for in-home hospice care, to be able to spend her last days comfortably with family and friends.

Hospice care is becoming an increasingly common end of life plan in the United States. In the past decade, the number of hospice patients has more than doubled. In 2009, 42 percent of all deaths were under the care of a hospice program.1 According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, hospice care “ involves a team-oriented approach to expert medical care, pain management, and emotional and spiritual support” to help allow the patient to succumb to death in best way possible.2 The phrase they use is that they are shifting the focus from curing to caring. Typically, this involves a family member serving as the primary caregiver, with members of the hospice staff making regular visits and providing 24 hour on-call assistance.2 Central to hospice care is the idea of palliative care, which makes sure the patient is able to die in the most pain-free and dignified manner.

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