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

17212963704_5c1371f860_o.jpg
Photo via Tony Webster

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

robot-2589090_1920
Image via

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

purdue-university-1848563_1920.jpg
Photo via

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.

 

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.
Continue reading “Fordham University Ethics & Society Master’s Student Working to Eradicate Poverty”

Fordham University’s Dr. Celia Fisher Discusses Transgender Healthcare on WFUV

 

IMG_0114
Image via

Transgender and gender non-conforming communities face a number of various healthcare challenges, both social and medical, including “stigma, discrimination and lack of access to quality healthcare.”

Fordham Conversations Host Robin Shannon talks with Dr. Celia Fisher, Marie Ward Doty University Chair in Ethics, Professor of Psychology, and founding Director of the Fordham University Center for Ethics Education, about these disparities on WFUV.

Please visit WFUV to listen to the full interview, “The Troubles with Transgender Healthcare.”


For LGBT resources, please visit RELAY (Research and Education for LGBT and Allied Youth). RELAY is a project of Fordham University’s Center for Ethics Education which looks to advance the conversation about health for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and especially trans youth. Please also visit the resource page for creating an LGBTQ-inclusive classroom.

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.

Fordham University’s Dr. Celia Fisher Discusses What the Revised Common Rule Means for Informed Consent in Medical Ethics Advisor

2541987300_7cf0e2543a_b
Image via

The Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects, or the Common Rule was revised earlier this year and is set to be effective on January 19th, 2018. The Common Rule was created in 1991 to “better protect human subjects involved in research, while facilitating valuable research and reducing burden, delay, and ambiguity for investigators.” Departments and agencies including, but not limited to, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Science Foundation made these revisions in an effort to “modernize, simplify, and enhance the current system of oversight.”

In this year’s October issue of Medical Ethics Advisor, Dr. Celia Fisher, Director of Fordham University’s Center for Ethics Education and HIV and Drug Abuse Prevention Research Ethics Training Institute, discusses two significant ways the revised Common Rule will change informed consent practices in research, and critical ethical questions to consider about these changes.

According to Dr. Fisher, the first change, stating that investigators are permitted to obtain broad consent from participants for future use of identifiable biospecimens by the original investigator or other investigators, “increases the ability of scientists to combine large data sets to explore important medical questions.” However, she says, “it is unclear whether hacking or the use of the identifiable information…will pose a social or economic risk to participants.” Dr. Fisher continues that it could be additionally problematic if “identifiable data is used to inform policies that promote medical discrimination of already vulnerable groups” without the research participants understanding how their data will be used in the future.

The second revision of the Common Rule that will impact informed consent practices states that investigators are required to give prospective participants a brief summary of “key points” that a reasonable person would want to know to make an informed choice. Dr. Fisher notes that this revision “can be an advantage over the current risk-averse legal language in informed consent materials,” but the revision does not state who will be deciding what the key points are which could be potentially problematic considering participants, investigators and IRB members may have different ideas of what “important information” is.

To read the full article and October’s Issue of Medical Ethics Advisor, please visit their website here. To subscribe to the journal, please visit AHC Media.

Dr. Celia Fisher is the Mary Ward Doty University Chair in Ethics at Fordham University, a professor of Psychology and the director of Fordham University HIV and Drug Abuse Prevention Research Ethics Training Institute. In addition to chairing the 2002 revision of the American Psychological Association’s Ethics Code, Fisher’s Decoding the Ethics Code: A Practical Guide for Psychologists is now in its fourth edition from Sage Publications.  Please visit her webpage for more information about her work, as well as the Fordham University Center for Ethics Education Research page.

What Does Silence Say?

graffiti-2647570_1920 (1)
Photo via

STUDENT VOICES | CHYNN PRIZE SECOND-PLACE WINNER

By Amy Endres

There had never once been a public opinion poll done in El Salvador until Ignacio Martín-Baró, a Jesuit, set out as the only doctoral-level psychologist in the country to measure the opinion of the people in the 1980s.[1]  He knew this would be difficult.  He had studied at the University of Chicago, and he was certain that he would need to practice very differently than how he had been trained.  But he had still been unprepared for just how difficult it would be.

Much of Martín-Baró’s early conclusions were made on the fact that very few people would speak to him.  Only 40% percent of the rich felt safe enough to speak their opinion.  And the poor? Less than 20% of the poor would do the speak to him.[2]  Less than 20% would speak to him about their lives, what they thought of the government, or anything that could get back to someone who could hurt them.

In his case, silence stood for more than an inconvenience to answer a pollster.  It stood for more than a passive distrust of someone collecting data.  In his case, silence told a story of gripping fear, of generations of pain, of mothers mourning children slain by an oppressive and violent government.

Silence says a lot, and it’s important that researchers take that silence into account.

I do not present my essay from El Salvador, though, much less an El Salvador in the throes of civil war like my introduction remembers.  Instead, I present my essay from the United States.  Martín-Baró was attuned to the differences between the countries.  He remarked to an American colleague once that, “In your country, it’s publish or perish. In mine, it’s publish and perish.”[3]  Indeed, Martín-Baró would later be killed, one of eight martyrs, in November of 1989.

I do not propose that he was mistaken.  He was an American-trained researcher after all; he would know the dynamics between the countries.  There is far more protection in the United States, particularly for the researchers today, than there was in Martín-Baró’s time and region.  However, I do want to turn my gaze to those who cannot freely speak their mind in the United States, and posit that researchers can (and, I argue, should) take on their behalf, if they are to act in the heroic way that Martín-Baró did.

What does silence say in the United States?

Continue reading “What Does Silence Say?”