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Expanding the Three Rs to Meet New Challenges in Humane Animal Experimentation


Catherine A. Schuppli, David Fraser and Michael McDonald

The Three Rs are the main principles used by Animal Ethics Committees in the governance of animal experimentation, but they appear not to cover some ethical issues that arise today. These include: a) claims that certain species should be exempted on principle from harmful research; b) increased emphasis on enhancing quality of life of research animals; c) research involving genetically modified (GM) animals; and d) animals bred as models of disease. In some cases, the Three Rs can be extended to cover these developments. The burgeoning use of GM animals in science calls for new forms of reduction through improved genetic modification technology, plus continued attention to alternative approaches and cost–benefit analyses that include the large numbers of animals involved indirectly. The adoption of more expanded definitions of refinement that go beyond minimising distress will capture concerns for enhancing the quality of life of animals through improved husbandry and handling. Targeting refinement to the unpredictable effects of gene modification may be difficult; in these cases, careful attention to monitoring and endpoints are the obvious options. Refinement can also include sharing data about the welfare impacts of gene modifications, and modelling earlier stages of disease, in order to reduce the potential suffering caused to disease models. Other issues may require a move beyond the Three Rs. Certain levels of harm, or numbers and use of certain species, may be unacceptable, regardless of potential benefits. This can be addressed by supplementing the utilitarian basis of the Three Rs with principles based on deontological and relational ethics. The Three Rs remain very useful, but they require thoughtful interpretation and expansion in order for Animal Ethics Committees to address the full range of issues in animal-based research.