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Alternatives to Laboratory Animals - ATLA

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Bioethical Issues in the Generation and Use of Transgenic Farm Animals


T. Ben Mepham and Robert E. Crilly

The use of transgenic farm animals presents many challenges to the bioethicist, not least how to analyse the ethical issues within a framework that does not implicitly assume adherence to a normative ethical theory. One possible solution is to use a series of prima-facie principles applied to the interest groups affected by transgenesis. One such scheme is based on the four prima-facie principles of respect for non-maleficence, beneficence, autonomy and justice. This paper illustrates these with respect to transgenic farm animals. The aim of this is a systematic analysis, which includes positive and negative aspects, and which can therefore serve as a starting point for debate in which a range of views exist. One possible interpretation of this analysis is based on Three Rs concept. The use of transgenic farm animals appears to contradict this concept, because, although there is the potential for a reduction in animal numbers, at present, transgenesis is a rapidly expanding field, reversing the recent modest reductions in other areas of laboratory animal use. Moreover, transgenesis permits novel uses of farm animals, such as the production of proteins for human medicine where they were previously obtained from human blood (the opposite of replacement). The technique of transgenesis also misses the point as far as refinement is concerned, by refining the animal to suit the production or experimental protocol, instead of vice versa.