Ethical Review and Te Animal Care and Use Committee

By Rowan, Andrew N. | The Hastings Center Report, May-June 1990 | Go to article overview

Ethical Review and Te Animal Care and Use Committee


Rowan, Andrew N., The Hastings Center Report


The use of animals in research, teaching, and testing in America began to grow in die late 1800s. In response, animal welfare groups began to protest such use and promoted legislation to restrict or stop what they perceived to be cruel and unnecessary animal experimentation. To fight such legislation, some scientists established committees that were the precursors of today's animal care and use committees. The Animal Care Committee: 1900-1965

For example, in 1907 a committee was established at Harvard University, composed almost entirely of scientists engaged in animal experiments, to deal with faculty complaints concerning the scarcity of experimental animals (a problem that persisted for the next forty years). However, the committee also had authority to stop any experiment believed to be improper or unnecessary. One of its members, Percy Dawson, wrote:

It is probable that although animals are well-treated in the operating room, their quarters are often miserable and the care of animals before they reach the operating table much worse than they should be. These facts suggest to me that there should be instituted some form of control of mammalian vivisection.

Out of this concern arose suggested guidelines for the humane care and use of laboratory animals at Harvard. Similar guidelines for laboratory animal treatment were issued in 1929 by the American Association for Medical Progress, and these were also adopted by the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in his "Rules Regarding Animals." The basic rules were as follows: * Vagrant dogs and cats should be held in the care facility for as long as they would be at the city pound and returned to the owners if claimed. * Animals should receive every consideration for bodily comfort * Surgical procedures could only be conducted if they were sanctioned by the laboratory director. * In a procedure that caused discomfort, the animals should be rendered incapable of feeling pain (any exception to this rule would be made by the director alone). * At the end of the experiment, an animal should be killed painlessly, except when continuance of life was necessary.

After the Second World War, committees of researchers faced a new set of issues. A first concern was the allocation of limited space available for animal experimentation, exacerbated by the influx of money in the 1950s and 1960s for animal research without a corresponding expansion of new facilities. Researchers were also faced with renewed threats by the antivivisection movement, spearheaded by William Randolph Hearst, who ordered the editors of his newspaper empire to support the movement. The medical research establishment mobilized to counter the threat, and directors of laboratory animal programs and existing animal care committees became deeply involved in the controversy.

A third concern arose among the relatively small group of veterinarians responsible for animal care at research institutions over the lack of knowledge regarding animal disease and care. Investigators tended to see veterinarians as interfering in research, rather than as experts whose advice could be helpful, and researchers objected to expenditures on disease control. If an animal became diseased, it was cheap to purchase another. Animal Care Committees became a means of adjudicating the conflicting claims of researchers and veterinarians.

Committees also remained involved in animal procurement. In the 1930s and 1940s there were only five commercial animal breeders in the U.S. and procurement of even moderate quality laboratory animal stocks was difficult. For example, a major technical difficulty that Eli Lilly had to overcome when starting insulin production was the procurement of sufficient numbers of rabbits to standardize each batch of insulin. In response to this problem, the Institute of Laboratory Animal Resources (ILAR) was established in 1952 under the auspices of the National Research Council to oversee laboratory animal supply and quality. …

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