Important concepts and terms
3Rs (Replacement, Refinement and Reduction)
The principles of Replacement, Refinement and Reduction, known as the 3Rs, were first proposed by Russell and Burch in 1959 and now have almost universal acceptance. The basic tenet of the 3Rs is that the humane treatment of experimental animals is actually a prerequisite for valid research outcomes. Refinement has been defined as ‘those methods which avoid, alleviate or minimise the potential pain, distress or other adverse effects suffered by the animals involved’ (Hendrickson and Morton 1999), Reduction involves decreasing the number of animals used whilst maintaining statistical significance, and Replacement is about using non-sentient research methods. For more information on the 3Rs you can go to the UK’s National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs).
AEC (Animal Ethics Committee) Procedures or Requirements
Before any use of animals for scientific purposes can take place in Australia or NZ, approval must be obtained from a properly constituted AEC. The AEC’s main role is to review and approve or reject animal use proposals. Like Institutions and their staff and students, AECs are also bound by the Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes 8th Ed 2013 (Australian scientific code), or Part 6 of the NZ Animal Welfare Act 1999, which govern the use of animals for scientific purposes in Australia, and NZ respectively. For some further details regarding AECs, you can click on this link to a NSW government document.
A conscientious objection to the use of animals for scientific purposes is a refusal to participate in these activities on moral or religious grounds. Humane Research Australia provide some background and information regarding conscientious objections.
Humane Endpoints are the earliest indicators in an animal experiment of (potential) pain and/or distress that, within the context of moral justification, can be used to avoid or limit pain and/or distress by taking actions such as humane killing or terminating or alleviating the pain and distress (Hendriksen and Morton, 1999). Applying humane endpoints should seriously be considered when animal experiments involve severe pain and suffering. The NC3Rs provide information on humane endpoints.
‘What Is A Research Animal?’
A research animal is any animal that is used for research purposes including non-human primates, other mammals, birds, wildlife, reptiles, and invertebrates. Research includes all activities conducted with the aim of acquiring, developing or demonstrating knowledge or techniques in all areas of science (NHMRC 2013).
Euthanasia, or humane killing, is the act of inducing death using a method appropriate to the species that results in a rapid loss of consciousness without recovery and minimum pain and/or distress to the animal (NHMRC 2013). In research projects, the need for euthanasia of an animal on humane grounds may arise from unforeseen circumstances, or as a planned endpoint. For an example of some guidelines on euthanasia of research animals see the Canadian Council on Animal Care in Science document.
Here is a link to a BBC article which canvasses a number of the important issues and arguments regarding animal research.
References cited above
Hendrickson CF, Morton DB. Humane Endpoints in animal experiments for biomedical research. In International Conference on Humane Endpoints in Animal Experiments for Biomedical Research (1998: Zeist, Netherlands). Royal Society of Medicine Press. 1999.
National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes 8th edition. Canberra: NHMRC (2013).
New Zealand Animal Welfare Act 1999 (available at http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1999/0142/latest/DLM49664.html)
Russell WMS, Burch RL. 1959. (as reprinted 1992). The principles of humane experimental technique. Wheathampstead (UK): Universities Federation for Animal Welfare.