Vulnerable Subjects? The Case of Nonhuman Animals in Experimentation
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The concept of vulnerability is deployed in bioethics to, amongst other things, identify and remedy harms to participants in research, yet although nonhuman animals in experimentation seem intuitively to be vulnerable, this concept and its attendant protections are rarely applied to research animals. I want to argue, however, that this concept is applicable to nonhuman animals and that a new taxonomy of vulnerability developed in the context of human bioethics can be applied to research animals. This taxonomy does useful explanatory work, helping to pinpoint the limitations of the 3Rs/welfare approach currently adopted in the context of animal experimentation. On this account, the 3Rs/welfare approach fails to deliver for nonhuman animals in experimentation because it effectively addresses only one element of their vulnerability (inherent) and paradoxically through the institution of Animal Ethics Committees intended to protect experimental animals in fact generates new vulnerabilities that exacerbate their already precarious situation.
KeywordsAnimal ethics Vulnerability Animal ethics committees Animal experimentation
This research was supported by a Macquarie University Research Fellowship. A version of this paper was presented at the “Minding Animals Conference” in Utrecht in 2012. Wendy Rogers and Angela K. Martin provided invaluable feedback on an earlier draft of this paper, as did the anonymous reviewers for the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry.
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