Skip to main content


Log in

Patients’ attitudes towards animal testing: “To conduct research on animals is, I suppose, a necessary evil”

  • Original Article
  • Published:
BioSocieties Aims and scope Submit manuscript


A strong argument for the practice of animal testing in medical research is the potential benefit to patients in getting improved pain relief, minimising morbidity and mortality. However, patients’ opinions on the ethics of animal testing are seldom sought, despite their role as principal stakeholders. This study compared the attitudes of patients and researchers on animal testing. Focus-group interviews were held with patients suffering from chronic inflammatory diseases, resulting in a questionnaire that was distributed January–May 2011. The questionnaire was posted to patient members of the Swedish Rheumatism Association (n=1195) and to all scientific experts serving on Ethical Review Boards in Sweden (n=364), with response rates of 65 per cent and 60 per cent, respectively. Results show that patients hold a positive stance towards animal testing, but with many caveats, and the level of support is comparable to those held by the general public found in national surveys. A clear majority of researchers were positive towards animal testing, and large statistical differences between patients and researchers were found regarding their attitudes towards testing animals commonly held as pets (P<0.001). Women were more critical than men regarding which species are used for what purposes (P<0.001). Researchers need to be aware that their more positive attitude towards animal testing is not shared to an equal degree with patients, who are the intended end-users and beneficiaries of medical research. The moral basis for using animals in research needs to be further discussed by all stakeholders.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Other patient groups can of course have the same or similar experiences as this chosen study group.

  2. There are lay representatives serving on the ERBs, but their views are not included in this study.

  3. During that 10-year period the constitution of EU countries has changed, going from 15 to 27 countries, and therefore making comparisons over time difficult.

  4. In medical ethics, a cost benefit calculation is only justified for non-consenting human subjects if the benefits of research are to that same group that take the risks of research. Hence, potentially distressing medical research on patients suffering from dementia can only be considered ethical if the research aims to advance scientific knowledge of this disease. (World Medical Association, 2008, Article 8) This is not the case for the vast majority of research using animal testing.

  5. Alternatives to animal testing can be studies using computer simulations or in vitro cell culture techniques.

  6. In 2010, there were approximately 50 000 paying members in the SRA register.

  7. Of all, 18 per cent of Swedish respondents disagreed with the statement: Scientists should be allowed to conduct research on animals such as mice if it produces new information about human health problems.

  8. Of all, 15 per cent of respondents replied negatively to the following statement: In Sweden today, there is animal testing in medical research. The purpose is for researchers to learn more about how diseases occur and how they can be cured. In your opinion, do you think it acceptable to do experiments on animals for such purposes or do you not think so?

  9. Of all, 45 per cent of Swedish respondents agreed with the statement: Scientists should be allowed to experiment on animals such as dogs and monkeys if this can help sort out human health problems (European Commission, 2010). Of all, 40 per cent of Swedish respondents agreed with the statement: Scientists should be allowed to experiment on animals such as dogs and monkeys if this can help resolve human health problems(European Commission, 2005).


  • Beauchamp, T.L. and Childress, J.F. (1983) Principles of Biomedical Ethics, 2nd edn. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bevaart, L., Vervoordeldonk, M.J. and Tak, P.P. (2010) Evaluation of therapeutic targets in animal models of arthritis: How does it relate to rheumatoid arthritis? Arthritis & Rheumatism 62 (8): 2192–2205.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Conlee, M. and Rowan, A.N. (2012) The case for phasing out experiments on primates. Hastings Center Report 42 (S1): S31–S34.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Crettaz von Roten, F. (2008) Mapping perceptions of animal experimentation: Trend and explanatory factors. Social Science Quarterly 89 (2): 537–549.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Crettaz von Roten, F. (2009) European attitudes towards animal research. Science Technology & Society 14 (2): 349–364.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • DeGrazia, D. (1996) Taking Animals Seriously: Mental Life and Moral Status. Cambridge, US: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • DeGrazia, D. (1999) The ethics of animal research: What are the prospects for agreement? Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 8 (1): 23–34.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Directive 2010/63/EU (2010) Directive 2010/63/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 September 2010 on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes. Official Journal of the European Union Oct L 276/33,, accessed 19 April 2012.

  • Dixon-Woods, M., Wilson, D., Jackson, C., Cavers, D. and Pritchard-Jones, K. (2008) Human tissue and ‘the public’: The case of childhood cancer tumour banking. BioSocieties 3 (01): 57–80.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • ERB. [Etikprövningsnämnden] (2012), accessed 12 October 2012.

  • European Commission (2001) Europeans, Science and Technology, Eurobarometer 55.2,

  • European Commission (2005) Europeans, Science and Technology, Special Eurobarometer 224/ Wave 63.1,

  • European Commission (2010) Science and Technology, Special Eurobarometer 340/ Wave 73.1,

  • Great Britain, Home Office (2012) The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 Amendment Regulations 2012, No 3039. London: The Stationary Office,, accessed 7 January 2014.

  • Hagelin, J., Carlsson, H-E. and Hau, J. (2003) An overview of surveys on how people view animal experimentation: Some factors that may influence the outcome. Public Understanding of Science 12 (1): 67–81.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • HMSO (1911) The Protection of Animals Act (as Amended). London: HMSO.

  • Hobson-West, P. (2010) The role of ‘public opinion’ in the UK animal research debate. Journal of Medical Ethics 36 (1): 46–49.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Holmdahl, R., Andersson, E.C., Andersen, C.B., Svejgaard, A. and Fugger, L. (1999) Transgenic mouse models of rheumatoid arthritis. Immunological Reviews 169 (1): 161–173.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hull, S.C. et al (2008) Patients’ views on identifiability of samples and informed consent for genetic research. The American Journal of Bioethics 8 (10): 62–70.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ideland, M. (2009) Different views on ethics: How animal ethics is situated in a committee culture. Journal of Medical Ethics 35 (4): 258–261.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Knight, S., Vrij, A., Cherryman, J. and Nunkoosing, K. (2004) Attitudes towards animal use and belief in animal mind. Anthrozoos 17 (1): 43–62.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Knight, S., Vrij, A., Bard, K. and Brandon, D. (2009) Science versus human welfare? Understanding attitudes toward animal use. Journal of Social Issues 65 (3): 463–483.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Newson, A.J. (2010) Clinical ethics committee case 9: Should we inform our patient about animal products in his medicine? Clinical Ethics 5 (1): 7–12.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nuffield Council of Bioethics (2005) The ethics of research involving animals,, accessed 19 April 2012.

  • Peddie, V.L., Porter, M., Counsell, C., Caie, L., Pearson, D. and Bhattacharya, S. (2009) ‘Not taken in by media hype’: How potential donors, recipients and members of the general public perceive stem cell research. Human Reproduction 24 (5): 1106–1113.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Russell, W.M.S. and Burch, R.L. (1959) The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique. London: Methuen.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ryder, R.D. (1975) The Victims Of Science: The Use of Animals in Research. London: Davis-Poynter.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sattar, S.P. et al (2004) Patient and physician attitudes to using medicaitons with religiously forbidden ingredients. The Annals of Pharmacotherapy 38 (11): 1830–1835.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • SFS (Swedish Statute Book) (2003) Law (2003:460) on ethical considerations in research involving human beings. [Lag om etikprövning av forskning som avser människor].

  • Simon, R.M. (2011) Gendered contexts: Masculinity, knowledge, and attitudes toward biotechnology. Public Understanding of Science 20 (3): 334–346.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Singer, P. (2011) Practical Ethics. 3rd edn. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Swami, V., Furnham, A. and Christopher, A.N. (2008) Free the animals? Investigating attitudes toward animal testing in Britain and the United States. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology 49 (3): 269–276.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Swedish Board of Agriculture (2009) The use of animals in experiments in Sweden during 2008 [Användningen av försöksdjur i Sverige under 2008], 31-502/09,,+20091203.pdf, accessed 19 April 2012.

  • Swedish Board of Agriculture (2013) Application – ethical review of animal testing,, accessed 10 June 2013.

  • Swedish Research Council (2008) The public’s view on animal testing [Allmänhetens syn på djurförsök], 6:2008,, accessed 13 June 2012.

  • Swedish Rheumatism Association (SRA). [Reumatikerförbundet] (2012) Patient participation in research [Brukarmedverkan i forskning],, accessed 7 January 2014.

  • Wayne, K. and Glass, K.C. (2010) The research imperative revisited considerations for advancing the debate surrounding medical research as moral imperative. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 53 (3): 373–387.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Webster, J., Bollen, P., Grimm, H. and Jennings, M. (2010) Ethical implications of using the minipig in regulatory toxicology studies. Journal of Pharmacological and Toxicological Methods 62 (3): 160–166.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • World Medical Association (2008) Declaration of Helsinki,, accessed 16 September 2013.

Download references


This research project was funded as part of the COMBINE programme in Sweden, Controlling Chronic Inflammatory Diseases with Combined Efforts. Research partners Margareta Andersson and Maria Nylander-Lundberg have participated in the project from the start, and have given valuable comments in the development of the questionnaire, from preparatory focus group discussions to the final contents of the questionnaire.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Malin Masterton.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Masterton, M., Renberg, T. & Kälvemark Sporrong, S. Patients’ attitudes towards animal testing: “To conduct research on animals is, I suppose, a necessary evil”. BioSocieties 9, 24–41 (2014).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: