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

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Abstract

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.

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Notes

  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).

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Acknowledgements

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.

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Correspondence to Malin Masterton.

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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). https://doi.org/10.1057/biosoc.2013.39

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