A report published Friday by the British Academy of Medical Sciences examines the issues raised when “animals containing human material” are used in medical lab experiments.
Scientists have long used animals whose DNA has been altered to resemble those of human beings or had human cells incorporated into their bodies as a means of approximating human responses in experiments testing drugs and other medical treatments and procedures.
An editorial responding to the report appears in the July 23 issue of the British medical journal The Lancet. It notes that the practice of introducing human cells or DNA into laboratory animals hasn’t yet attracted much public attention. That’s in part, the editorial suggests, because the research community has avoided bringing the topic up in anticipation of harsh public response. But the academy’s report finds that the (British) public is actually supportive of the use of such animals in medical research, their prime concern being not moral or philosophical but simple concern for the animals’ well-being.
The academy’s report looks ahead to potentially divisive experiments involving the brain or nervous system or in which features that we consider to be uniquely human might be imparted to animals. Before that takes place, the report suggests, the British government should establish panels of experts to review research involving ACHM with an eye toward developing regulations for such research.
It is doubtful whether those who hold the belief that all animal experimentation is an absolute moral wrong will change their minds; yet they would do well to consider that mutual respect and an open channel for dialogue could do much to further their aims. The use of animals in medical research is a practical and ethical issue that will not go away — nor should it. Only through a constant, dynamic process of scientific and moral scrutiny can one be sure that the correct balance — however fine, however tentative — is being struck.