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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2018

Emotions and Ethical Decision-Making in Animal Ethics Committees

Tjarnstrom, Elisabeth; Weber, Elin M.; Hultgren, Jan; Roecklinsberg, Helena


Simple Summary In the EU, research projects using animals must be evaluated and approved by an ethical committee prior to start to balance potential harm to the animals with potential benefit to humans, in order to ensure moral standards, scientific validity, and public trust. However, different levels of knowledge among committee members, different views on which ethical aspects are relevant, member hierarchies, and a discrepancy between prevailing scientific norms of objectivity and the necessary conditions of a proper ethical evaluation makes it challenging. If applications are not properly evaluated, this can cause distrust in the ethics committees by society. We analyzed the role of scientific norms among Swedish committee members, application of the harm-benefit model, and the role of emotions in the ethical decision-making process. Researchers and chairpersons were most positive, whereas laypersons from animal welfare organizations were most negative. Laypersons more often felt emotionally engaged in the evaluation, but also that they felt they had less influence. We argue that the prevailing scientific norms are preventing necessary conditions for sound ethical evaluation consideration by excluding some members from the discourse. We propose that alternative models for ethical decision-making could contribute to an improved process and hence meet public trust.Abstract Ethical evaluation of projects involving animal testing is mandatory within the EU and other countries. However, the evaluation process has been subject to criticism, e.g., that the committees are not balanced or democratic enough and that the utilitarian weighting of harm and benefit that is normally prescribed is difficult to carry out in practice. In this study, members of Swedish Animal Ethics Committees (AECs) completed a survey aiming to further investigate the decision-making process. We found that researchers and animal laypersons make significantly different ethical judgments, and hold disparate views on which ethical aspects are the most relevant. Researchers were significantly more content than laypersons with the functioning of the committees, indicating that the ethical model used suited their preferences better. We argue that in order to secure a democratic and proper ethical evaluation, the expectations of a scientific discourse must be acknowledged, while giving room for different viewpoints. Further, to fulfil the purpose of the project evaluations and meet public concern, the functions of the different AEC member categories need to be clarified. We suggest that one way of achieving a more thorough, balanced and inclusive ethical evaluation is to allow for more than one model of ethical reasoning.


animal ethics committee (AEC); empathy; harm-benefit; laboratory animal welfare; ethical decision-making

Published in

2018, Volume: 8, number: 10, article number: 181