Killing Animals for Progress? Animal Experiments and Animal Ethics in Science

Report by Henning Kirschbaum, Bachelor’s student in Philosophy

Are scientists morally permitted to perform experiments on animals? If so, on what types of animals? And what kind of experiments? And what of the conditions in which research animals are kept? To what extent is research on living animals still necessary - and for what purposes? Over the course of three days, nineteen students from seventeen different disciplines addressed these and similar questions in the Q+ seminar "Killing Animals for Progress? Animal Experiments and Animal Ethics in Science."


Jan Lauwereyns, Senior Vice President for International Affairs and Professor for Neurosciences at the renowned Kyushu University in Japan, provided an introduction to the difficult and controversial topic of animal experimentation on November 20, 2023. The Q+ program has recently launched an official cooperation with Kyushu’s School of Interdisciplinary Science and Innovation, at which Lauwereyns also serves as Vice Dean. With a captivating lecture and discussion, he gave the students a quick introduction to ethics and animal ethics, delivering deep insights into the field of scientific animal experiments, their ethics and how they can be improved. Lauwereyns's very personal history with and insights into the practice of animal experimentation, which he had gained working on monkeys, mice, and rats, was particularly inspiring and formed the starting point for his critical reflection on the subject. While Lauwereyns does not consider animal experiments to be morally wrong per se, he advocates a more consistent adherence to the "3R" concept - reduction, replacement, refinement – which is held as an international standard. He himself takes a nuanced and critical stance on the concept, which he believes is all too often undermined and watered down.


On the following day, Lauwereyns's perspective was supplemented and expanded by Jan Baumgart and Uwe Wolfrum. In his bracing presentation, Baumgart, a veterinarian specializing in laboratory animal science and animal welfare and head of the Translational Animal Research Center (TARC) at the University of Mainz, focused on the situation of laboratory animals in Mainz, Germany, and Europe and explained the German and European legal frameworks for animal testing. He emphasized what he saw as the very strict legal protections afforded to laboratory animals in Germany and Europe, and Jan Lauwereyns, who accompanied the workshop throughout, also confirmed that the standards in Germany are world-leading. Next, Uwe Wolfrum explained in detail the necessity of animal experiments in his research for the development of drugs for the treatment of Usher syndrome, a hereditary disease that leads to visual and hearing impairment. As the head of a dedicated research group and Professor of Zoology at the University of Mainz, Wolfrum took the position, similar to the previous speakers, that animal experiments necessary for research into therapies for serious diseases such as Usher syndrome are morally justifiable. Nonetheless, he stressed that it is essential to critically examine which research on what types of animals is actually scientifically necessary. All three speakers thus represented highly nuanced ethical positions on animal experimentation, which lead them to constantly reflect critically and morally on their research work.


After a one-day break, the participants then went on a field trip to the Ernst Strüngmann Institute (ESI) for Neuroscience in Frankfurt, which gave the students a broad insight into its animal research. There, the group was welcomed by Dr. Christa Tandri and Dr. Alf Theisen, who are veterinarians responsible for animal welfare and health at the ESI. First, the research scientists Dr. Martha Nari Havenith, Dr. Marieke Sholvinck, and Dr. Jean Laurens, who each lead a team of researchers at the ESI, offered a theoretical overview of their scientific work with animals. While Havenith and Sholvinck reported on their research on and the situation of laboratory mice and rats, Laurens explained the scientific questions he pursues with his experiments on non-human primates and the situation of non-human primates in research, particularly at the ESI. Following these interactive presentations, the participants split into several small groups to get an impression of how the small marmosets and the somewhat larger rhesus monkeys are kept at the ESI, and to have the experimental set-ups of two doctoral students at the ESI explained to them. The seminar concluded with a joint critical reflection on the day’s events. All in all, the seminar offered the unique opportunity to gain both in-depth theoretical insights into animal experimentation and its ethics, as well as practical experience at the ESI.


Posted on