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The Senate of the Max Planck Society has adopted a declaration of principle (White Paper) on the subject of 'Animal Experiments in Basic Research'

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The Senate of the Max Planck Society has adopted a declaration of principle (White Paper) on the subject of  'Animal Experiments in Basic Research'

February, 2017

The White Paper https://www.mpg.de/10882259/MPG_Whitepaper.pdf emphasizes the indispensability of animal research but also acknowledges the special responsibility of each individual scientist for the animals used in research and the ethical issues associated with experiments carried out on sentient beings. The White Paper indicates various measures to contribute to enhancing the well-being of the animals and promoting a culture of care for the animals.

This interesting document emphasizes that biological and medical research still needs to rely on experiments with animals in order to study the complicated interplay of components in complex organisms. It underlines the value of knowledge in itself, even if it does not immediately lead to beneficial applications.

Many of the challenges faced by humanity today can only be mastered by evidence-based interventions. There is thus an obligation to strive for knowledge. The research of the Max Planck Society therefore focuses on the anticipated increase in knowledge rather than on short-term considerations of usefulness.

The White Paper emphasizes in particular the ethical conflicts resulting from research with animals: the gain in insight expected from an experiment must be weighed against the harm inflicted on animals and introduces a fourth "R" for Responsibility.

The document indicates the need to adopt a series of measures designed to achieve the best possible compromise between the obligation to protect the animals used for research and the need to perform research with sentient beings in order to gain insights into the processes supporting the life of organisms.

These measures include:

  • strengthening the culture of care for the animals; this is to be achieved through improved coordination of animal welfare while at the same time maintaining the highest quality of science
  • transparent presentation of animal research for the general public
  • research aimed at improving the implementation of the 3Rs principle
  • research on the living conditions of research animals, their social behaviour, perception of pain, consciousness and their right for life
  • training of all employees working with animals in animal ethics

The White Paper concludes that it is essential to implement the 3Rs principle (Replacement, Reduction, Refinement) by investing in methodological developments that serve to replace or minimize the use of animals, to reduce suffering and improve welfare.

In addition it is important to take a lead in the difficult discussions on ethical issues in animal research, including the constant reevaluation of harm and stress in animal research on the basis of the latest scientific insights into the sentience, consciousness and intelligence of different species of animals. 

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