Ethical Aspects of Relationships Between Humans and Research Animals

Document Type


Publication Date



People who work in biomedical and behavioral research settings sometimes form strong relationships with individual laboratory animals. Ethnographic studies indicate that it is common for these individuals to transform some animals from “experimental subject” to “pet.” Although theories of ethics that emphasize impartiality and justice have little to say about the moral implications of human-research animal bonds, caring-based ethical systems acknowledge the moral consequences and resulting psychological burdens of these relationships. Typically, albeit not always, animal care staff are more likely than researchers to experience moral ambivalence associated with human-laboratory animal bonds. These bonds can result in conflict between technicians and investigators. Ways that research institutions can help individuals cope with the ethical consequences of relationships with research animals include the following: supporting the development of human-animal relationships in laboratories, giving animal care personnel an ethical voice through involvement in the institutional animal care and use committee decision process, publicly acknowledging the emotional and moral costs of human-laboratory animal relationships, and educating animal care staff about the purpose and possible benefits of research projects.