This paper is gong define ethics and examine the concept of the risk/benefit ratio. Research on animals is an ethical topic and concern to researchers in the field of psychology. Testing on animals is a controversial issue and in response to this ethical dilemma the American Psychological Association (APA), a professional organization that represents psychologists in the United States, has designed rules and guidelines that must be followed. This paper will explore how animal testing has impacted psychological research.
Ethics help guide researchers around ethical dilemmas that may arise when conducting research. For example; is it acceptable to avoid telling the participant of a particular study what the researcher is looking for and testing for? In what instances is it acceptable and when is it not? Developing ethics in research can help guide researchers when deciding answers to those types of questions. (Shaughnessy, Zechmeister, & Zechmeister, 2009) Ethics is a set of guidelines that people are asked to follow and in the United States ethics is often directly related to a law, for example; murdering someone is against the law and considered unethical by most.
When conducting scientific research researchers are looking for a fact or trying to prove a theory and declare it the truth. To obtain that type of answer the research conducted must be ethical. (Shaughnessy, Zechmeister, & Zechmeister, 2009) If the research starts off with a lie than the entire research project would be at jeopardy. Searching for the truth is not an easy task because researchers are human, and sometimes truths differ, this is when the APA code of ethics is an important tool for researchers. The APA’s code of ethics guides researchers to evaluate ethical dilemmas when conducting research. Some of the dilemmas that may arise is weighing the benefits and risks associated with the use of deception in regard to participants and the use of animals in research. (Shaughnessy, Zechmeister, & Zechmeister, 2009)
When considering ethical situations a researcher must take into consideration the risk/benefit ratio. “The risk/benefit ratio is a subjective evaluation of the risk to a research participant relative to the benefit both to the individual and to society of the results of the proposed research” (Shaughnessy, Zechmeister, & Zechmeister, pg. 514, 2009). Psychologists use the APA guide of ethics to help them determine whether an experiment is ethical, this includes testing on animals. The guide is a set of guidelines but whether a researcher chooses to follow those guidelines is a personal choice; there are consequences if a researcher conducts unethical researcher but by then damage could have already been done to the participants involved.
The APA was founded in 1892 and it was 60 years later that the APA decided to create a formal code of ethics. In 1938 the Committee on Scientific and Professional Ethics and Conduct was created and the committee reviewed complaints to determine if research was ethical, not having something in writing for psychologists to follow became a problem. During the 1950s the APA decided to create an empirically developed code based on the investigation of ethical dilemmas encountered by some of APA’s members. (American Psychological Association, 2009) One thousand three hundred nineteen members were asked to describe in detail ethical dilemmas they came across while conducting research, 679 psychologists returned the survey and out of the 679 psychologists 134 indicated that they had not encountered any ethical dilemmas. (American Psychological Association, 2009) The respondents described 703 ethical troubling events and those reported events were broken down into 23 categories; the majority of the concerns revolved around confidentially and researchers reporting false research statistics. So few concerns about the ethical dilemma associated with animal testing were reported that it did not even warrant its own category out of the original 23 categories the APA set-up. The APA wrote a code of ethics for all of the areas of concern including research testing on animals. (Pope & Vetter, 1992) However, citizens are still concerned about testing on animals and research on animals is still protested by animal rights groups; what people feel about this issue tends to be a personal choice based on their personal ethics.
Testing on animals has been a controversial issue for a long time; the APA wanted to address the needs of its members while trying to be supportive of the Animal Rights Movement. The public has been outraged about testing on animals and has voiced its concern through protests and other anti-animal testing publications; according to the APA only five percent of their 61,000 members test on animals. The Committee on Animal Research and Ethics (C.A.R.E.) was established to address the APA’s members’ concerns and to address the public’s concerns. (American Psychological Association, 2009)
C.A.R.E. developed a comprehensive guide broken down into five categories; the acquisition, care, housing, use, and disposition of animals. The guidelines also follow all federal, state, local, institutional laws, and institutional regulations. Still protesters and animal rights groups are outraged that anyone would test on animal. (Fisher, 1986) Animal rights groups charge that, “psychological research contributes little to nothing to human welfare” (Fisher, Pg.1, 1986) The APA disputes that statement, knowing their research has contributed to a better understanding of how the mind, human behavior, and society works. (Fisher, 1986) Without psychology mental illnesses would not have been researched, diagnosis tools developed, and treatment plans created.
This still leaves the question unanswered, is testing on animals ethical? The APA deems so as long as guidelines are followed and the risk benefit analysis suggests so. Animal rights groups and other individuals disagree, believing strongly that no one should test on animals, regardless of the benefit. Researchers are left to make the choice on their own in regard to testing on animals. Making the choice to test on animals or not to test on animals has consequences either way. If a researcher cannot not test on animals, is it acceptable to test new medications or theories on humans? Whatever a researcher chooses he or she needs to ensure that it is a choice that will not distract him or her during the research process. Whether testing on animals is ethical comes down to a personal choice and decision; a decision and choice a researcher must be able to live with.
American Psychological Association. (2009). Board of Scientific Affairs. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org
Fisher, K. (1986). Animal research: Few alternatives seen for behavioral studies. APA Monitor, 17(3), 16-17. Retrieved from PsycEXTRA database
Pope, K., & Vetter, V. (1992). Ethical dilemmas encountered by members of the American Psychological Association: A national survey. American Psychologist, 47(3), 397-411.doi:10.1037/0003-066X.47.3.397.
Shaughnessy, J., Zechmeister, E. B., & Zechmeister, J. S. (2009). Research Methods in Psychology, Eighth Edition.