In their own words: Letters

Campus letters on animal research

This month, UBC Reports launches the first in a series of articles on the scope and nature of research involving animals, in support of transparency and academic dialogue at UBC.

We also publish below a letter from a group of graduate students and their professor, who also tackled this topic by organizing a series of dialogues at Green College.

Throughout the month of June on this page, we encourage an ongoing dialogue on this challenging issue by inviting our UBC community readers to contribute:  current students, faculty and staff.

We will consider all entries for publication, provided they are respectful of other views and contributors.  Please keep your letters as brief as possible. We reserve the right to condense and edit submissions, and if multiple submissions are similar we will only publish a representative letter.  We will not post anonymous comments.  We aim to post accepted entries within 48 hours of submission.

Click here to submit your letter

Series convenors question use of animals

This year at UBC, Green College hosted a speaker series on the university’s use of animal lives (Bringing the Collective Together: Nonhuman Animals, Humans and Practice at the University). As the faculty/student convenors of the series, we reflect here upon its achievements.

The segmented nature of academic disciplines discourages cross-disciplinary engagement. Against this grain of business as usual, the panel discussions brought together diverse scholars—from law, animal science, philosophy, zoology, political science, sociology, applied ethics, genetics, philosophy, anthropology, history, biology, psychology. Faculty and students explored critical perspectives, including on how our university should govern itself.

The series demonstrates that the use of animal lives at the university poses substantial scholarly concerns that are pressing across the disciplines: How have property and criminal law in Canada left animals largely unprotected by legislation? What ethical codes are in play, how robust are they, and what do alternative ethical codes suggest about current practice? How well does current governance of animals resonate with democratic values? Does Canada’s system for funding research channel researchers toward the use of animals, including for reasons other than social benefit? Does the system encourage development of non-animal methods? What are the social and individual benefits and costs of current research on animals? What exactly do the 200,000 animals who get used yearly at UBC experience? Do we—can we—fully know? In what ways does Canadian governance of laboratory animals lag behind approaches in other liberal democratic countries such as Sweden and New Zealand? What of India’s new legislation that bans dissections and live animal experiments in biomedical education and research, requiring non-animal approaches, except in new molecular research? What does it mean that Canada, unlike other countries, lacks systematic review to prevent unnecessary repetition of research projects on animals? Why does Canada, unlike other countries, lack an independent public body that studies the welfare of animals in laboratories? In Canada, the experts who assess proposed research on animals are peer researchers who themselves use animals: in institutionalizing actors as the judge of their own cause, are the checks and balances of legitimate government not corrupted?

While UBC’s Vice President of Research [John Hepburn] commends “ongoing academic dialogue” (UBC Reports, 1 Feb. 2012, Animals in Research), he simultaneously endorses current “animal research” as something UBC does “ethically, humanely, and in full compliance with the law.” This blanket endorsement of the status quo disregards the questions being posed by UBC researchers about institutional governance, about the often impoverished standing ethical justifications, and about tensions between existing law and principles of justice. (Law and ethical justifications have been used time and again to enslave and to subjugate; their specific content must be interrogated.) Vice President Hepburn praises the “courageous and dedicated” researchers at UBC (Vancouver Sun, 11 Mar. 2012 op ed, Animal Research at a Crossroads), but surely this praise should not stop at UBC’s scientists who use animals, and should extend to all hard-thinking researchers at UBC.

Across the sciences, social sciences and humanities, UBC boasts enormous capacity for innovation and ethical leadership. The Green College series presses UBC to consider available alternative codes of ethics that may be more defensible than current guidelines; to include in the assessment of UBC research projects voices that represent more diverse concern, expertise and knowledge; and to carry such innovative thinking onto the national stage to improve the Canadian system.

Series convenors:
Afsoun Afsahi, Darren Chang, Aylon Cohen, Viara Gioreva, Dalaina Heiberg, Prof. Laura Janara, Manjot Parhar, Shirin Shushtarian, Kaitlin Wood