Sunday, March 6, 2016
Bioethics as it relates to animal research and Aristotle's great wisdom
Recently, I attended the AAFS annual meeting in Las Vegas, which led to possible research projects among other things. With interest in a research project involving the use of dead swine, I began training in IACUC standards, the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee which covers the USDA regulations and a host of other related standards and guides in the use of animals in research or teaching. I'm still going through a plethora of training but can clearly see the relation of this to bioethics.
One of my greatest concerns in the research I wish to pursue is the use of swine which must be euthanized for the particular forensic research in question. The research is sound and certainly important to forensics, but I have a great respect for animals and causing them harm or distress concerned me. Killing an animal for research at all concerns me, but if I must, I wanted to hope that it could be as painless and swift as humanly possible. To my great relief, the standards set out by the ethical boards and committees ensure just that. They ensure that all animals that are involved are actually required or replaced if they can be by the least sentient form of life required and the minimal number of said life forms required for the research. The pain and distress of animals involved in research is taken very seriously, which also set my mind at ease. There are strict standards and assessments to ensure this. Everything goes before a board for approval, sometimes multiple boards, depending upon the research and exactly what you are proposing to do. This helps to ensure that animals are cared for properly and that their use is taken very seriously. As I continue my lessons, I find my concerns further alleviated daily and am very grateful for the ethical boards and reviews in place. Their presence in the research allows me to plan to continue forward with this research knowing that someone will be watching over my shoulder to help ensure that I can do this without traumatizing myself or the animals I have to use, as I can assure you that traumatizing the animals would most certainly traumatize me as well.
Aristotle said that "Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all". I agree with this statement wholeheartedly. I am very passionate about respecting life in all forms and always have been. I raised my children in this way and will proudly state, even punished them for harming trees or plant life if they had no good, firm reason for having done so. These core beliefs made going into any science or medical related field very challenging for me, as I knew that research would lay in the path to my goals. There is no replacement yet for the "physical doing" of science when it comes to research, dissections and eventually, autopsies in learning. This is my Achilles heel or krypton in science, the use of living organisms including their possible harm and death. I will admit that I have less of an issue with parasites and insects, though they are living. It is not that I wish them to die so much as that I wish them to simply not exist anymore or at least, not near me.
Aristotle also said “I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies, for the hardest victory is over self”. I realize that we have not been studying Aristotle so much this semester, but he is by far my favorite philosopher and I find his thinking most in line with mine on these topics. I think that this quote speaks a great deal about why we need ethical boards and committees in place for research. We can become preoccupied by our research and our goals very easily, especially if it leads to a “great good” and can easily be led to believe that the greater good might overshadow the pain of a few but that would be a great mistake. I find myself often swayed by this line of thinking in many things but can always count on Aristotle to remind me that what is in my heart and soul is of great importance too. I am very grateful that a number of boards and committees are in place that understand that desire must sometimes take a back seat and that someone must ensure that we “conquer ourselves” in our quest for knowledge. I, for one, will rest easier at night in this knowledge as I continue to pursue my degree.