Ethical balance evaluation
At the heart of every animal experiment application is what is called the ethical balance evaluation. This is where research gain is weighed against suffering of the animals that are used.
Ethical balance evaluation is designed to clarify the following points:
- What is the extent of the knowledge that is expected to be gained for research purposes and therefore for society?
- To which degree is the well-being of the animals affected as a result of pain, anxiety, stress and suffering?
- To what extent can the harm caused to the animal be reduced?
- Are alternative methods available through which the stated aim of the experiment could be achieved, in full or in part?
- After evaluation of the gain in knowledge and the impacts on the animals, is the experiment indispensable and ethically acceptable?
Problematic aspects of the ethical balance evaluation
Crucially important as the ethical balance evaluation is for assessing whether the proposed experiment is indispensable, it can, in some cases, be challenging to carry out. This applies particularly if impacts on the experimental animals are difficult to estimate.
Where transgenic animals are used reference data for new transgenic lines may not be available. In such a case, carefull monitoring of the animals and the clear definition of termination criteria are even more important.
Evaluating the benefits can be equally challenging for research projects in the interests of basic research. It is often difficult or impossible to state a direct, specific benefit from the research project. Unlike for applied research, the value of basic research often cannot be measured in terms of immediate benefits but of long-term development. Consequently, in evaluation of these projects only the expected, potential gain in knowledge can be weighed against the impact on the experimental animals.
Where can I find help with formulating an ethical balance evaluation?
A researcher applying for an experimental licence should use the ethical balance evaluation to explain why the experiment is considered as ethically acceptable and indispensable. This ethical consideration is one of the most important paragraphs of the application and critical for the decisions makers. Help for clearly defining this part of the application can be found in this Information sheet (PDF, 278 KB) (in German only). You are also welcome to contact the Animal Welfare Officer for ETH Zurich, who will be pleased to provide support.
You can find more information on this subject on the website of the Federal Veterinary Office (BVET) (in German).