Primate Systems Neuroscience

Subproject C2: Ethical Considerations and Standards

Project management: Urban Wiesing and Jens Clausen
Researcher: Gardar Arnason
Start date: March 1st, 2014.
Duration: 3 years

The Primate Systems Neuroscience project is a research unit funded by the German Research Council (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG). The research unit brings together primate neurophysiologists from the universities of Göttingen, Tübingen, and Marburg as well as the German Primate Center in Göttingen and the Ernst Strüngmann Institute in Frankfurt to study complex functions in the highly developed brains of non-human primates. Two subprojects are devoted to animal welfare and ethical considerations, respectively.

Our project, Ethical Considerations and Standards, focuses on the ethical and legal frameworks for neurological research involving non-human primates. The project will provide systematic and historical accounts of ethical issues, collect and share information about the legal framework (laws, regulations, court decisions), and provide consultation on ethical issues for the project partners.

The main objective, however, is to contribute to reasoned ethical decision-making about research using non-human primates by developing procedures to assess the risks-to-benefit ratio. The debate about the use of non-human primates in research is highly polarized and the opposing positions are deeply entrenched. Nonetheless, a consensus on the relative assessment of the risks and benefits should be attainable regardless of one's position in the debate. Weighing the risks against the benefits may seem to be the greater problem, but rather than trying to establish the "correct" moral theory or ethical position as the foundation for weighing the risks and benefits, the project takes a coherentist approach. When deciding whether the balance of risks and benefits is favorable, the decision must be at least consistent with similar judgments one has made, and ideally the judgments should be in a relationship of mutual reinforcement. This gradualist and coherentist approach will not settle the dispute on whether the use of non-human primates for research is ultimately morally justifiable, but it will facilitate rational decision-making on the ethical acceptability of any particular research using non-human primates.



    Dr. Gardar Arnason
    University of Tübingen
    Institute for Ethics and the History of Medicine
    Gartenstr. 47
    72074 Tübingen
    Phone: 07071 - 2978038
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