In order to make certain that the animals are treated in a humane and ethical way, researchers are regulated and monitored by various government agencies. The US Department of Agriculture is responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act and conducts unannounced inspections of research facilities. If the research is a grant recipient, the National Institutes of Health would be responsible for the regulation as well. The American Association for the Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) is responsible for setting the standards for research institutions. Any institution that conducts research is required to have an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) that reviews research protocol, included on the committee must be a veterinarian and a community member not affiliated with the institution. Before animals are obtained or research begun, it is the committees responsibility approve protocol that includes adherence to Federal guidelines (APA, 2001). If the research is in the field, researchers should keep disturbance to the population to a minimum and respect the surrounding environment (APA, 2001).
Psychological research is not only under regulation by various agencies, but must also follow the ethical guidelines set forth and enforced by the American Psychological Association’s Committee on Animal Research and Ethics (CARE). The principle of ethics include the justification of research, acquisition, care, housing, use and disposition of animals and should be in compliance with Federal and regulatory agencies (APA, 2001). One of the first ethical issues addressed relates to research having a scientific purpose. Researchers must outline that the experiment is one that will increase knowledge in the areas of development, evolution, maintenance, alteration, control or biological behavior. Any personnel involved with the research must have familiarity with the guidelines of the experiment and also know that the animals well being is a major concern in the conducting of the experiment (APA, 2001).
Once the research has been deemed necessary for scientific benefits, now the next step is to acquire animals for the experiment. According to the APA ethical principles, animals may not be bred by the researcher for the experiment, but must be acquired lawfully. If an animal is captured from the wild, it must be done in a humane way. When transporting the animal, proper conditions should include adequate feeding, water, ventilation and space and should not impose stress to the animal. Experiments involving endangered species require a permit be obtained from the Fish and Wildlife Service. These are only used as a guideline, any actions should be in compliance with any Federal regulations (APA, 2001).
Currently, there are no specific guidelines by the APA when it comes to care and housing of the animals. This issue has been part of an ongoing debate between the APA and the USDA. The USDA views psychological well being as a concept, while the APA finds it is too complex to define (APA, 2001). In this case, the APA’s ethical principles for care and housing are on a case by case basis and are determined by a researcher who is familiar with the species uses judgement in determining the well being. Additionally, housing facilities are to meet requirements by the USDA, inspected twice a year, and are under committee review (APA, 2001).
The ethical principles include an extensive section related to experimental procedures on the animals. Outlined are different scenarios the animal may go through when part of an experimental procedure. Studies that do not result in distress to the animals are acceptable. When necessary, research that minimizes discomfort should be used. Psychologists are encouraged to test painful stimuli on themselves whenever possible. If the procedure results in intensive pain or the animal is exposed to prolonged intensive conditions euthanasia is an acceptable form of resolution. Any restraints used in procedures must follow Federal guidelines.
The APA has a separate set of guidelines for surgical procedures. Surgical procedures must be under the supervision of someone qualified and done in an aseptic setting; the animals can not undergo multiple procedures in one day and if the procedure results in discomfort, the animal must be under anesthesia throughout the remainder. The proper post operative and follow up care is also necessary after a surgical procedure (APA, 2001). Procedures that result in euthanasia must be done in a humane way thus ensuring immediate death and should comply with the American Veterinary Medical Association. Disposal and death verification of an animal must be approved by the committee (APA, 2001).
Any researchers who are in violation of the ethical principles and violate the code of conduct should be reported to the APA. Violations are taken seriously and may lead to expulsion from the association. Since animal research and experiments are a controversial issue, such groups as animal rights activists may contribute to seeing that these ethical codes are enforced. Once issues of this nature are brought into the public eye, attention is gained and ethical questions are raised. One of the areas that needing improvement is to amend and update regulations on a more frequent basis. The last revision to many of the regulations was from the late 1980s and early 1990s. In reading through the principles and codes, a clearer definition is needed for some of the phrases used, particularly: intensive pain, extreme conditions and humane capturing. Since each person has a different definition of these terms, having a clear, concise meaning will make it universal.
Ethical codes and principles for an organization are a source of guidance. Ethical principles are set in place to help choose the right path and should closely mirror the mission of the organization. Whether in a research or corporate setting, ethical principles are a necessary component.
American Psychological Association (2001, April 25). Guidelines for ethical conduct in the care and use of animals. Retrieved April 25, 2001 from the World Wide Web: http://www.apa.org/science/anguide.html.