The three Rs of Russell and Burch - Reduce, Replace, Refine - are widely agreed maxims of animal-based science. The morally-concerned researcher tries to reduce both the number of animals used in science, and the impacts of procedures on them. Animals are to be replaced, wherever possible, by techniques that do not use animals. Techniques and procedures are to be refined as much as possible to minimise harms. Implementing these maxims is desirable given that much animal-based science seeks to promote knowledge through the deliberate and intentional infliction of harms on other living things, often for the sake of studying these harms themselves. When we try to engage in moral discussion about which pieces of research using animals should or should not be permitted, we run up against significant problems. In this article, I identify three areas where doubts are specially acute, and suggest that these can be thought of as the three Cs of animal experimentation ethics. The three Cs are not maxims, however. Instead, they indicate areas of difficulty and uncertainty that have to be negotiated before conclusions can be reached. The three Cs, I argue, should be taken together with three other dimensions of moral thinking - details, intuitions and principles. When all these dimensions are plotted, the result is a space of moral argument and perplexity. By drawing attention to some features of this space, I am able in the present article to indicate hidden weaknesses in the present systems for regulating animal research.
Recommended CitationBrennan, Andrew, Ethics, conflict and animal research, Animal Issues, 1(2), 1997.