Societal concerns about animal welfare have led to changes in the philosophy and practice of laboratory-animal medicine that are advantageous to research animals as well as to laboratory-animal veterinarians.
Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUCs), which oversee animal use activities in most institutions, deal with many controversial issues surrounding laboratory animals. Veterinarians serving on IACUCs exemplify veterinarians' important contributions to science, despite the fact that they may be viewed by some investigators as obstructionists to research. For example, veterinarians can clarify the relationship between animal distress and aberrant research results and work with investigators to choose the most appropriate animal model.
Laboratory animals have benefited from the current emphasis on alleviating pain and distress as well as from improved veterinary training. Nonetheless, veterinarians and researchers occasionally display cavalier attitudes toward pain management ("just give some more analgesic"), to the detriment of animal welfare and good research outcomes.
The animal rights movement largely objects to the use of animals in research. The lack of meaningful communication between those who support or oppose such use has led to polarized opinions and has inhibited finding common ground for advancing animal welfare. Nevertheless, publicity from animal rights activities has provided an impetus for positive animal welfare changes, such as ways to reduce, refine, and replace laboratory animals.
The demographics of laboratory-animal medicine are changing as more women join the ranks. Will women, who work part-time more than men do, exacerbate the current shortage of laboratory-animal veterinarians? Will women, who are more tolerant than men are of an animal rights philosophy,1 change the current practice of laboratory-animal medicine?
1. Eldridge JJ, Gluck JP. Gender differences in attitudes toward animal research. Ethics Behav 1996;6:239-256.