The ethical justification for the use of non-human primates in research: the Weatherall report revisited

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Abstract

The Weatherall report on the use of non-human primates in research was published in 2006. Its main conclusion was that there is a strong scientific case for the use of non-human primates in some cases, but the report stressed the importance of evaluating each case in the light of the availability of alternatives. In addition to arguing for the scientific necessity of using non-human primates in research, the report also provided an ethical justification. As could be expected, the report was harshly criticised by animal rights groups, but in the academic literature, only two critical replies appeared. In what follows, I will describe the ethical justification for non-human primate research as it is laid out in the Weatherall report and then consider the criticism in the academic literature. I conclude that the report’s ethical justification for the use of non-human primates in research, in particular in basic neuroscientific research, has not been convincingly challenged by its critics. Since the criticism of the report is limited and represents only a small part of the academic discussion about the use of non-human primates in research, and a still smaller part of the ethical discussion about animal research, it is important that the discussion continue both at the academic and social level.

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