The 3R’s serve as complementary rules of thumb to reduce overall suffering and form the framework of the animal ethics system. When we consider the continued rise in animal usage statistics however, it is clear that this framework simply isn’t working.
At conferences I have attended there has been quite some focus on refinement but very little on reduction and specifically on replacement. Similarly, the use of animals in education is a clear example of an area in which we CAN replace animals and yet they are still being used.
Even according to co-author William Russell, “Refinement is never enough, and we should always seek further reduction and, if possible, replacement… Replacement is always a satisfactory answer.”
It’s absolutely essential that we ask the question, “Can the aims of the research be achieved in ways that do not involve animals?” And “Will the scientific outcome of this research justify the lives it will take and the suffering it will cause?” In many cases you will find that it will not.
The House of Lords Select Committee 2002 has said: “We are not, however, persuaded that enough effort is always made to avoid the use of animals. We are similarly not persuaded that where this is possible, sufficient effort is always made to minimize the number of animals used, and to minimize the pain and suffering inflicted on each animal.”
The major problem with the 3R’s principal, along with legislation, codes of practice and ethics committees, is that they serve to endorse the belief that animal experiments are necessary, rather than challenge its validity.
A radical overhaul is long overdue – a centralization of the decision-making process in order to avoid repetition of experiments, ensure for consistency and to guarantee that decisions are made based on expert knowledge of the alternatives available and the ethics of whether the experiment is even justified in the first place.
The 3R’s principal has served us well to identify the areas in which the suffering caused to animals in research may be reduced. But all laws, guidelines and principals need to be constantly reviewed, and after fifty six years such a review is long overdue!