The Road to Hell Is Paved with Good Intentions: Why Harm–Benefit Analysis and Its Emphasis on Practical Benefit Jeopardizes the Credibility of Research
Messerli Research Institute, University of Veterinary Medicine, 1210 Vienna, Austria
Institute for Biomedical Ethics and History of Medicine, University of Zurich, 8006 Zurich, Switzerland
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
These authors contributed equally to this work.
Academic Editor: James Yeates
Animals 2017, 7(9), 70; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani7090070
Received: 20 July 2017 / Revised: 1 September 2017 / Accepted: 7 September 2017 / Published: 11 September 2017
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Ethics)
It is our concern that European Union Directive 2010/63/EU with its current project evaluation of animal research in the form of a harm–benefit analysis may lead to an erosion of the credibility of research. The HBA assesses whether the inflicted harm on animals is outweighed by potential prospective benefits. Recent literature on prospective benefit analysis prioritizes “societal benefits” that have a foreseeable, positive impact on humans, animals, or the environment over benefit in the form of knowledge. In this study, we will argue that whether practical benefits are realized is (a) impossible to predict and (b) exceeds the scope and responsibility of researchers. Furthermore, we believe that the emphasis on practical benefits has the drawback of driving researchers into speculation on the societal benefit of their research and, therefore, into promising too much, thereby leading to a loss of trust and credibility. Thus, the concepts of benefit and benefit assessment in the HBA require a re-evaluation in a spirit that embraces the value of knowledge in our society. The generation of scientific knowledge has been utilised to great benefit for humans, animals, and the environment. The HBA, as it currently stands, tends to turn this idea upside down and implies that research is of value only if the resulting findings bring about immediate societal benefit.