Current animal research ethics frameworks emphasise consequentialist ethics through cost-benefit or harm-benefit analysis. However, these ethical frameworks along with institutional animal ethics approval processes cannot satisfactorily decide when a given potential benefit is outweighed by costs to animals. The consequentialist calculus should, theoretically, provide for situations where research into a disease or disorder is no longer ethical, but this is difficult to determine objectively. Public support for animal research is also falling as demand for healthcare is rising. Democratisation of animal research could help resolve these tensions through facilitating ethical health consumerism or giving the public greater input into deciding the diseases and disorders where animal research is justified. Labelling drugs to disclose animal use and providing a plain-language summary of the role of animals may help promote public understanding and would respect the ethical beliefs of objectors to animal research. National animal ethics committees could weigh the competing ethical, scientific, and public interests to provide a transparent mandate for animal research to occur when it is justifiable and acceptable. Democratic processes can impose ethical limits and provide mandates for acceptable research while facilitating a regulatory and scientific transition towards medical advances that require fewer animals.
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