Thoughts About the Ethics of Animal Research

MAPS Bulletin Autumn 1990 Vol. 1, No. 3

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After the MAPS benefit, several people wrote to express their disapproval of MAPS support for animal research investigating MDMA neurotoxicity, required by the FDA as a prerequisite for human studies. One writer suggested that computer technology or human research be substituted for animal research while another wrote that animal studies were inexcusably creel, egocentric, and patemalistic. These are important issues, particularly in light of a request contained in this newsletter for the funding of several additional primate MDMA neurotoxicity studies at Johns Hopkins. The explanation of why I support animal research may not satisfy, but will hopefully be informative.

Certainly, taking of the lives of otherwise healthy animals to enlarge scientific knowledge is not above ethical criticism. If animal experiments can be justified at all, they must generate information which cannot be gotten any other way and for which there is a very important and specific need. The research must be conducted in a respectful and kind manner, with the animals well treated. Conducting animal studies places a heavy burden on the experimenter to use as few animals as possible, to gather as much data as possible, to use the data to its fullest, and to move into human studies at the earliest opportunity. lf any of these conditions are violated, the experiment cannot be justified. In my view, the proposed primate neurotoxicity experiments pass these first tests.

Unfortunately, technology does not yet exist to gather sufficient information about MDMA neurotoxicity without direct physical dissection of brain tissue. The physical existence of a primate at Johns Hopkins is pitiful compared to pitiful compared to life in the wild, but is healthy and clean. Being exposed to Johns Hopkins is pitiful compared to life in the wild, but is healthy and clean. Being exposed to MDMA, even in large doses, seems not to be painful. There are no obvious functional consequences of the induced serotonin neurotoxicity. The carefully designed research is conducted with as few animals as statistics allow. The data contributes to a basic understanding of brain function and is used in negotiations with the FDA and in communications with MDMA users. Many of us involved with primate research volunteer for human studies when possible.

Though the primate research is not blatantly unjusttried, more must be said. Essentially, I am willing to sacrifice the lives of tens of primates for the good of untold numbers of humans. I also believe the use of psychedelics to help people get in touch with a more healthy, holistic sense of themselves may in an indirect but plausible way help to build appreciation for the preservation and protection of our environment and the life it contains, including primates.

When the first MDMA toxicity studies were being conducted, I made a poini of visiting lhe research laboratory in Little Rock, Arkansas. The day I visited twelve dogs were scheduled to be sacrificed and examined. That night, I dreamt of dogs as did one of the doctors. Watching the leihal injection, I was surprised at how fast life vanished. The awesome sacred fragile mystery transcended the powers of understanding of all the physicians in the hospital and all their sophisticated equipment. Within seconds, the lifeless dogs were placed on operating tables and highly refined scientific methods designed to help apprehend nature without bias were put into motion. To my surprise, the feeble efforts of science to plumb life’s mysteries seemed sacred in its own small way. While ihe doctors carefully took apart, weighed and measured the many organs which had previously sustained the life of each dog, I told stories about various people’s transformative MDMA experiences. All in the room were made aware of the reasons for our sacrifice of the dogs. That day, I learned I could shoulder the responsibility of animal research. I welcome further comments on this issue.