Thomas D. The Legal Status of Alternatives and Animal Use in Education. Paper presented at: Alternatives in the Mainstream: Innovations in Life Science Education and Training. 2nd InterNICHE Conference; 2005 May 12-15; Oslo, Norway


The presentation considers the approach of the law to the use of live animals in tertiary education when a non-animal alternative would achieve the same educational objective (‘equivalence’). It is important to distinguish this situation from (a) the dissection of dead animals; (b) research on live animals by educational institutions to generate new scientific information; and (c) the killing of animals for their tissue for research purposes by those institutions. Whether individual countries allow conscientious objection to involvement in animal use is also a separate question.

The presentation will concentrate on the position in Europe – the relevant Council of Europe convention, EU Directive 86/609 and the legislation of certain countries – but will also touch on the US approach.

Where the law does prohibit the use of animals where there is an alternative, the questions are then: (a) who decides; and (b) applying what approach? It is suggested that, consistent with the policy underlying the convention, a broad approach should be taken to equivalence, with the benefit of doubt given to animals. Cost should not be a decisive factor, and should in any event be judged in the long-as well as short-term. Enforcement raises its own issues.

The presentation will also consider the ethical options for legislative policy, particularly for those countries which do not currently apply the alternatives rule. The law should, broadly-speaking, reflect prevailing ethical views. Too often it does not do so in this area – rather, the requirements of educational institutions, shaped by habit and convenience, determine policy. That should not be tolerated in democracies.