Proceedings of The Physiological Society
University of Oxford (2011) Proc Physiol Soc 23, PC3
Young people’s perceptions of the use of animals in scientific and medical research in the UK
1. Institute of Membrane and Systems Biology, University of Leeds, Leeds, United Kingdom. 2. IDEA CETL, University of Leeds, Leeds, United Kingdom.
Surveys of the UK adult population have shown that 70% agree with the use of animals in medical research (MORI, 2010). However, there are no comparable studies of young people. Prior to 2006, discussion of the use of animals in research and the ethical issues arising from such use was included in the Religious Studies and Philosophy GCSE specifications. Post 2006, with the increased emphasis in science GCSEs on how science works, ethics, including the ethics of animal experimentation, became part of all science and biology GCSE curricula. Subsequent revisions for 2011 onwards have lead to a reduced emphasis or exclusion of this important topic. Given that current teenagers will become future voters and therefore be able to influence any changes in animal welfare legislation, the aim of this study was to determine young people’s views on animal experimentation. A short 20 minute presentation followed by the opportunity for students to ask questions on the use of animals in research was delivered in secondary schools and colleges within West Yorkshire. Electronic voting handsets were utilised to gather student opinions anonymously before, during and after the session. The seminar was delivered to 466 Year 8 to Year 13 science students from 11 schools. These schools included select grammar, comprehensives, those in economically deprived areas, faith and independent schools. The majority of students (78%) had never or only occasionally thought about the use of animals in research before the seminar, with only 37% either agreeing or strongly agreeing with their use. After the session, the level of acceptance had increased to 66% (p < 0.01, student t-test). When asked how new medicines should be developed and tested, 31% thought that non-animal (alternative) experimental preparations should be used, 24% would utilise animals whilst 22% would use prisoners in the first instance. Students also had serious misconceptions about practices in research laboratories, for example, 53 % thought that research animals were kept in small confined cages. 26% of students also thought it was acceptable for those opposed to animal experimentation to use any means to prevent such research. This study demonstrates the need for scientists, particularly those who use animals or animal tissues in their research, to engage in outreach activities in schools in order to provide young people with unbiased information on the use of animals in scientific and medical research. These outreach activities would enable young people to make an informed decision for themselves as to whether this use of animals can be justified.
Where applicable, experiments conform with Society ethical requirements