Assigning ethical weights to clinical signs observed during toxicity testing

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Joakim Ringblom
Elin Törnqvist
Sven Ove Hansson
Christina Rudén
Mattias Öberg


Reducing the number of laboratory animals used and refining experimental procedures to enhance animal welfare are fundamental questions to be considered in connection with animal experimentation. Here, we explored the use of cardinal ethical weights for clinical signs and symptoms in rodents by conducting trade-off interviews with members of Swedish Animal Ethics Committees in order to derive such weights for nine typical clinical signs of toxicity. The participants interviewed represent researchers, politically nominated political nominees and representatives of animal welfare organizations. We observed no statistically significant differences between these groups with respect to the magnitude of the ethical weights assigned, though the political nominees tended to assign lower weights. Overall, hunched posture was considered the most severe clinical sign and body weight loss the least severe. The ethical weights assigned varied considerably between individuals, from zero to infinite value, indicating discrepancies in prioritization of reduction and refinement. Cardinal ethical weights may be utilized to include both animal welfare refinement and reduction of animal use in designing as well as in retrospective assessment of animal experiments. Such weights may also be used to estimate ethical costs of animal experiments.

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Ringblom, J., Törnqvist, E., Hansson, S. O., Rudén, C. and Öberg, M. (2017) “Assigning ethical weights to clinical signs observed during toxicity testing”, ALTEX - Alternatives to animal experimentation, 34(1), pp. 148–156. doi: 10.14573/altex.1512211.