Ethical and scientific pitfalls concerning laboratory research with non-human primates, and possible solutions

Constança Carvalho*, Augusta Gaspar, Andrew Knight, Luís Vicente

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


Basic and applied laboratory research, whenever intrusive or invasive, presents substantial ethical challenges for ethical committees, be it with human beings or with non-human animals. In this paper we discuss the use of non-human primates (NHPs), mostly as animal models, in laboratory based research. We examine the two ethical frameworks that support current legislation and guidelines: deontology and utilitarianism. While human based research is regulated under deontological principles, guidelines for laboratory animal research rely on utilitarianism. We argue that the utilitarian framework is inadequate for this purpose: on the one hand, it is almost impossible to accurately predict the benefits of a study for all potential stakeholders; and on the other hand, harm inflicted on NHPs (and other animals) used in laboratory research is extensive despite the increasing efforts of ethics committees and the research community to address this. Although deontology and utilitarianism are both valid ethical frameworks, we advocate that a deontological approach is more suitable, since we arguably have moral duties to NHPs. We provide suggestions on how to ensure that research currently conducted in laboratory settings shifts towards approaches that abide by deontological principles. We assert that this would not impede reasonable scientific research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number12
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


  • Animal use alternatives
  • Biomedical research
  • Deontology
  • Non-human primate research
  • Utilitarianism


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