Max Planck Society adopts a White Paper on animal research

The Senate of the Max Planck Society has adopted a declaration of principle (White Paper) on the subject of "Animal Experiments in Basic Research". The Max Planck Society emphasises therein the indispensability of animal research but also acknowledges the special responsibility of each individual scientist for the animals used in research and the ethical issues associated with experiments carried out on sentient beings. Various measures are intended to contribute to enhancing the well-being of the animals and promoting a culture of care for the animals. The MPG drew up the paper after extensive consultation with an international committee which was convened by the President of the Max Planck Society. The committee comprised renowned researchers from various areas of the life sciences, behavioural researchers, ethicists, communication specialists and senior individuals from the field of research policy.

In its White Paper, the Max Planck Society emphasises that biological and medical research still needs to rely on experiments with animals in order to study the complicated interplay of components in complex organisms. "We cannot understand interconnected systems such as the immune system or the brain, for example, just by examining their individual components or by means of simplified models and computer simulations", explains Wolf Singer, Chairperson of the committee of experts convened by Max Planck President Martin Stratmann, and long-standing Director of the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research, who now conducts research at the Ernst Strüngmann Institute in Frankfurt.

The Max Planck Society underscores, in its White Paper, the value of knowledge in itself, even if it does not immediately lead to beneficial applications. Many of the challenges faced by humankind today can only be mastered by evidence-based interventions. There is thus an obligation to strive for knowledge. The research of the Max Planck Society therefore focuses on the anticipated increase in knowledge rather than on short-term considerations of usefulness.

The White Paper emphasises in particular the ethical conflicts resulting from research with animals: the gain in insight expected from an experiment must be weighed against the harm inflicted on animals – an evaluation for which there are no universally accepted standards. "For that reason, societies must continuously renegotiate the way in which they intend to deal with this ethical dilemma", Singer emphasises.

Introduction of a fourth "R" for Responsibility

In its White Paper, the Max Planck Society has adopted a series of measures designed to achieve the best possible compromise between the obligation to protect the animals used for research and the need to perform research with sentient beings in order to gain insights into the processes supporting the life of organisms.

These measures include:

  • strengthening the culture of care for the animals; this is to be achieved through improved coordination of animal welfare within the MPG, while at the same time maintaining the highest quality of science
  • transparent presentation of animal research for the general public
  • research aimed at improving the implementation of the 3 R principle
  • research on the living conditions of research animals, their social behaviour, perception of pain, consciousness and their right for life
  • training of all employees working with animals in animal ethics

The Max Planck Society dedicates itself to the best possible implementation of the 3 R principle (Replacement, Reduction, Refinement) by investing in methodological developments that serve to replace or minimise the use of animals, to reduce suffering and improve welfare. In addition the Max Planck Society intends to take a lead in the difficult discussions on ethical issues in animal research. This includes the constant re-evaluation of harm and stress in animal research on the basis of the latest scientific insights into the sentience, consciousness and intelligence of different species of animals. "Approaches which may be acceptable on the basis of today's knowledge, might be viewed differently in some years’ time", explains Singer with reference to the obligations associated with the fourth R.


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