ProjectEthical considerations and standards

Basic data

Ethical considerations and standards
3/1/2014 to 2/28/2017
Abstract / short description:
Within the DFG research unit "The Physiology of distributed Computing Underlying Higher Brain Functions in Non-Human Primates" this subproject examines ethical implications related to research involving non-human primats.
There is great controversy on the questions whether, when and how experiments with non-human primates are ethically justifiable. Because of the close phylogenetic relationship, many claim that non-human primates are the best model to address particular research questions. Non-human primate research is often considered to be necessary to bridge the translational gap between laboratory and clinical research. Thereby, a proof of principle should be provided and the risks for research subjects participating in the forthcoming clinical trails may be minimized.
On the contrary, others argue that exactly the evolutionary nearness is the reason why they object experiments with non-human primates as a matter of principle. They argue that ethical justification supporting non-human primate research should also hold true for doing the research directly on humans. Because results from human subject’s research are more significant for benefiting humankind, humans should be preferred for research. With respect to this position there is no justification at all for taking non-human primates for research.
There is no reason to expect that the moral dissent with respect to ethical justification of research involving non-human primates, particularly in a global context, will disappear. Regardless of the fundamental dissent, practical decisions have to be made.

The main goal of this ethical research project is to provide the ethical and historical background for enabling non-arbitrary decisions in a situation of fundamental dissent. Therefore, five research goals are essential:

1. Systematic Overview

A systematic overview of the different ethical positions on using non-human primates for research will be given. Positions will be described and ordered with respect to the degree of promoting or objecting research on non-human primates. The criteria of ethical relevance will be presented and implicit presuppositions will be explicated.

2. History of Ethics of Non-human Primate Research and Its Cultural Background

A history of the ethics of non-human primate research and its cultural background will be elaborated. On the basis of official decisions and regulations, cultural differences will be set out and correlated to the systematic overview of ethical positions and arguments.

3. Directory of Official Decisions

All relevant official decisions, regulations and laws with respect to non-human primate research in North-America and Europe will be documented in a directory. Via an internet platform we will provide open access to this database for all members of the research group and others.

4. Gradualist Paradigm

With respect to the fundamental dissent, a gradualist model will be set up concerning the ethical acceptability of non-human primate research. Proceeding pragmatically, this paradigm will provide a ranking order, which presents research settings step by step from the most acceptable ones to ethically more problematic ones.
This pragmatic proceeding is based on the conviction that even in case of moral dissent a consensus might be possible about the question concerning which options are more and which options are less acceptable. The underlying arguments for the gradual assessment of the different options will be analysed. Against the backdrop of such a gradualist model, arguments can be provided as a basis for a decision in coherence with other moral decisions in biomedical research.

5. Ethics Consultation

During the funding period of the research group, we provide ethical consultation for planning research projects. We offer to give advice on how to design experiments with non-human primates with consideration of the ethical dimension.
animal welfare
Non-human primates

Involved staff


Faculty of Medicine
University of Tübingen
Institute of Ethics and History of Medicine
Non-clinical institutes, Faculty of Medicine

Contact persons

Institute of Ethics and History of Medicine
Non-clinical institutes, Faculty of Medicine

Local organizational units

Institute of Ethics and History of Medicine
Non-clinical institutes
Faculty of Medicine


Bonn, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

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