Contemporary Debates in Biomedical Ethics

Contemporary Debates in Bioethics

Animal Research Ethics and the 3R

Instructor: Prof. Bernice Elger and invitees

Coordinator: Dr. vet. med. Edwin Louis-Maerten and Aoife Milford

Course description

The use of animals in science has been attributed to key developments in many major fields of biology and medicine. So much so that many scientists feel that animal use is indispensable in order to pursue further scientific breakthrough. But the use of animal for experimental purposes (including basic research, translational and applied research, regulatory testing, and education) is a case of heated debates and is being more and more challenged in some countries. For instance, the Swiss citizens filed a popular initiative to ban animal experimentation in Switzerland, which was voted against in February 2022, and a new popular initiative is now on its way. In the European Union, the citizen’s initiative “Save Cruelty Free Cosmetics – Commit to a Europe without animal testing” was also debated at the Parliament last July. At the moment, the ethical grounds justifying animal experimentation are based on two major tenets that are the 3Rs (Replace, Reduce, Refine) and Harm-Benefit analysis. These tenets are enshrined into most national laws and institutional guidelines, as well as in the European Directive 2010/63 on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes. However, both are subject to increasing contests concerning their relevance with regard to our current understanding of animal welfare science, ethics and law, transparency in their review process led by Animal Ethics Committees, and their actual implementation in the laboratories by the animal research community.

This Contemporary Debates Seminar will dive into the concept of 3R and explore the practical issues involved in implementing them with examples taken from research, education and testing. A broader view on animal research ethics will also be taken, with considerations pertaining to the care of research staff, the scientific validity of animal use, or the moral status of animals being included. In these interactive sessions, course participants will attend presentations from leading international and national experts, and invited to discuss the ethical issues and proposed solutions at the end of each session.


After successfully completing this seminar series, you will gain a better understanding the ethical and practical issues related to animal research. You will also gain new perspectives and approaches to analyze ethical challenges in the context of animal experimentation.

Evaluation (for registered students)

1. Only one unexcused absence will be allowed. An additional absence may be allowed only if satisfactory reasons are provided.

2. Students are expected to write a 1,300 words essay (bibliography excluded) on one of the topics presented during the seminar, and include their personal thoughts on the ethical issues raised and the solutions discussed. Essays are to be written in English (Arial, font size 11 and 1.5-line spacing). More details will be provided at the introductory class.

Participation requirement:

The seminar series is open to both Unibas students and the general public.

Unibas students who wish to receive 2 ECTS to their transcript have to register to the course on the Course Directory and attend in-person in order to get the credit points.

If you are not a Unibas student, or do not wish to receive credit points, you may either attend the sessions in-person or over Zoom (a link will be sent a few days before each session).

Registration is now closed. Please send an email to the course coordinators if you are interested in attending a specific session.


Suggested readings will be provided a few days before each session on ADAM.


USB Gebäude B, Hörsaal 1

Address: Spitalstrasse 21, 4056 Basel

Time: 12:15 – 13:45 (Central Europe Time)

Course dates




Lecture Name


Edwin Louis-Maerten and Aoife Milford

University of Basel, IBMB

Animal research ethics and the 3Rs: Introductory lecture


Nick Jukes

International Network for Humane Education (InterNICHE), UK

Humane innovation and replacement in education


Dr. Bernhard Völkl

University of Bern

How many mice make a robust outcome?


Pr. Adrian Smith

Norecopa, Norway

The roles of 3R in planning animal experimentation


Pr. Hanno Würbel

University of Bern

The principles of rigorous and responsible animal research


David Lauras

Novartis, Basel

The roles of animal technicians in ensuring the 3Rs in the laboratory


Dr. Penny Hawkins and Dr. Marine Barnabé

RSPCA, Animals in Science Department, UK

The culture of care in animal experimentation


(no Zoom)

Edwin Louis-Maerten and Aoife Milford

University of Basel, IBMB
How to write an essay in bioethics


Dr. Kathrin Herrmann

Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing, USA

Beyond the 3Rs: how can we change the animal research paradigm?