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German court bars local-government interference with animal research

Andreas Kreiter

Posted on behalf of Alison Abbott.

A landmark court ruling this week has ended uncertainties in Germany about who may decide the permissible level of animal suffering in experiments. On 11 December, Bremen’s administrative court said that local health authorities had been wrong in 2008 to block a licence for neuroscience studies on macaque monkeys.

The authorities argued at the time that experiments carried out by Andreas Kreiter at the University of Bremen were not ethically justified because the animals suffered too much. But the court decided that the animals’ discomfort was “at most moderate”. It further ruled that it did not fall within the remit of local authorities to make decisions relating to level of animal suffering — formal expert committees, as outlined in Europe-wide laws, have this responsibility.

Kreiter studies the neuronal mechanisms involved in paying attention. Campaigns against his work by animal-rights advocates — which have included death threats against himself and his family — began soon after he joined the university in 1996. The campaigns gained increasing political support, and in 2007 Bremen’s Social Democrat–Green coalition decided not to renew his licence, which had been due to expire the following year.

The government carried out its threat, ignoring an expert committee of scientists and welfare organizations that had judged the work ethically justifiable. The university successfully challenged the case in court, which ruled in October 2009. The health authorities immediately appealed to the higher court, which gave its verdict this week — and disallowed further appeal. The authorities still have the right to ask a federal court to order the Bremen court to reconsider, but legal experts doubt such a request would be successful, given the thoroughness if the Bremen court’s 3,000-page report.

Kreiter has been allowed to continue his research throughout the legal challenges. “Fortunately — otherwise it would have been the end for my research,” he says.

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    Paul Browne said:

    This is an important victory for scientific freedom. Andreas Kreiter deserves a lot of credit for standing firm and pursuing this case in the courts for several years when it would have been easier for him to move his research elsewhere, and the University of Bremen deserves to be praised for standing by him. His decision to stay put and fight this case may have taken a lot of time and energy that he would otherwise have devoted to his research career, but in doing this he has helped to secure the future of basic biomedical research in Germany, and indeed across the EU.

    In other European countries the situation is not so good, especially in Italy where the new EU directive on animal research will not be transposed into domestic law in time to meet the January 1st deadline for implementation, thanks to an animal-rights influenced amendment that contravenes the Directive itself. The amendment failed, but the EU directive cannot now be transposed in Italy until after the elections in spring 2013. It is vital that the scientific community in Italy does all it can to ensure that the elections return a crop of representatives that recognize the value of science in general, and animal research in particular.

    Just over a month ago a group of Italian scientists and supporters of medical research established Pro-Test Italia, a new organization dedicated to campaigning for science and medical progress in Italy, and hopefully this new group will help to make the voice of science heard in Italy…it is a voice that has been missing from public discourse there for far too long.

    http://speakingofresearch.com/2012/12/13/introducing-pro-test-italia/

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      Bert Robusto said:

      In your view the decision is an “important victory for scientific freedom”. In mine, it is a big loss in the battle to protect animals, particularly NHPs from cruel and unethical research. Yes, science is valuable, finding stuff out is valuable but research must operate within ethical limits. We are not entitled to knowledge that breaches those limits. Suppose Prof. Kreiter wanted to experiment on your brain? He’d get good data I should think, much more reliable and transferable to humans than his NHP data. You’d be upset and so would your family, but we could argue that the benefit to society and the increase in scientific knowledge would justify your sacrifice. Ridiculous? Abominable? Exactly, so saying “science is important” is not the end of the argument about doing what Kreiter does to the brains of complex, sentient creatures , nor even really the beginning.

      In my opinion, Kreiter’s research should been banned permanently as the Bremen authorities bravely attempted. He should have been required to take a course in ethics and spend some time in prison for animal cruelty.

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