The three 'R's: Replacement, Reduction, Refinement. Applying medical ethics to art

14 February 2018

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The principles of the 3Rs (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement) were developed over 50 years ago providing a framework for performing more humane animal research. Since then they have been embedded in national and international legislation and regulations on the use of animals in scientific procedures, as well as in the policies of organisations that fund or conduct animal research (1).


A basic definition of the 3Rs is as follows:


Replacement - Methods which avoid or replace the use of animals


Reduction - Methods which minimise the number of animals used per experiment


Refinement - Methods which minimise animal suffering and improve welfare


The tremendous advancement of science and technology over the last century has undoubtedly improved the longevity and quality of human life. Particularly within the life sciences, human health has never been better understood or more impactful to society, with ground-breaking leaps such as the discovery of antibiotics, widespread immunisations, the human genome project, research into mental health, and the conception of the contraceptive pill, just to name a few. Unfortunately, in order to facilitate thorough understanding of the basic science to translate to complex human biology, animal research is currently still a much-needed stepping stone in drug development. The three Rs not only act to ensure animal welfare but push advancements in research for replacements for traditional animal models altogether, such as computer models, complex tissue models, and alternative organisms (2).


Any scientist, myself included, working within the medical sciences sphere has a basic understanding and ethical duty to uphold the 3Rs. It is something that is always ticking at the back of your mind at work while reading papers or discussing results, an awareness alongside accompanying ethics of human subjects in clinical trials, and the complicated ethics of health economics.


Although I have not explored animal research or medical ethics more broadly within the content of my art itself yet, I have poured the same consideration of the 3Rs in the generation of my art just as I would if planning a laboratory experiment or clinical study. Promoting sustainability, I buy all of my frames from local antique dealers and charity shops, restoring and upcycling as necessary with the help from local framers The Cambridge Framing Centre (3). Not only reducing the carbon footprint of each artwork, it also cuts the cost for the art buyer as my materials costs are generally lower than ordering custom made frames and are ready to hang. This eliminates potential waste and creates a unique worn-academic aesthetic for my art, one I feel compliments its inspiration in origins of early medical drawings. Each frame has its own history and character, providing me an extra stimulus when matching my art ideas from my sketchbook to its perfect partner to frame it.


Upholding these values for me is important in the way we conduct our daily lives. To incorporate ethical and sustainable sourcing of materials into my artwork I think highlights the wider influence medical ethics can impact upon in society, and physically embodies the principles in each frame I carefully select.

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