Recent developments in genome editing tools, along with limits in the translational potential of rodent models of human disease, have spurred renewed biomedical research interest in large mammals like nonhuman primates, pigs, and dogs. Such scientific developments raise ethical issues about the use of these animals in comparison with smaller mammals, such as mice and rats. To examine these ethical questions, we first consider standard (or “orthodox”) approaches, including ethics oversight within biomedical research communities, and critical theoretical reflections on animal research, including rights-based and utilitarian approaches. We argue that oversight of biomedical research offers guidance on the profession’s permitted uses of animals within a research setting and orthodox approaches to animal ethics questions when and whether animals should be used in biomedicine; however, neither approach sufficiently investigates the nuances of ethical practices within the research setting. To fill this lacuna, we consider a virtue ethical approach to the use of specific animal models in biomedicine. From this perspective, we argued that limitations on flourishing for large mammals in a research setting, as well as potential human-animal bonds, are two sources of likely ethical tensions in animal care and use in the context of larger mammals.
model animals; genome editing; animal ethics; virtue ethics; primate research; translational research