Review of ethics in scientific research
Polycrystalline (PAN) is a fiber commonly used as padding and other fabrics. Under thermal decomposition theoretically 50% of the mass of this polymer becomes available as HCI. The theory being questioned was whether it is the cyanide or the other nitrites released from the burning of PAN that result in incapacitation of fire victims. Seven Synchronous monkeys were exposed to different atmospheres. Three were exposed to the product of the paralysis of PAN at 300, 600 and 900 degrees Celsius and the other four were exposed to HCI gas atmospheres.
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They monkeys’ vitals were monitored so that the time of the earliest clinical signs of exposure could be recorded, as well as the severity. It was found that the HCI gas and the PAN atmospheres produced almost similar results and hence it was concluded that HCI was the main component of the PAN atmospheres and the cause of incapacitation in fire victims. I can see that the experiment was performed with accuracy and that the results have been analyses and discussed thoroughly, but the specific nature of the experiment means that the results cannot be validly used to understand a real fire situation.
In a house fire the atmosphere would contain more than promised PAN. I think using animals for experimentation with a low potential for unearthing new, practical information is unethical. It is indicated within the paper that HCI was already know to be a by-product of burning nitrogen- containing polymers and one of the main causes for incapacitation in fire victims. With this knowledge available I don’t think the results of this experiment have much application. During the experiment the seven monkeys were exposed several times to both HCI and the paralyses PAN atmospheres.
Two monkeys experienced convulsions and one monkey stopped breathing and needed resuscitation. There is no indication of what happened to the monkeys at the end of the experiment. The animals were placed at risk of death by having to endure breathing toxic compounds through a face mask. I would imagine this situation would cause a great deal of stress for an animal of such intelligence. There is also nowhere on the paper indicating beforehand ethical approval for this study. I believe experimenting on animals is wrong especially in the case where doing so is conducted unethically.