On 13 February 2022, the Swiss electorate will vote on the popular initiative «Yes to a ban on animal and human experimentation», which calls for animal experiments and clinical studies in humans to be prohibited in the future. Approval of this initiative would jeopardise scientific progress, scientific education and training, and healthcare in Switzerland. The SAMS recommends the rejection of the initiative.
What are the aims of the popular initiative? It formulates extremely stringent restrictions on experiments in animals and humans (clinical studies), and on imports of medicines developed with the aid of such experiments. Like the universities and other research institutions, the SAMS warns of the consequences of approving the initiative. This would impede basic and applied research and prevent any clinical research in patients or volunteers which involved a study drug developed using animal experiments. Also affected by the ban would be trade in and imports and exports of products of all types and sectors for which animal experiments have been directly or indirectly carried out.
Research: a prerequisite for medical progress
The approval of this initiative would have an enormous impact on healthcare: the Swiss population (and veterinary medicine) would no longer be able to use many medicines or treatments from which it has benefited to date or are available in other countries. To take a specific example: if such regulations were in force today, Switzerland would probably be the only country in the world which could not vaccinate the population against Covid-19 because this would be prohibited by law. Animal models which make it possible to understand how the coronavirus acts in the body and to test treatments in vivo before they are administered to humans are of crucial importance in the preclinical phase of efforts to control the pandemic. No new methods are currently available which would allow vaccines to be developed – and their safety and efficacy to be tested – without requiring the use of animals or clinical studies. Such experiments are now indispensable and their conduct is strictly regulated to ensure reliable protection of participants.
In the light of the above, warnings against the adoption of the initiative have been issued by swissuniversities, the Swiss Clinical Trial Organisation (SCTO) and other scientific institutions in Switzerland. This position is endorsed by the SAMS.
Research with human subjects is strictly regulated
As practised today, research with human subjects is the safest way of developing new therapeutic options and improving existing treatments. Since it always involves both opportunities and risks, it is rightly among the most strictly regulated and closely monitored areas of research, in Switzerland and elsewhere. In its manual «Research with human subjects» (2015), the SAMS provides investigators and members of ethics committees with a comprehensive overview of the current provisions of the Federal Act on Research Involving Human Beings (Human Research Act, HRA).
Responsible use of animals is essential
In various fields of research, the use of animals continues to make a vital contribution to our understanding of diseases and to the further development of treatments. Such research must always be carried out in accordance with Swiss animal welfare legislation and be justifiable on the basis of an ethical evaluation (weighing of interests). Under existing legislation, animal experiments are to be restricted to the essential minimum, with priority being accorded to the use of alternative methods. The SAMS seeks to ensure that animal experiments are conducted in accordance with the regulations and in an ethically responsible manner; in 2017, for example, it published guidance on the weighing of interests for proposed animal experiments.