Animal Models in Forensic Science Research: Justified Use or Ethical Exploitation?

Sci Eng Ethics. 2019 Aug;25(4):1095-1110. doi: 10.1007/s11948-018-0053-1. Epub 2018 May 1.


A moral dilemma exists in biomedical research relating to the use of animal or human tissue when conducting scientific research. In human ethics, researchers need to justify why the use of humans is necessary should suitable models exist. Conversely, in animal ethics, a researcher must justify why research cannot be carried out on suitable alternatives. In the case of medical procedures or therapeutics testing, the use of animal models is often justified. However, in forensic research, the justification may be less evident, particularly when research involves the infliction of trauma on living animals. To determine how the forensic science community is dealing with this dilemma, a review of literature within major forensic science journals was conducted. The frequency and trends of the use of animals in forensic science research was investigated for the period 1 January 2012-31 December 2016. The review revealed 204 original articles utilizing 5050 animals in various forms as analogues for human tissue. The most common specimens utilized were various species of rats (35.3%), pigs (29.3%), mice (17.7%), and rabbits (8.2%) although different specimens were favored in different study themes. The majority of studies (58%) were conducted on post-mortem specimens. It is, however, evident that more needs to be done to uphold the basic ethical principles of reduction, refinement and replacement in the use of animals for research purposes.

Keywords: 3R’s; Animal experimentation; Animal models; Forensic research; Post-mortem studies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anesthetics
  • Animal Experimentation / ethics*
  • Animal Experimentation / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Animals
  • Animals, Laboratory
  • Cattle
  • Dogs
  • Ethics, Research*
  • Euthanasia, Animal / ethics
  • Forensic Sciences / ethics*
  • Forensic Sciences / methods*
  • Mice
  • Models, Animal*
  • Postmortem Changes
  • Rabbits
  • Rats
  • Research Design / standards*
  • Sheep
  • Swine


  • Anesthetics