All of our work is grounded in ethics and the recognition that justice is a key prerequisite for the health and wellbeing of people, animals, and the planet.
Promoting Ecological Justice and the Right to Health
The climate emergency, the COVID-19 pandemic, environmental degradation, and other public health threats plainly illustrate how the rights, health, and wellbeing of people, animals, and our shared environments are connected.
Healthy environments are virtually impossible to realize without ecological justice, which requires respect for the rights of human and nonhuman beings, as well as just relationships within and between species.
Despite an urgent need to address the interdependent health of people, animals, and the environment, the health and human rights, public health, and scientific literature have rarely focused on relationships between the moral and legal rights of humans, animals, and the natural environment, and how the recognition of these connections influences the right to health.
As a member of the Harvard FXB Health and Human Rights Consortium, PZI helps publish open access to the Health and Human Rights Journal, which provides an inclusive forum for action-oriented dialogue.
PZI’s CEO Dr. Hope Ferdowsian served as a guest editor for the December 2021 Health and Human Rights Journal issue, which focused on innovative work in the area of ecological justice and the right to health.
Papers in the journal address:
- intersections between social and environmental justice that impact the right to health;
- relationships between the legal, political, and economic treatment of humans, other animals, and the natural environment;
- how international frameworks such as One Health and the Sustainable Development Goals could better address the right to health; and
- the potential influence of expansive rights frameworks, including nonhuman rights, on human health outcomes.
Advancing Research Ethics
Fortunately, we now have real research protections for human subjects of biomedical and behavioral research, including for vulnerable populations such as children. But these protections weren’t always in place.
Despite an unjust history plagued by racism, sexism, and ableism, human research has become more ethical. In 1974, the US Congress established the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, which published a document called The Belmont Report five years later.
At the time, The Belmont Report changed the conduct of human research and it led to informed consent requirements, mandatory assessments of the risks and benefits of research, and special protections for vulnerable populations such as children and prisoners.
Using a broad framework of justice, The Belmont Report highlighted the importance of avoiding actual and potential harms—particularly in research involving individuals who cannot provide consent or those who could be targeted because of their vulnerabilities in society.
The Belmont Report revolutionized human research, although its call for justice and avoiding harm have yet to be fully realized—often because of an over reliance on animal experiments rather than human-centered advances in technology.
Today, some of the most problematic research practices involve animals. Millions of animals—including dogs, cats, nonhuman primates, and many other species of small and large animals—are used in research each year.
Almost all animals, including dogs and cats people know, love, and care for in their homes, can be used in research. Nearly anything can be done to an animal in the name of science. There is no real threshold for protecting animals from severe physical and psychological harm.
A growing number of doctors, scientists, and policymakers question the validity and reliability of applying knowledge gained from animal experiments to human ailments, as well as the risks such poor science poses to vulnerable human patients and populations.
Fortunately, although they have yet to be fully implemented, there are more ethical, patient-relevant tools that can be used to study disease and therapeutic interventions.
Still, approximately half of the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funds animal research. Members of the tax-paying public have scarce access to reports on how those public funds are spent, and whether these investments contribute to improved medical science or the prevention and eradication of major diseases and disorders.
As part of our commitment to a Just One Health approach, we believe it is time to extend the ethical framework set forth in The Belmont Report to animals, and we are working toward this goal.
Our efforts to reexamine the principles outlined in the Belmont Report and related documents also prompt a reevaluation of human research, including the need to further enhance protections for those who are most vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
We advocate for
- increased transparency in medical research;
- preferential funding for ethical, patient-relevant, non-animal research methods;
- improved academic and publishing standards;
- more ethical and innovative training pathways; and
- a clear roadmap toward the replacement of laboratory animal research with more ethical, effective, and patient-centered methods in accordance with the principles established in The Belmont Report.
Interested in learning more? Check out our Transforming Medical Research Event.
Watch and share our video about why we need a Belmont Report for Animals.
As part of a commitment to a Just One Health approach, many of our efforts focus on children and animals, who belong to two of the most vulnerable groups in the world. A failure to adequately recognize their needs and rights in international frameworks, national and local policies, and everyday practice leads to widespread abuse and exploitation.
Since the most vulnerable are usually the first and last to be exploited, they are where we place our focus—while also recognizing their agency.
If the most vulnerable thrive, the rest of us can too.
Advancing the Rights of Children
From the time they are born, children face a range of challenges that affect their development and their ability to thrive. Some children are more vulnerable than others because they face abuse and exploitation or adverse social and environmental determinants of health. No child should be unhoused or live in a toxic environment, be denied sanctuary from oppression, or suffer because they are kept from meeting their basic needs.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is an international agreement that describes the basic rights of children. It is the most comprehensive framework for helping governments ensure that children are protected from exploitation and abuse and that children are provided with what they need to live, grow, and thrive.
Since Somalia’s ratification of the Convention in 2015, the US remains the only member of the United Nations that has not yet ratified the CRC.
US ratification of the CRC would be a significant step toward continuing to improve the lives of children around the world, including by
- ensuring that children are not exploited by industries seeking cheap and compliant laborers;
- ensuring access to adequate healthcare, including mental health services;
- ensuring children are able to attend school;
- ensuring adequate access to healthful food and clean water;
- improving the status of children without shelter;
- ending the forced marriage and sex trafficking of children; and
- ending the prosecution and incarceration of children as adults, including practices such as solitary confinement.
In lieu of the US ratification of the CRC, PZI works with other organizations to identify ways to uphold the spirit of the CRC in national policies and practices.
Leadership to Advance the Rights of Children
We have partnered with First Focus on Children and the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights to convene a coalition of leaders in children’s rights, medicine, case law, and legislative advocacy. The group has prioritized various policy initiatives as pathways to advance many of the rights and protections set forth by the CRC.
One of the avenues we’re pursuing is the establishment of an office or entity with the authority to oversee and coordinate children’s interests across all federal agencies and programs.
This effort elevates child protection issues into the realm of other issues with cabinet level positions. Using other national and state offices as a model, the position would advocate for federal services that foster child and family wellness; address social and environmental determinants of health for children; and coordinate between federal agencies to better serve the interests of children.
Coalition-Based Efforts to Protect Children
PZI has also joined a coalition of child advocacy organizations urging President Biden to appoint a senior White House position to oversee children’s issues. The coalition is asking the Administration to designate a leader and structure within the Domestic Policy Council to coordinate and advance federal policy on children and youth.
PZI has supported an additional slate of specific child protection initiatives, including a federal framework that would explicitly include racial equity, the “best interests of the child” standard included in the CRC, and practices recognizing that children have fundamental rights and voice.
We advocate for all of these efforts to take a Just One Health approach, recognizing that the rights, health, and wellbeing of children are inextricably linked with those of all people, animals, and the planet.
Advancing the Rights of Animals
Nonhuman animals are vulnerable in many of the ways that children are. Science has shown that nonhuman animals suffer like humans do, and that they may suffer more because of their inability to understand or control what is being done to them.
They have no political power, and social, economic, environmental, and legal constructs make them even more vulnerable.
The connections between child and animal protection have been prioritized in the US since the nineteenth century when Henry Bergh, the founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), used New York State animal protection legislation to successfully argue on behalf of an abused and neglected ten-year-old girl named Mary Ellen.
Like Henry Bergh and others, we believe that protections for children and animals need to be advanced together since their vulnerabilities in society often stem from the same problems. As a matter of justice, animals also deserve the opportunity to be protected from abuse and exploitation and to live, grow, and thrive.
History has shown that justice for human beings often depends on whether nonhuman beings receive justice.
We advance protections for animals in areas where we can bring to bear our expertise and experience in the fields of medicine, science, public health, and international affairs.
Through our programs and initiatives, we raise awareness about the needs and plight of all animals, including human beings, and the basis for advancing clear protections through changes in policy, research, and practice.