We have all heard the stories of the extremes members of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have gone to in order to turn heads and call attention to incidents they determine to be animal cruelty. So upon learning of PETA’s accusations that a UW-Madison animal research lab violated animal welfare laws while using cats to perform brain experiments, many of our initial reactions were to question the legitimacy of the claims. But while the group is controversial and sometimes disruptive, we welcome its insight onto our campus.
Animal research has seemingly always been a topic of debate, and rightfully so. At UW-Madison in the 1950s, experimenter Harry Harlow separated monkeys from their mothers to study childhood attachment styles, despite the notion that maternal deprivation typically has a severe negative impact on psychological development. In other experiments, baby monkeys were totally isolated from other monkeys for up to 24 months, leaving them seriously psychologically disturbed.
But today, legal guidelines are in place to ensure animal research is conducted in a humane manner. As long as animal experimentation follows the regulations set in place, we do not disprove of it.
In the situation at hand, we do not particularly trust either side with their accounts of what happened in the UW-Madison lab. PETA alleges “Double Trouble,” an orange tabby cat used in the experiments, underwent several invasive surgeries and was eventually euthanized. The lab, however, said the cat was used in legally sound experiments on cochlear implants. Lab officials said the experiments have revealed information that has allowed a young boy to hear.
Without knowing exactly what occurred within the confines of the lab room, we strongly support the National Institutes of Health and the United States Department of Agriculture’s ongoing investigation into the experiment.
If animal welfare guidelines were breached, the lab deserves to be penalized. While we believe the Food and Drug Administration and other government entities that hold researchers accountable for abiding by regulations are enough, and PETA is often more disruptive than constructive, we welcome its watchdog role onto our campus.
If PETA is willing to work with the university’s researchers in a constructive way to improve experimentation tactics, it could bring a beneficial perspective to the table.
And while we trust the FDA is competent to hold experimenters accountable to engaging in lawful research practices, having the extra check on researchers can help ensure no valid cases of animal cruelty slip through the cracks.
Possibly most importantly, the group brings publicity and debate to controversial issues, such as animal experimentation, and forces members of society to engage in constructive dialogue surrounding ways to improve the treatment of animals. Conversations such as these that call into question the status quo are part of what makes UW-Madison the intellectual powerhouse that it is.
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