Controversial Baby Monkey Experiments Resume After 20 Years – Intellectualyst

At the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Department of Psychiatry Chair Ned H. Kalin, M.D. is removing newborn rhesus monkeys from their mothers and putting them in isolation for the first seven weeks of their lives. He plans to expose the infant monkeys to numerous frightening experiences, including being in close proximity to a live snake, and will kill the monkeys after one year to examine their brains. Dr. Kalin hopes to learn more about the physiological underpinnings of anxiety and to shed light on anxiety disorders in humans.

The experiments have prompted a growing protest from students and alumni of the university, as well as from animal welfare organizations and the general public. These groups contend that Kalin’s techniques exceed ethical boundaries. Rhesus monkeys normally spend the first month of their lives in literally uninterrupted physical contact with their mothers. According to researchers, in many ways their mother-infant bond is similar to humans:  the mothers “kiss” their babies and have a “sustained mutual gaze,” indicating that rhesus monkeys have a “rich internal world.” It is evident from all we know about these animals that deprivation of nurturing from the mother causes extreme emotional trauma and psychic pain for the rhesus monkey infant.

There is a history of maternal deprivation research at the University of Wisconsin that goes back to the 1950s. Several generations of psychology textbooks have described Harry F. Harlow’s isolated rhesus monkey babies who preferred snuggling with their “terry cloth mothers” even though the milk they received came from the “wire mothers” on the other side of their barren enclosures.  Harlow, and then his students, continued to use rhesus monkeys in various deprivation studies through the 1980s. These types of experiments have not been conducted at the University in over 20 years.

The current experiments at UW have alarmed other researchers and set off a controversy in the professional community. Guidelines specified in an amendment to the Animal Welfare Act of 1985 and a 1998 report by the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research addressing the psychological well-being of non-human primates are clearly violated by UW’s studies. Furthermore, there appears to be some questioning within the University’s oversight committee as to the usefulness of Dr. Kalin’s research and whether the admittedly extreme measures he uses justify hypotheses that are too general to have any real scientific consequence. The committee’s reluctance to withhold approval of maternal-deprivation studies despite these doubts is troubling and suggests a rubber-stamp mentality. What is even more troubling is that minutes from the oversight committee indicate some confusion on their part as to the extent of their authority to reject such protocols.

The result of the University’s irresponsibility regarding the stewardship of their primate program is the intense suffering of baby rhesus monkeys. Rick Bogle of Madison, Wisconsin’s Alliance for Animals describes Kalin’s project as “a backward moral leap” and the workings of the oversight committee as a kind of maze or “mental Möbius pretzel” where one keeps returning to “the same mistaken conclusions.” Lori Gruen, Professor of Philosophy at Wesleyan University and author of Ethics and Animals:  An Introduction, comments “There was no oversight system in place back in the days when Harry Harlow’s experiments psychologically tormenting baby monkeys were making news. Surely that sort of horrible work in which infant primates are taken from their mothers to make them crazy wouldn’t be approved of today. On my recent visit to the University of Wisconsin I was shocked to learn otherwise.”

Dr. Kalin’s research is funded by a federal grant from the National Institutes of Health. He has received over five million dollars of taxpayer money in the past ten years.

Alice Bruckenstein

Controversial Baby Monkey Experiments Resume After 20 Years – Intellectualyst.