I was recently part of a small group that had the opportunity to meet with the UW Graduate School’s unaffiliated IACUC member of approximately five years, The Rev. Maurine Lewis, Rector of St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church.
For those who don’t know, the Animal Welfare Act stipulates that every research institution using species covered by the Act must have an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee responsible for assuring that the institution’s animal use complies with the Act. The Act stipulates that the committee must have, at a minimum, three members: a veterinarian familiar with the use of animals in research, a representative from the institution, and an unaffiliated member to represent the community’s interests.
It was an enlightening meeting. We asked whether she was familiar with Stuart G. Mondschein, JD, another of the university’s IACUCs’ unaffiliated members. She hadn’t heard of him. (The University of Wisconsin, Madison has six such committees, one each for the various schools using animals: the vet school, the grad school – which oversees the primate center, the ag school, etc., and the All Campus Committee.)
Nor had anyone given her a copy of his article from the June 2007 issue of Lab Animal.
From what Reverend Lewis said, and from what Mr. Mondshein has written, the unaffiliated members at the University of Wisconsin are isolated from each other. The university does nothing to facilitate dialog between them, or even introduce them to each other. Maybe there isn’t anything sinister in this, but there is clear and blatant incompetence if the goal is informed decision-making.
Mondshein lamented that the unaffiliated member is left to figure it all out on his or her own. And yet, let any criticism arise in the press regarding animal use and the university spokespersons are quick to point out that the community’s interests are represented on the oversight committees by an unaffiliated member of the public; unaffiliated, uninformed and isolated, apparently.
We learned in our meeting with Reverend Lewis that although she has seen the animal housing rooms at the primate center, she has never seen a monkey with a cranial implant, or one who appeared to be ill, or any stereotypic behavior. She is under the impression that after the monkeys are no longer wanted for research that they are retired and are allowed to live out their lives with other aging monkeys. She hasn’t been inside a primate lab in a number of years she said; now she sees only mouse labs. And, she is uncertain that she even sees all the protocols approved by the committee.
She characterized herself as the “stupid one” on the committee and said that so long as Dr. Sandgren and the primate veterinarian, “Buddy” Capuano approve of the research, who is she to challenge their opinion?
The community’s interests are not being served by keeping these people isolated from each other, providing little training for them, or by keeping them out of the more controversial labs. The negligence with which these people are treated says much about the university's and the industry's interest in substantive discussion and decision-making regarding the use of animals.
The unaffiliated members appear to be dupes more than informed active participants who represent the public's interests.