Monday, February 8, 2010

Public Debate on the Ethics of Monkey Research

Dane Co. Board Debates Controversial UW Animal Research
Supervisors Send Letter To Chancellor, Appeal For Biddy Martin's Involvement
February 8, 2010

MADISON, Wis. -- The Dane County Board has gotten involved in presidential politics and war in the past.

Now, a majority of board members are weighing in on the University of Wisconsin-Madison's primate research.

Twenty county board supervisors have sent a letter to UW-Madison's Chancellor Biddy Martin, asking her to get directly involved in the ethics of monkey experimentation.

WISC-TV has learned that a public debate on the ethics of monkey research will be held on campus in March, keeping alive a touchy campus debate that's been brewing for years.

The question of whether it's ethical to experiment on monkeys last came up in early January 2010.

At the direction of the chancellor, the UW's All Campus Animal Care and Use commmittee answered a question long-posed by animal activist Rick Marolt of Madison.

The committee voted and decided monkey research was ethical because the UW committee and others always follow federal animal welfare standards.

However, in the letter sent to Martin last Friday, 20 county board supervisors said the committee didn't tackle the real question of whether it's right to experiment on primates.

District 6 Supervisor John Hendrick is one of those who signed the letter.

"We would really like to have everyone view this as a moral issue, and to answer that question," said Hendrick.

Hendrick also said the county board has passed resolutions regarding monkeys before -- including one closing down a county zoo exhibit with UW monkeys in it -- and it's possible the board could do so again.

In the letter to the chancellor, the supervisors question whether the committee analysis was conflict-free and they urge Martin to join an upcoming public discussion.

A Wisconsin Union Directorate committee has scheduled a March 15 ethics debate where animal activist Rick Bogle will go head-to-head with monkey researcher Dr. Paul Kaufman, the chairman of the UW Ophthalmology Department who focuses his research on developing therapies for eye diseases like glaucoma.

The primate research debate will include a question and answer period, according to organizers.

"The University of Wisconsin is one of largest primate researchers in the country. And we thought that this would be really as good a place as any to raise the question of the ethics of primate research and to really get students and people in the community to think about that critically," said Sean Becker, associate director for the Society and Politics committee of the Wisconsin Union Directorate.

UW-Madison is only one of eight National Primate Research Centers, and there's a move to expand it, WISC-TV reported.

The primate center has about 1,200 monkeys, most of them Rhesus. The center has said most of the research it does is non-invasive.

A UW representative said Monday that the chancellor just got the letter, but will respond.

Dr. Kaufman declined to comment before the scheduled debate


Anonymous said...

Today I prepared a rhesus macaque ileum for cell culture to be used in HIV research. The monkey had been infected with SIV, the monkey analogue to HIV, the causative virus in AIDS. We are going to use it to try to develop a vaccine for AIDS. I know that the vaccine is probably a long way off, but I hope that someday it can be used to end so much human suffering in Africa and throughout the world. I cannot think of a more useful animal model for HIV than the SIV infected rhesus macaque. I feel that if humanity desires an HIV vaccine, this is our best current option. What do you think?

Rick said...

I believe that you view your work in a positive light and feel it is important because it might one day lead to human benefit.

I recommend two books:

On the point of likelihood of benefit from modeling a human disease with an African monkey virus in an Asian monkey species, read Animal Models in Light or Evolution. Shanks and Greek, 2009.

On the question of whether someone involved in this endeavor can fairly evaluate their and their peers bahavior, read The Lucifer Effect. Zimbardo, 2008.