Friday, April 15, 2016

"...an unbearable kind of suffering."

NIH Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee - June 2014

After listening to about an hour of discussion concerning the housing and biocontainment methods required for nonhuman primates used in bio-safety level 4 (BSL-4) laboratories, the University of Wisconsin-Madison representative on the committee, Norm Fost, offered a comment. No one on the committee or any of the representatives from institutions with these high-containment laboratories using monkeys responded to him. But what could they have said? (Stick BSL-4 in the search window above for many essays and links concerning biosafety in these labs.)

Norm Fost is a Professor Emeritus, Pediatrics and Bioethics.

A video of the meeting is available here: https://videocast.nih.gov/summary.asp?Live=14300&bhcp=1 The discussion about monkeys begins at about 4:00:00; Fost's comments at about 5:00:00. This is my transcription of his oral comments, any errors are mine.

I apologize if anything I say offends any of the many investigators and lab personnel and others who I know care deeply about these animals and obviously about the scientific importance of the research, but I must say all of this I find very troubling.

We would obviously not put humans in any of these kind of cages or rooms or [undecipherable]

In fact its a reason it's a preferred method of torture because it constitutes an unbearable kind of suffering.

It's been now 40 years since Harry Harlow at the University of Wisconsin, his disciple Steve Suomi at NIH, formally at Wisconsin, and Deborah Blum, a Pulitzer prize-winning writer on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin wrote her famous book about all this.

It's been well established for 40 years that the way monkeys experience this kind of deprivation, isolation and so on is indistinguishable from humans. That is, any measures you can make: hormonal, behavioral, long-term psychosocial and behavioral problems, it's not possible to discriminate any difference in the way monkeys respond to these sorts of things from the way humans [do]. That's why they are such fabulous animals if you're studying at least psycho-scocial responses to stress and deprivation you can draw conclusions about interventions that would be highly likely to be replicable in humans, unlike rats or mice or other kinds of animals.

So, if we would never do this to a human, and we wouldn't say its justified by the enormous amount of benefit that would come out of it, its hard to come up with a reason for doing it to primates other than just sheer speciesism, just that we can do it, we have the power to do it.

So, this discussion about big cages versus small cages or big rooms versus little rooms is beside the point.

I find the whole enterprise very troubling, with complete respect for the dedication of the people who are doing this for very admirable reasons and for the benefits that hopefully come out of it.

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