Animal testing has been a subject of controversy for many decades. During the 18th century after hundreds of years of animal testing, we concluded that animals could indeed feel pain (1). That brought up the moral dilemma in the next century of whether or not this pain could be justified for scientific research.
We have come a long way from the 19th century, but this topic is still, for some reason, up for debate. Right here in Massachusetts, we have two major research labs whose ethics have been questioned lately because of their use of animal testing.
Harvard University has consistently been under scrutiny for using cruel methods. From 2010 to 2012, four monkeys died under their care, causing major backlash from the public (2). After the public found out about these deaths, The Boston Globe revealed, “a dozen monkeys between 1999 and 2011 had been found dehydrated and dead in their cages or had been euthanized for poor health” (2).
Somehow, after that disaster, Harvard was allowed more funded research; this time on rhesus monkeys. Researchers took pregnant mothers and isolated them from their families in cages until they gave birth, only to rip the newborns from their mothers and replace them with stuffed animals. Apparently, they wanted to add to the already abundant research we have on the relationship between primate mothers and their babies (3).
While that is traumatic enough for the babies, they decided to traumatize them further by sewing their eyelids shut. Why? So they could observe how the monkeys perceived faces after not being able to see for a year. To study these reactions, they implanted electrodes into their heads (3). Obviously, this would severely stunt both their brain and social development, but they don’t seem to care about these effects.
Of course, this study was funded once again by NIH, which means this was paid with taxpayers’ money (3). This brings up the everlasting debate of whether or not this research is significant enough to excuse the extreme trauma it causes the animals.
An article published in 2012 claims, “Harvard promises change after fourth monkey death” (4), yet here they are again causing significant damage to the mental state of these rhesus monkeys. Time and time again Harvard proves that they are not to be trusted with the well-being of animals, yet for some reason, they are continually provided funding.
Hundreds of scientists worldwide, along with Harvard Law School, sent Harvard Medical School a letter, urging them to stop this cruel practice on Feb. 8 (4). We will wait to see the effect of this letter, but as their last actions proved, they probably won’t listen.
Another site for animal testing is our sister school, UMass Amherst. While their practices don’t involve killing animals, this doesn’t mean their experiments are ethical. UMass Amherst does its experiments on marmosets to aid in menopause research (6).
Sheryl Baker, president of Western Massachusetts Animal Rights Advocates, explained to Daily Hampshire Gazette that animals are used to research treatment for menopause by implanting electrodes in their heads, making cuts in their necks and using heat to simulate menopause (6).
The purpose of this study sounds good in theory, but marmosets don’t even experience menopause (7). They use hormone treatment, but will it even apply to humans? Why are researchers subjecting these animals to harsh treatment when we know they don’t experience the stage being tested?
This program is funded by The National Institute on Aging. UMass Amherst claims that their labs involve the “highest ethical standards”(8); however, People for Ethical Treatment of Animals requested lab footage from this experiment that showed the animals in cages barely three feet tall, and screeching in very apparent distress. They also claimed that the marmosets were being caged together so they wouldn’t be in isolation, but from the video footage, that proves false (9).
What exactly can we do to help these animals in this situation? It's easy to feel helpless, especially when it comes to government-funded research. Change.org has petitions to sign to shut down both of these studies. You can also donate to PETA directly, which aids in shutting these programs down. You can email UMass Amherst’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee by emailing the chair at firstname.lastname@example.org. Harvard's IACUC can be emailed at email@example.com.
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