In a thoughtful opinion piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Lawrence A. Hansen—an Alzheimer’s researcher at the University of California at San Diego who is also a PETA member—laments the reluctance of both animal experimenters and some animal rights activists to move toward any sort of common ground. But he reserves most of his criticism for institutional-animal-care-and-use committees, which are supposed to make sure that alternatives to animals are used whenever possible, that experiments are scientifically valid, and that animal protection regulations are followed. But more often they are simply rubber stamps for any experiment that comes across their desks.
In his essay, a portion of which is excerpted below, he makes the case for a sea change in the way such committees operate—in the interest of “good science” that is both valid and ethical.
Professor Hansen writes:
One especially disturbing example of primate vivisection repeatedly approved by many university animal-care-and-use committees is a decades-long series of highly invasive experiments performed on rhesus monkeys to learn more about the neuronal circuitry of visual tracking in the brain. The luckless monkeys undergo multiple surgeries to have coils implanted in both eyes; holes drilled in their skulls to allow researchers to selectively destroy some parts of their brains and put recording electrodes in others; and head-immobilization surgeries in which screws, bolts, and plates are directly attached to their skulls. The monkeys are anesthetized during these surgeries. After a recovery period, they are intentionally dehydrated to produce a water-deprivation “work ethic” so that they will visually track moving objects for the reward of a sip of water.
… [M]ost of us cannot bear to even look at pictures of these monkeys, with their electrode-implanted brains and bolted heads, being put through their paces in a desperate attempt to get a life-sustaining sip of water. Such treatment is justified in the corresponding grant application by invoking the possibility that the resulting data may allow us to find the cause and cure for human diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
But those of us who have spent decades in research on Alzheimer’s disease recognize that such a justification is an ethical bait and switch, since the neural pathway being investigated in these experiments is not even involved in Alzheimer’s disease. These experiments in the basic neuroscience of visual tracking are so thoroughly unrelated to the neuropathology of Alzheimer’s disease that in more than 28 years of research in the neuroscience of the disease, I have never come across a single reference to them in any scientific literature on neurodegenerative disease.
Research universities’ animal-care-and-use committees dominated by animal experimenters routinely approve such vivisections [i.e., those involving monkeys, dogs, and cats] because it is simply human nature to become hardened, if not indifferent, to pain we routinely inflict on others. As George Bernard Shaw put it, “Custom will reconcile people to any atrocity.”
Professor Hansen issues an important call for action when he writes that “independent agencies outside research-intensive universities are necessary to rein in scientists. Recall that the enactment of the Animal Welfare Act was instigated not by scientists but by an outraged public.”
To read Professor Hansen’s entire essay, click here.