After nearly two hours of testimony, a Dane County board committee voted unanimously to kill a resolution urging the University of Wisconsin-Madison to cease its maternal deprivation experiments on rhesus monkeys.
"I think there are a lot of valid issues that you raised, but I'm not convinced," Sharon Corrigan, chair of the executive committee, said to Anne Emerson minutes after the vote on Thursday. Emerson had testified along with more than a dozen others in support of the resolution.
"How very embarrassing for the board," Emerson responded.
Supv. Al Matano introduced the resolution to the board Aug. 15. It has 11 co-sponsors. Like all resolutions that take a political stance it was referred to the board's executive committee.
Matano predicted earlier this week that it was "unlikely" to "get much of a hearing there." Only one member of that committee -- Carl Chenoweth -- was a co-sponsor of the measure and he was absent last Thursday night.
Matano says he plans to bring the resolution back to the full board later this fall as soon as he is procedurally allowed to do so.
Matano is known on the board as the "go-to" person for animal welfare issues. In 2011 he proposed a successful ordinance banning elephant performances on county-owned facilities. In 2010, he proposed a resolution creating a citizen's panel to investigate the ethics of experiments on primates. That resolution, like this recent one, died in committee.
"These experiments are only effective because these animals feel pain and anxiety the way we do," Matano testified. "Therefore I would second the motion of those who suggest that these experiments are inherently unethical and that it behooves the county board to speak out in that direction."
As recently reported in a joint project by Isthmus and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, the experiments call for removing 20 newborn rhesus macaque monkeys from their mothers and raising them in a nursery in order to study stress and anxiety. These monkeys, along with 20 other infant macaques who will stay with their mothers as part of a control group, will then undergo behavioral stress tests, neural imaging procedures and fluid sampling before being euthanized at just over one year of age. Ned Kalin, principal investigator and chair of the UW Department of Psychiatry, hopes to learn about the neurochemistry of anxiety and depression.
Robert Streiffer, a UW bioethicist, testified in favor of the referendum Thursday night. Streiffer sits on one of the two campus oversight committees and voted against the experiment.
"We should take the harms that we do to [monkeys] very seriously, and the greater the harm the more seriously we need to take it," Streiffer testified. "In this case, I think the research does not meet that standard and that explains why I have been opposed to this research."
Robert Golden, dean of the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, disagreed. "All of the regulations, all of the policies, all of the requirements were fully adhered to by UW-Madison," Golden told the panel. "In my opinion a vote in favor of this resolution is a vote against providing an important new avenue for hope for countless patients and their families."
Eric Sandgren, director of the UW Research Animal Resources Center, also spoke against the resolution. "It seems to me that [the executive committee] must not have been convinced that there was an accurate or legitimate proposal," said Sandgren just after the vote was taken. "Tonight was a victory for public discussion."