Patsy Bansley, who worked as a psychiatric nurse at Mendota Mental Health Institute, opposes the maternal deprivation research at UW-Madison.
Jeffrey Kahn has serious doubts about the ethics of the UW-Madison's research depriving newborn rhesus monkeys from their mothers.
"I'm deeply skeptical about the necessity of this study," said Kahn, who recently chaired a National Institutes of Health committee on the use of chimpanzees in biomedical and behavioral research. "And if it is unnecessary, then it isn't ethically acceptable."
Kahn is a professor of bioethics and public policy at Johns Hopkins University. The recommendations of the Institute of Medicine's Committee on Necessity of Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research, made in 2011, led to the most stringent restrictions on the use of any species for research. As a result all but 50 of NIH's chimpanzees have been retired to primate sanctuaries.
"Obviously the reasons that both chimpanzees and rhesus are used are because of their similarities to humans in various respects," Kahn said in an interview with Isthmus. "That set of similarities is what makes them attractive as research subjects, but also raises ethical challenges and issues in their use."
Kahn was in Madison on Thursday, Oct. 9 to participate in a moderated discussion with Eric Sandgren, director of the university's Research Animal Resources Center, about approved research by the chair of UW Psychiatry Department Ned Kalin. The discussion was sponsored by the UW Medical History and Bioethics Department, the UW Philosophy Department, and Wednesday Nite @ the Lab.
Kalin's study, as detailed in a joint report by Isthmus and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, will remove 20 newborn rhesus monkeys from their mothers, give them anxiety-inducing tests for a year, and kill them along with another 20 infant monkeys used as a control group. The researchers hope to learn more about how trauma and stress early in life affect emotional development in humans -- and how it can be treated.
But it has provoked a huge outcry, including a proposed Dane County resolution urging the university to stop the research and an online petition with more than 330,000 signatures. UW System President Ray Cross also expressed concerns during a recent interview with C-SPAN, stating that he would bring it up with the UW Board of Regents. His office later clarified that the issue is not on any upcoming board agendas.
More than 100 people crowded into the room for last Thursday's discussion as others watched in an adjacent overflow room. The audience, a mix of UW faculty, students, and community members, listened to the speakers in respectful, albeit tense, silence.
About 50 people protested ahead of the discussion. Among them was Patsy Bansley, who graduated from UW-Madison's nursing school in 1993. For 10 years, she was a psychiatric nurse at Mendota Mental Health Institute, where she worked with emotionally disturbed children, people Kalin hopes to better understand through his monkey research.
But Bansley doubted the research -- aimed at identifying a pharmaceutical treatment for anxiety -- will make any useful discoveries.
"I'm disgusted," Bansley said. "There is a place for medication, but I do not think that you can find a medication that's going to turn somebody around from being neglected." In her experience, what neglected and abused children need to recover are normalcy, safety and stability -- in short, to learn to trust.
But Sandgren countered that the study has a good chance of helping both adults and children with depressive and anxious disorders.
"Considering the magnitude of the problem this study is designed to address, I conclude it would be unethical not to go forward with this study," Sandgren said during the moderated discussion. He also said people have been misinformed about the study. "A lot of what you may have heard is not accurate."
Bansley said researchers resort to that argument because they cannot defend their work. "That's their fight, that's the only fight they have," Bansley said. "When we come at them with educated people saying 'this is not going to work, this is wrong,' they have to turn around and say 'you're crazy wacko animal activists.'"
Although Kalin received the go-ahead on his experiment from the relevant oversight committee in April, the UW has continued to decline comment on whether any monkeys have yet been taken away from their mothers.
[Editor's note: This article was corrected to note that the debate was sponsored by the UW Medical History and Bioethics Department, the UW Philosophy Department, and Wednesday Nite @ the Lab.]