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Saturday, May 25, 2024
Animal Rights Forum

Jeffrey Kahn (left) debated with Eric Sandgren (right) on the topic of ethical animal research. 

Experts debate use of animals in UW-Madison research experiment

A bioethical discussion Wednesday night explored the morality of animal research as it relates to a current UW-Madison animal experiment.

The experiment, which involves inducing anxiety among 40 monkeys and eventually euthanizing them to analyze their brain tissue, has been controversial since its outset.

Director of UW-Madison's Research Animal Resources Center Eric Sandgren supported the university’s use of animals in such studies, while Deputy Director for Policy and Administration at Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics Jeffrey Kahn challenged the ethics of animal testing. Chair of UW-Madison’s Department of Philosophy Russ Shafer-Landau moderated the discussion.

The purpose of the experiment is to compare animals with different levels of anxiety to better understand mental illness among humans, Sandgren said. The researchers hope to identify brain chemicals related with anxiety disorders and depression.

The most contentious behavioral test used to manipulate anxiety involves showing a snake to the monkeys.

Different tests such as skin biopsies are used to determine the level of the monkeys’ anxiety.

“None of the procedures were outside the realm of what is something that humans might experience also,” Sandgren said.

He attributed the ongoing ethical problem to monkeys’ likeness to humans.

“The reason we want to use monkeys is because they’re similar to humans,” Sandgren said. "The reason we don’t want to use monkeys is because they’re similar to humans.”

Sandgren used a utilitarian perspective to justify the ethics of the experiment, saying he believes the benefits of the results could far outweigh the cost to the 40 monkeys.

According to Sandgren, 24 percent of people are victims of psychiatric disabilities, some of which include depression and anxiety disorders. This animal research could lead to effective therapies for these mental illnesses.

“Considering the magnitude of the problem, I believe it would be unethical not to go forward with this study,” Sandgren said.

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Kahn considered the experiment to be unnecessary, adding there is no guarantee of useful results, which makes the costs outweigh the benefits.

He also emphasized there are multiple steps in between animal testing and the ultimate development of drugs and treatments for humans.

“I do know that you don’t take results from 20 monkeys and claim that you now have a drug to treat … even just one person,” Kahn said.

Kahn also proposed alternatives to animal research, saying he believes that though using chimpanzees is quicker and cheaper, humans could also be used to look for similar insights.

“I think we have to ask whether expediency is a sufficient answer to whether we can or can’t justify the use of a particular animal,” Kahn said.

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