Can you imagine how you would feel if you spent your whole life in a jail where they poked, prodded and injected you on a constant basis? Or you wake up with a new eye or missing a body part? Or the psychological damage of having your body operated on up to ten times in one short year?
The logic goes that if lab experiments are all that lab monkeys know, then they are desensitized, and, in a way, give their consent to be experimented on; similar to another-day-in-the-office mentality.
Thankfully, UK researchers are making the conscious effort to dig deeper into the emotional and psychological lives of lab monkeys.
Not Fighting Back, So They‘re Consenting
Some medical researchers are adamant that there isn’t another option, especially for finding cure for diseases like Parkinson’s Disease. They believe they have to test on animals.
Animal welfarists have long considered how the animal subjects must feel, but science is barely catching up. Ironic isn’t it?
Apparently, scientists didn’t think too much about what they were doing since the monkeys never put up a fight. If they’re not fighting, then they have to be giving a form of consent? Or maybe they’re not fighting because that’s what a life of slavery does to you; it has the uncanny ability to suck the fight, the life force and the animal’s spirit right out. But, hey, I’m no scientist.
More Good and Some Bad News for UK Lab Monkeys
In the UK alone, scientists perform experiments on around 3,000 lab monkeys — mostly macaques and marmosets — every year.
As reported in BBC, there was hope for those 3,000 lab monkeys when an EU directive insisted that the lifetime impacts for lab monkeys had to become a priority instead of considering the impacts of one experiment.
The directive wanted to include factors like pain, distress, procedure intensity, procedure length and frequency. Ideally, all of these elements would inform getting a license to test or not.
But the good news didn’t last long. A 10-year study from the University of Cambridge Department of Neurosurgery asserted that the EU directive’s approach had poor evidence to back it up and that animals welfare concerns “have been overstated.”
The report continued that us common folk are uninformed about what goes on in primate experiments. For instance, monkeys are chosen “for their suitability and aptitude” to undergo experiments. And animals who fought back and resisted were returned for retraining (now we know why they don’t fight back). If an animal can’t cope, then they are euthanized.
And then good news resurfaced. The Animals in Sciences Committee (ASC) took over the initial committee that commissioned the Cambridge report, and the ASC dismissed many of the university’s findings. The reason: the Cambridge report focused on physical distress whilst ignoring emotional and psychological cues of distress.
ASC proceeded to get it right. The committee went on to state that the “monkeys’ apparent willingness to take part in behavioural tests should not be taken as a sign that it was a positive experience for them.” What researchers sugarcoat as consent could actually be a type of depression known as learned helplessness.
In more good news, Norman Baker, the UK minister responsible for regulating animal experiments, openly came out and said he wants to end animal testing. While Baker admits that the change will take time, he also believes that the ethical and economic benefits will be worth it.
Soon enough, we’ll also be closer to knowing if lab monkeys experience depression because there is new funding research to learn just this.
When Is This Going to End?
Animal welfarists and the scientific community need to continue asking these tough questions. That’s the only way that the conditions for lab monkeys have a chance to change.
While it’s all-around good news for UK lab monkeys, the same can’t be said for U.S. lab monkeys.
In July 2014, PETA accused Princeton University, a top ivy-league university, for abusing a Marmoset monkey. University staff and graduate students allegedly used the monkey for their own entertainment when they put the monkey on a ferret exercise ball.
The University of Houston was also in hot water after the death of a lab monkey in their facility. Three rhesus monkeys were confined in a cramped cage with restricted access to water, and one monkey died. The University has been cited as a result.
What is it going to take for these cruel lab experiments to end? Over 1 in 3 people already oppose using animals in medical research. Despite the public’s opposition and governments’ supposed commitments to phasing out lab experiments on animals, in 2012, the UK procedures on animals went up by eight percent.
Let’s hope that the more that we learn about the sentient beings that medical researchers subject to unfathomable experiments, the harder it’ll be to justify the abuse.
Photo Credit: Rob and Dani