TREATING ANIMALS HUMANELY: THE COMPLICATED ETHICS OF ANIMAL EXPERIMENTATION
By Jackson Gardner
Recently the diligent Emory Researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center were able to prove that their developing Covid-19 vaccine was safe and secure, at least in mice and monkeys. Initially this may spur some controversy: should we really be testing these potentially dangerous new medicines on helpless animals? What if something were to go wrong? Is it truly ethical to justify experimenting on a primate when it proves too risky for humans? These are questions that scientists have become increasingly aware of as they dedicate their labs to studying various drugs and diseases within the scope of a model organism, typically one that is more advanced such as a mouse or primate.
Model organisms have been used for centuries; they are usually easy to procure, they can reproduce more rapidly than a human depending on the model, and in most cases, it is easier to justify experimenting on something that is not human. Only in the last few decades has society begun to fully question whether certain models such as primates can truly be experimented on without any repercussions. It might be easy to forget that just sixty years ago, America sent a monkey into space to make sure it was safe for their human astronauts. Or that prominent psychologists were exploiting them in horrible ways in the name of their research.
One of these psychologists was Harry Harlow, who mercilessly tortured primates. In one of his most famous experiments, he separated the infant monkey from its mother, placed it between a useless cloth doll and a cold-spiky creation that held milk, and then activated a contraption that would scare the monkey. He found that the monkey would always go to the cloth doll, preferring its fake warmth over the milk that the other contraption held. This experiment helped him formulate his psychological theory of attachment. However, it came at the cost of the monkey’s wellbeing. It might surprise you to learn that this was not even the worst of it. Since then, primates have been fed toxic products, and others have been forcibly isolated from their friends to the point where they could no longer function socially. It is clear that what happened during this time was nothing short of total and complete cruelty towards animals.
Moving forward from the horrors of the past, a brighter future has risen up for primates and other scientifically-treated animals. Nonprofits such as the AAALAC have made it their mission to watch over and hold labs and institutions accountable for the treatment of their animals. Federal and state laws have also been passed to help support these groups, ensuring the safety of their animals. The Yerkes institute is proudly associated with the AAALAC, and since 1984, has committed to treating their animals ethically. Yerkes for example contains more natural environments for their animals to be housed in rather than restrictive cages, and they have a full staff of behavioral specialists, along with trained veterinarians, all of whom ensure that the animals not only get to live a natural and peaceful life, but they also get to live a life free from abuse. Furthermore, with the recent advancements in computerized modeling and technological mapping, the need for these animals is slowly dissipating as it is becoming easier for scientists to measure and conduct experiments without them. Yerkes and many other research centers have begun carefully examining whether an animal is truly necessary for their scientific questions. It is important that we continue to look out for these animals’ welfare, and that we continue to evolve beyond the need to use them. While they may not be able to talk in a language that we can understand, we do not have the right to abuse and destroy them for our own selfish benefit.