On orders from Chancellor Biddy Martin, a UW-Madison committee on Friday took up a contentious issue on campus: Is it ethical to conduct experiments on monkeys?
Not surprisingly, the discussion that resulted hardly settled the question. Animal rights activists still contend that scientists shouldn't conduct experiments on monkeys that they deem too risky for humans.
Scientists still believe the research is ethical, given stringent internal and federal oversight. The committee, UW-Madison's All-Campus Animal Care and Use Committee, approved a statement to that effect Friday.
"All they did was defend the status quo," said Rick Marolt, a business consultant and lecturer in the university's School of Business who believes experiments on monkeys should end.
Marolt asked the committee to take up the ethics question in August. The committee deferred, arguing it wasn't the right body to handle the question, but the chancellor then stepped in to ask the committee to formally take up the issue.However, Martin said she didn't think the university should follow Marolt's suggestion to create a separate campus body to consider the ethics of animal research.
In a November letter to Marolt, Martin said the debate "is not likely to plough new ground," arguing it should be pursued, if anywhere, on a national level.
"The general consensus within the scientific community is that research with non-human primates, when properly conducted, is consistent with scientific and ethical norms," she wrote. "The research aims at the university are clear - understanding the causes and developing treatments for the most devastating of human medical conditions."
At the meeting Friday, committee members said they review experiments on a case-by-case basis. Researchers must justify the use of animals and show they have minimized the potential for harm.
The discussion was particularly timely because of two recent federal inspections of UW-Madison's animal research facilities, one of which found 20 violations among the school's roughly 1,100 animal experiments and 52 facilities.