The University of Wisconsin will host a public debate tonight regarding the ethics of monkey research at UW.
The debate will present individuals with the opportunity to use communication rather than violence to express their views on monkey experimentation, All Campus Animal Care and Use Committee Chair Eric Sandgren said.
He said in the late 1990s, UW student animal rights activists violently protested animal testing by sending threats to researchers by phone and e-mail, displaying videos of animal cruelty and mailing razor blades to researchers’ homes.
Animal rights activists tapered off after the 1990s, Local Research Critic and Business Consultant Rick Marolt said. However, there was a resurgence in the local animal rights movement about five years ago, he added.
UW’s animal experimentation program is one of the largest in the country, grossing $2 million to $3 million each year, Marolt said, adding there are currently 2,000 monkeys residing in UW research labs.
Sandgren said for UW researchers to be permitted to conduct experiments on animals, the Animal Care and Use Committee must confirm the experiments comply with Federal and UW guidelines. The committee only approves proposals if the overall benefits of the experiment outweigh individual harm to animals.
“I have always felt it is important to consider the ethics of animal research… and to only conduct research in areas that are appropriate,” Sandgren said. “Following the principle of utilitarianism, we only [approve animal research] when the benefit outweighs the harm.”
However, Marolt said he believes Sandgren does not follow his own guidelines.
“Sandgren is misleading people when he says [the Committee] always considers costs and benefits,” Marolt said. “He can produce no evidence of discussion of [how the Committee quantifies] costs and benefits.”
Marolt said the Society and Politics Committee of the Wisconsin Union Directorate asked him to participate in a debate regarding animal research in December; however, the research community declined to participate so the debate did not occur.
For the debate tonight, the Society and Politics Committee was able to find representation for both sides of the issue, Marolt said. Founder of the Primate Freedom Center Rick Bogle will be opposing monkey experimentation, while UW professor of ophthalmology Paul Kaufman will be arguing in favor of experimentation.
Bogle said because UW’s current guidelines are legal, the university contends no further discussion about animal rights is warranted. Bogle said he feels this view is incorrect, and he added history is rich with legally sanctioned treatment of others that is now recognized as immoral.
“People will eventually look back with much distaste and dismay at the university’s staunch and unyielding bigotry,” Bogle said.
Bogle added he hopes the debate will help people recognize their possible prejudices and misconceptions toward animal experimentation.
Kaufman, who has done eye research using non-human primates for over 30 years at UW, said he believes biomedical research using animals should be continued.
“I hope that attendees will come away with a clearer, more objective understanding of the issues as they reach their own conclusions,” Kaufman said.
The debate will take place at 6:00 p.m. tonight, in Tripp Commons in the Memorial Union.