Research that deprives monkeys of their mothers is scientifically vacuous and morally repugnant.
That’s why Ned Kalin’s resurrection of maternal deprivation research at UW-Madison is so controversial and wrong.
Babies are removed from their mothers at birth. Harry Harlow began doing this 65 years ago at UW, which gave rise to some ghastly devices Harlow called “rape racks” and “pits of despair.” The results of this grisly research simply demonstrated in monkeys information already known about human babies, having been described by psychiatrists John Bowlby, René Spitz, and Donald Winnicott.
Harlow’s research didn’t benefit human mothers. His work remained obscure and only “appreciated” by academics. It was Dr. Benjamin Spock’s universally read 1946 book “Baby and Child Care” that helped parents and the public.
Kalin’s research is, essentially, maternal deprivation once again. The university is trying to euphemistically obscure this, calling it is “peer-peer upbringing” similar to monkeys becoming separated from their mothers in their natural habitats. But such occurrences are not the norm in the wild. Yet in Kalin’s lab, they are the very essence of the research.
Noah Phillip’s article for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and Isthmus appeared in the State Journal Aug. 1 titled “Monkey study takes babies from moms.” The article was generally sympathetic to the research. Yet it acknowledged the experimenters will “intentionally deprive newborn rhesus monkeys of their mothers, a practice designed to affect a primate’s psychological well-being.”
So even if “peer-peer upbringing” accurately describes the experimental procedure, the result is identical: intense and violent trauma to baby monkeys.
UW experimenters want to have it both ways, claiming that monkeys are both like us and unlike us, to justify their research. They traumatize the animals as intensely as possible, including subjecting them to what they fear most — a snake — while at the same time claiming “peer-peer upbringing” provides sufficient solace.
Kalin is correct that current treatments are both ineffective and intolerable for some patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, attachment disorder, or a depressive or anxiety disorder. What is also true is that these treatments are unavailable for many because of their cost.
As a practicing psychiatrist, I can confirm that newer anti-depressants and anti-psychotics as well as many other treatments are impossible for many to utilize because of their expense and their lack of health insurance coverage. The half-million dollars for Kalin’s research, which is unlikely to lead to useful treatments for humans, would be better spent supporting treatment we already have.
As Chris Rickert of the State Journal wrote in a recent column: “It’s hard to stomach animal research aimed at improving human health when what we already know about improving human health isn’t put into practice.” As Shel Gross, public policy director for Mental Health America of Wisconsin and chairman of the Wisconsin Council on Mental Health, said in that column: “You always want to know more,” but “there’s enough that we know that we could be doing a lot better.”
Kalin claims his current study will have improvements over Harlow’s, including technology to discover new variables. But the same objections pertain:
The studies are monstrously inhumane.
They are performed on a non-human species, so results are unlikely to help humans.
Even if they do apply to humans, they probably would not result in anything clinically useful.
The quest for new therapies for humans does not require experiments in monkeys.
We already have many useful medications.
Kalin’s attempts to model treatments from monkey studies turn a blind eye to contemporary, compelling science. Kalin’s previous studies in monkeys — killing them after traumatizing them — have led to no treatments for humans, and it is doubtful his current experiments will prove any different.