National Anti-Vivisection Society Responds to University of Wisconsin Plans for Maternal Deprivation Experiments on Monkeys

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NAVS urges a halt to what it deems "morally indefensible, financially irresponsible and scientifically worthless" animal experimentation at UW-Madison.

The National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) has responded to news that the University of Wisconsin-Madison is moving forward with plans to revive maternal deprivation experiments on baby monkeys in an effort to study human depression.

In an online statement, NAVS criticizes the experiments, which are a continuation of work that began at UW-Madison in the 1950s under psychologist Harry F. Harlow, Ph.D.

In this new study, baby rhesus monkeys will be taken from their mothers upon birth, isolated, and, over the course of approximately one year, subjected to a series of measures designed to create stress and anxiety—including being scared by a live snake. A second group of monkeys, who will be allowed to remain with their mothers, will be subjected to the same experiments. After a year of enduring stress and anxiety protocols, all of the monkeys will be killed so their brain tissue can then be analyzed.

NAVS has been following the evolution of this new project since its initial proposal several years ago, and had previously spoken out against the plan in a January 2013 edition of its weekly “Science First” e-newsletter.

NAVS Executive Director Peggy Cunniff is appalled to see these experiments resurrected.

“Knowing that these types of experiments happened at all in our distant past is tragic enough,” says Cunniff. “But to think that they can still take place in 2014 is simply unconscionable—it’s as though we’re returning to the dark ages."

In its statement, NAVS goes on to point out the financial waste that accompanies experiments of this nature. National Institute of Mental Health funds in support of projects on the Development and Regulation of Emotion in Primates at UW-Madison have, to date, cost taxpayers more than $8 million.

NAVS Science Advisor Bernard Rollin, Ph.D., professor of philosophy, animal sciences and biomedical sciences at Colorado State University, believes that the basis for opposition to the study should be self-evident.

"There are myriad cases of children who are abused and grow up irreversibly damaged," Rollin explains. "That is common sense, and did not require proof from monkeys. Furthermore, with maternal deprivation experiments having been done extensively by Harlow and his disciples, they most assuredly need no further replication today."

On its website, NAVS is asking individuals to contact the University of Wisconsin and urge it not to move forward with the experiments, which it views as "morally indefensible, financially irresponsible and scientifically worthless." The full text of NAVS’ online statement can be found here.

Founded in 1929, the National Anti-Vivisection Society promotes greater compassion, respect and justice for animals through educational and advocacy programs based on respected ethical, scientific and legal theory. NAVS works to increase public awareness about animal experimentation, to promote positive solutions that advance science, to support the development of alternatives to the use of animals, and to effect changes that will help end the unnecessary suffering of animals. For more information, visit

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