A recent study completed by Harvard Medical School was published in September and made the rounds on social media, reigniting the seemingly never-ending animal testing debate. In Margaret S. Livingstone’s study, the researcher discovered that baby monkeys “form strong and lasting attachments to inanimate surrogates, but only if the surrogate is soft.” In addition, Livingstone was able to report that “postpartum monkey mothers can also form strong and lasting attachments to soft inanimate objects.” The backlash wasn’t immediate, although once it made its way to social media the news spread quickly.
A letter sent on October 22 and signed by more than 250 scientists called for the retraction of this study’s results; the letter was specifically addressed to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the journal that published the study. These scientists describe the animal testing mentioned in the study as being “unethical.” The group of scientists includes primatologists with a total of 100+ years of experience working with both wild and captive primates, and they believe that it is time to end the “unethical treatment of nonhuman animals for research.” The letter says that there is plenty of evidence about the important maternal bond between mother monkeys and their babies, and in this study, they were unfairly — and permanently — separated from one another. The scientists state that the study was unnecessary, as there was already plenty of sufficient evidence, and conclude by stating that the study fails to “advance scientific knowledge.”
In response to this letter and information published by PETA, Harvard Medical School issued a statement in which they said that they were “deeply concerned about the personal attacks directed at scientists who conduct critically important research for the benefit of humanity.” Livingstone’s studies, the statement claims, help us understand maternal bonding in humans, which can in turn improve how we deal with stillbirths and miscarriages. Livingstone issued a separate statement in which she asserts that she had made it her life’s work to spend time “unraveling the mysteries of the human brain.” She provides a plethora of examples from past studies which were successful and claims to be “demonized” by people who are opposed to animal testing.
Animal testing has long been the subject of debate, and those opposed to it feel as strongly as those who are for it. Most people opposed to it see it as completely unethical and unnecessary, whereas those who are for it often feel as though science is not yet ready for animal-free research. According to PETA, Livingstone’s experiments have involved baby monkeys being separated from their mothers, and consequently having their eyes sewn shut in sensory deprivation environments. Livingstone has, they go on to say, managed to raise $32 million from the National Institutes of Health since 1989. In addition, they say, when she is done with her so-called “subjects,” she kills them and dissects their brains.
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After considering how animals fare in the Catholic Church, one cannot help but wonder how many animals have to suffer and die under the researchers’ and scientists’ knives before revelation would ever progress enough to countermand positions such as the Vatican’s. At what point do otherwise kindhearted and intelligent people stop looking to God and his mouthpieces to foster a compassionate view of other-than-human animals?
How the Catholic Church defends animal experimentation: Pope John Paul II: I have no reason to be apprehensive for those experiments in biology that are performed by scientists who…have a profound respect for the human person…. On the other hand, I condemn, in the most explicit and formal way, experimental manipulations of the human embryo, since the human being, from conception to death, cannot be exploited for any purpose whatsoever. Indeed, as the Second Vatican Council teaches, man is “the only creature on earth which God willed for itself”…. It is certain that animals are at the service of man and can hence be the object of experimentation.