Last night on "All Things Considered" on National Public Radio a reporter aired a story about a procedure that may prevent certain genetic diseases.
It's controversial because it involves altering genes of future generations, thus the possibility for engineering a "superior" race of people.
But while reporter Richard Harris questioned the ethical implications of this procedure, not once did he question the ethics involved in discovering it: Researchers at Oregon Health and Science University experimented on rhesus monkeys.
Somehow it's a given that it's ethical to imprison these animals and to conduct experiments on them. If researchers did the same to humans, they'd be considered monsters.
If you've taken a psychology class, you probably remember psychologist Harry Harlow's study involving rhesus monkeys in the 1950s.
Harlow's most famous experiment involved giving young rhesus monkeys a choice between two different "mothers." One was made of soft terrycloth, but provided no food. The other was made of wire, but provided food from an attached baby bottle.The results showed that infants prefer the soft touch of a "mother" to food.
Harlow removed young monkeys from their natural mothers a few hours after birth and left them to be "raised" by these mother surrogates. The experiment demonstrated that the baby monkeys spent significantly more time with their cloth mother than with their wire mother.
Researchers couldn't use human infants because removing them from their mothers would be cruel. Monkeys are different from humans, though, so it's ok to separate mother and baby. Right? Of course, the results could be extrapolated to human infants because monkeys are so similar to humans.
(An infant rhesus monkey clings to a terrycloth "mother" while he'd rather be with his own in his own environment.)