On the state delegate conference on 8./9. November 2014 in Tuttlingen the Green Party of Baden-Württemberg have argued for a faster phase out for invasive neurocognition experiments
. Please read our positions here:
Statement by the Animal Protection Officers of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics on the Resolution of the BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNEN in the Federal State of Baden-Württemberg, dated 8th/9th of November 2014, on the topic: INVASIVE NEUROCOGNITION EXPERIMENTS ON MACAQUE MONKEYS MUST BE PHASED OUT FASTER
Items 2 to 4 of the above Resolution seem to address us directly; thus we would like to state our views on these points as follows: Item 2: It is stated that the broadcasted pictures obviously show that the clearly established criteria for terminating an experiment are not adhered to.
This is a serious accusation against us which we, as the responsible animal protection officers, would like to refuse emphatically in the strongest possible terms. Such a conclusion cannot be drawn on the basis of snapshots. Terminating an experiment means first of all taking the animal out of the experimental program. In the case of the monkey Stella, this was done immediately, and prior to the time when the animal was in the state shown in shocking images. However, termination does not mean to kill an animal without rhyme or r eason when it happens not to be well. This would be as unethical as all the terrible accusations of the animal activist organization ‘SOKO Tierschutz’ held against the scientists. Horrifying images do not suffice as basis for a decision on whether, in addition to terminating the experiment, immediate euthanasia is required or whether it is possible to provide the animal with medical care. Medical expertise and knowledge of the actual situation are needed. For example, just like a human being, an animal can vomit copiously as a side effect of a particular antibiotic. In clear cases, the veterinarian euthanizes the animal immediately. In ambiguous cases, a joint decision is made by the vet, the animal protection officers and the animal caretakers on whether a therapeutic approach makes any sense or not. The undercover agent claims that Stella, the animal in the film, was then tortured to death in an experiment lasting several hours. This is an extremely bewildering allegation. The criteria for terminating an experiment do not exclude that an animal that must be euthanized is nonetheless used in a so-called terminal experiment under general anesthesia, from which it will not wake again, but which can result in extremely valuable knowledge being obtained. It does not make the slightest difference to an animal whether it will be euthanized during general anesthesia or whether it is killed straight away. It would be irresponsible if a research institute would not exploit this opportunity for data collections from an animal that does not realize any longer what is going on - just think about the 3R. We think that the demand that reviews should be performed by a neutral third party with the necessary expertise is already well met by the Ethical Review Committee. We have no idea which people might be “more neutral and more knowledgeable”. In addition, according to our experience, the Committee consists of people who are really committed to the protection of animals. There can also be no doubt about the neutrality and expertise of the responsible authorities which strictly control our Institute with a high degree of personal commitment. If you choose to doubt the neutrality of the animal protection officers and the animal caretakers, please also doubt the neutrality of the undercover agent who, naturally, was obliged “to deliver” to the ‘SOKO Tierschutz’. He certainly would not have needed a whole six months in order to provide much more representative and not at all shocking images of our animal husbandry. Media coverage aiming at one single goal is, unfortunately, useless regarding insights that reflect reality. Item 3: It requires assurance that complications such as those arising in the case of the animal Stella are recognized faster and that the required measures are taken immediately.
In our institute, both the diagnostic methodology and the staffing level necessary for an early detection of complications are optimal. Our animal caretakers know in detail the behavior and characteristics of every individual animal. Most times they notice even the slightest disturbance in animal behavior. Depending on the severity, they call the veterinarian and possibly also the animal protection officers to discuss further strategies. However, the difficulty of recognizing complications is hampered by the way macaques live. They live in groups and instinctively hide weaknesses. This characteristic of the animals has the consequence that complications can be rather advanced before they can be recognized in their behavior. Early recognition of complications is, of course, of outmost importance to the scientists themselves. Early recognition would on no account be easier for experts from the authorities as requested by the resolution, as it is for the experts, who deal with the animals on a daily basis. In Stella´s case, several veterinarians were involved in making careful decisions on which therapeutic measures might still have allowed for saving the animal at different time-points. The course of events was monitored continuously, and several times a day the question whether to end it all was raised. In case of a severely ill fellow-human, we would not give up straight away either. We scientists are just as affected as you when one of our animals is suffering, and we check with at least the same compassion what is ethically justifiable and what not. Item 4: It requires that the promotion of computer-based procedures (in-silico-methods) for investigating brain functions be championed, instead of the use of invasive methods on living animals.
This means that the people behind the Resolution claim that in our Institute the ethical weighting according to § 7a Sect. 2 No. 2 of the German Animal Protection Law was not done properly. Most definitely we reject this accusation vehemently. Models are only as good as that (knowledge), what one can put in! How complicated this matter is, can be seen when looking at the Human Brain Project that aims exactly at the accomplishment of this type of proposal, costing billions. The results of this project, if possible at all, might be expected not earlier than in 10 years, and they are based on research as the one carried out at our institute. Even when the project is completed, it will still not be possible to sufficiently simulate pathological states of the brain, because the scientists participating in this project are focusing on the general function of the brain. Whoever might claim that we do not need new findings on the function of the brain should visit patients in a psychiatric clinic or an assisted living facility for psychotic people. Having experienced the misery and despair, one would not easily make such claims that are not realistic.
Regarding item 1
, we agree that an absolute upper limit for the permissible stresses on animals in experiments must be determined. However, we do know about the difficulties in weighing the ethical cons and pros. This can only be done by an extremely competent committee. One must also be aware of the fact that such a limit would mainly restrict applied research, because in basic research it is much easier to say “so far and no further” than when investigating new therapeutic methods and drugs, for example to fight Ebola or for pain therapy. Such a committee must include relatives of patients suffering from severe medical conditions and doctors having to deal with such diseases. Regarding the demand that the federal government should clarify how a correct, extensive assessment of the stress on animals in long-lasting experiments should be performed, we would like to point out, for one thing, that a lot has already happened at this level. Several long catalogues of stresses already exist, such as in the Annex VIII of the Directive 2010/63/EU of the European Union, according to which all experiments on animals in Germany must be categorized. However, we support the requirement, as postulated by the Commissioner of our federal state for the protection of animals, to include assessment of increased stress caused by potential complications. On the other hand, we are convinced that a more global assessment of stresses in all experiments with animals is needed, which must be grounded on scientific knowledge above all. Methodological guidelines by the federal government, however, do not seem to be a realistic option to us. Only people with a lot of experience with the respective species who are competent and knowledgeable regarding the subject are able to work out and to determine how to assess the stress of the animals in a sensible way that does justice to the animals. In addition, a direct benefit for practical use can be estimated with high probability only for clinical research, whereas we would like to emphasize that in basic research such predictions even by a professional competent expert panel are highly problematic, because the consequences of new scientific findings depend mainly on the people who take them up and build on them, possibly translating them into applied research. We would also like to point out that giving up basic research on animals, especially on non-human primates, would mean to give up, for a long time, establishing the biological basis causing clinical problems related to cognitive brain disorders as they are seen in so-called psychoses. This would delay the development of new treatments. There is, however, a worldwide consensus among biomedical scientists that these problems can only be solved by sufficient basic research. Therefore, it will not be possible to stop this kind of research as long as these problems have not been solved. Waiving this kind of experiment in the small numbers of existing highly specialized centers in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg or indeed the whole of Germany would simply shift the very same or similar experiments to other places where they could well be performed under much worse conditions regarding the techniques and the protection of the animals. We cannot and we do not want to take responsibility for that.
We sincerely hope that we will be able to enter into a real dialogue based on the facts on the subject of protecting animals used in scientific experiments.
Tübingen, November 27th, 2014
The animal protection officers at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics