We Remember Mothers Tortured in Labs

Frances Chrzan, May 4, 2021

Content Warning: The following content may be upsetting to some audiences. Reader discretion advised.

Photos from public records request to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, where experimenters induce oxygen damage in “developing mouse lungs,” ultimately hurting mouse pups.

Every year on Mother’s Day, we celebrate mothers. We thank them, recognize their sacrifices, appreciate their support, and show them how much they’re loved. We give them flowers and gifts, congratulate them on welcoming new family members, and hold special compassion for those mothers without their children. We honor individual mothers, motherhood, maternal bonds, and the societal influence of mothers. Mothers deserve genuine celebration for making the world a loving place.

This year, in addition to celebrating human mothers, we want to bring to your attention what happens to animal moms in labs.

For May 9th, in honor of the holiday, here are 9 examples of how mothers suffer in labs across the country. These individuals want to protect their young, nurture their babies, and partake in natural child-rearing behavior. Instead, mothers in labs are separated from their young; their offspring are taken and forced into experiments or killed and dissected; pregnant animals are experimented on in ways that purposely damage their offspring in the womb; and mothers are deprived of basic, natural maternal bonds with their children. The following are some of the ways mothers suffer in labs.

1. Forcing Pregnant Mice to Drink Alcohol: (University of New Mexico)

Researchers in the Southwest forced pregnant mice to intake alcohol to study the cognitive effects it has on the babies. This 2018 experiment is an example of many alcohol-related experiments. These mothers were forced to drink poison, ultimately poisoning their young.

2. Manipulating Fetuses Inside the Womb, Cutting Their Heads Off, then Killing the Mothers: (Georgia State University)

This study examined brain development. Experimenters took impregnated mother animals (not specifying the species of animal), then “sculpted” the neurons in the fetuses by inflammation, birth mode, and altering their DNA. Once the babies were born, their heads were cut off and the “breeder” mom was killed.

3. Separating Baby Monkeys from Their Mothers: (University of Wisconsin-Madison) (UW-Madison)

In 2019, UW-Madison—notorious for its continued and extreme monkey torture—decided to inflict cruel experiments on baby monkeys. To complete what they called “infant behavior assessment,” they tore 5 baby monkeys away from their mothers, for 3 days in a row, for up to an hour at a time. This treatment is incredibly psychologically destructive both for the babies forced to undergo such tests and for the mothers who fight to protect their babies—who are ultimately stolen no matter how hard their mothers try. While separated, experimenters look at the babies’ cognitive, regulation, motor, and sensory responses to various stimulation. The intervals inflicted on the mothers and their babies in this experiment were not part of the approved protocol.

4. Giving Mother Monkeys Deadly Viruses to Transmit to Their Babies, then Killing the Babies: (UW-Madison)

In 2020, UW-Madison continues to do painful experiments on monkeys. They’re breeding rhesus macaques infected with Zika virus to study transmission and impacts to baby monkeys. They also give some of the pregnant monkeys SIV (which is essentially the monkey version of HIV).  If that’s not terrible enough, they violated the cruel protocol and an adult monkey wasn’t given pain medication for 8 hours because a technician scheduled the treatment incorrectly in the computer system. This lab gives mothers Zika virus and some SIV, forces them to transmit it to their babies, and doesn’t even manage to administer proper pain management. Finally, when the babies reach one year of age, every one of them is killed so the experimenters can do “comprehensive necropsies.”

5. Killing Pregnant Mice as Pawns: (Tufts Medical Center)

In Boston, MA in 2018, “[a]n unauthorized researcher euthanized seven pregnant mice earlier than experimentally planned. This was done to negatively impact a Principal Investigator’s research.” These pregnant mice were killed by an unauthorized person in order to undermine another experimenter’s experiment. These seven pregnant individuals were sacrificed as pawns, as if their lives and their children’s lives were expendable.

6. Failing to Give Proper Nutrition to Baby Mice: (University of Washington)

There were 2 mother mice with litters sharing the same cage in 2019, when one of the moms died and the other was removed from the cage, leaving the babies without a source of sustenance. The lab staff failed to find the pups a foster mother and did not tell the veterinary staff about the situation. 12 baby mice died because they had no source of food. Another 4 were still alive but were in such bad condition, they were killed later that day.

7. Wrongfully Withholding Pain Medication for Pregnant Mice, then Lying About It: (University of Connecticut)

An experimenter had a protocol involving surgery on pregnant mice. The mice kept unexpectedly dying and the PI decided that the pain medication was to blame. She decided to stop giving the pregnant mice analgesia before and after surgery, causing them immense pain and suffering. This PI also instructed her lab staff to not give pain medication to the pregnant mice, resulting in two staff members quitting and reporting the PI’s decision. When the oversight committee got involved following the report, it was discovered that the PI had been falsifying records to show administration of pain medication. This experimenter’s surgeries killed pregnant mice, the PI single handedly decided to withhold pre- and post-operative pain medication, and lied about it on official records.

8. Doing Surgery on Fetuses Inside Pregnant Rabbits and Killing the Mothers if They Go Into Labor: (University of California – San Francisco)

On a 2019 protocol titled “Amnioseal: A novel biomimetic sealant for aqueous environments,” experimenters operate on fetuses while they’re inside pregnant rabbits. The surgery on the fetuses includes cutting open their necks and into their windpipes, then the use of a newly developed sealant to see if it works in amniotic fluid. If the stress of the surgery on the pregnant mothers results in premature labor, the lab wrote: “At the discretion of the researchers, in the event of premature labor the doe may also be euthanized at that time. . . .

9. Performing 4 Major Surgeries on Female Monkeys: (Oregon Health & Science University) (OHSU)

This lab wants permission for an exception to the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which can only be granted by The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA–APHIS). OHSU asked APHIS for permission to perform up to 4 major survival surgeries on 160 female monkeys in 2020. Examples of these surgeries are cesarean section, hysterotomy for placental access, intraamniotic catheter implantation, fetal catheter implantation, and embryo transfer. APHIS allowed the exception. The language in OHSU’s request is callous: “Animals are selected for the TMB [Time Mated Breeding] colony based upon normal menstrual cycles, pregnancy history, and ability to adapt to awake blood sampling and/or jacket and tether systems. This selection process involves screening multiple animals in order to identify those that will successfully adapt to the needs of the program. Because Rhesus macaques are a limited resource, especially those of breeding age, we request approval to perform up to four major survival surgical procedures per animal to support a variety of research protocols.

The Research Program Manager at APHIS asked OHSU what the fate of the monkeys are following the 4th major surgery. OHSU responded that some will be used in studies “requiring a nonsurvival/terminal caesarean section (i.e. Zika virus infection) where the animal is not recovered from the C-section and is delivered directly to pathology for study endpoint under a deep surgical plane of anesthesia.” Others are put back into colonies and won’t undergo more major surgeries. They still may be used in protocols without surgery, or could be killed by surgery at the end of a protocol. Aphis ultimately approved this exception.

How You Can Help

The above examples are heartbreaking, but you can help us put an end to these unnecessary experiments. We bring you these stories on Mother’s Day to energize and enlighten you to this extreme suffering. We show you the sad truths of life in labs to remind you that while you celebrate the mothers in your life today, there are mothers in labs who would give anything to protect their babies.

This year, consider making a donation as part of your Mothers Day celebrations. With your donation, we will continue to work towards a world where all mothers are free to do everything mothers are so good at doing.