Anonymity's cost

I read with interest the sidebar "Should parents disclose?" regarding donor insemination in the September issue [cover package on infertility]. While it is wonderful that this aspect of infertility is covered, one issue not adequately covered was the current practice of donor anonymity. The issue of donor anonymity is one fraught with ethical complexities that seem to have been neglected by many in the assisted reproduction field. These ethical issues come down to the rights of the parents to have children, which need to be weighed against the rights of the child to know their biological origin.

As psychologists we are encouraged to "do no harm," but by denying a child the ability to know half of their genetic heritage, we are doing considerable harm to that child and to subsequent generations. In countries such as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Austria and part of Australia, it has been determined that the rights of the children that result from donor insemination are equal to that of the parents and the donors, and thus these governments have banned the anonymous buying and selling of human gametes.

I hope that psychologists and APA will take a more active role in researching the effects of donor anonymity on the offspring and advocating for openness within the American reproductive medicine industry. These issues should be at the forefront of donor conception, as the children's welfare should be the highest priority.

Brian Hartman, PsyD
Salem, Ore.

The funding swing

The "medical model" typically trumps behavioral and social programs whenever federal fundsfrom the National Institute of Mental Health are distributed for research. And Dr. Steven J. Breckler ("The newest age of reductionism," September Monitor) is correct in drawing attention to this imbalance. Kudos! Studies of learning, education, health, safety, marriage, family, etc., can provide answers to improve mental health in relevant ways complementary to studies in, for example, genetics and neuroscience.

During his tenure, B.F. Skinner, PhD, helped to keep the funding pendulum near center. That is, he asserted the importance of studying variables at the same level of analysis as the behavior to be explained and understood. Not since Skinner's operant conditioning--and before him Pavlov's classical conditioning--have there been such consequential advancements in behavior principles. Our journey through the last half of the Decade of Behavior will be enhanced if this dysfunctional skewness in general funding is adjusted.

William F. Vitulli, PhD
University of South Alabama
Mobile, Ala.

Naltrexone's significance

I found the article on the comparative effects of naltrexone and behavior therapy for the treatment of alcoholism interesting (September Monitor), but I was surprised that there was no discussion of the clinical significance of the findings. The study found that naltrexone, behavioral therapy and the combination of the two increased the time to relapse from about 75 days on placebo to 77-80 days. While this result was statistically significant, and may even suggest that the researchers are on the right track, a maximum increase of five days (4 percent) is certainly not evidence of clinical utility.

Mary Solanto, PhD
Mount Sinai School of Medicine
New York

More on interrogations

During one of the most important and trying times in our country's history, a period that could well set the country's direction for generations to come, psychology has been largely asleep. These were my thoughts as I read the debates about psychologists' roles in interrogating prisoners in the Monitor's September letters to the editor.

Our energies have been mainly focused on ethical questions asking whether psychologists should avoid taking part in interrogations, or directly or indirectly participate in them. I am deeply disturbed that it seems to be necessary to explicitly state that it is unethical for psychologists to torture people.

The ways that APA as an organization and psychology as a profession are failing the field and the country are numerous. The country needs us to study and articulate the role and impact of fear in the "war on terror" and how this fear led us into unethical behavior on a national and personal level. We need to provide direction for limiting the destructive effects of fear, maintaining a rational view when we feel threatened, and avoiding exploitation of fear in service of personal or political gain. We should be doing far more to support Div. 48--the Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict and Violence--to develop strategies for peaceful resolution of international conflict. We need to do more to facilitate communication between different faiths. Most importantly, we need to take an unambiguous stance that the current "war on terror" is not consistent with principles of democracy, conflict resolution or ethical behavior from the perspective of the field of psychology. We should aggressively promote our findings and analyses of these issues to maximize our impact on public policy. How will we explain our inaction to the next generation of psychologists?

Douglas L. Polcin, EdD
John F. Kennedy University
Pleasant Hill, Calif.

In the September Monitor, Dr. Koocher reasserts his contention that psychologists did not invent the strategies of "no touch torture" used at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Dr. Koocher is apparently unaware of APA history.

Psychologists since the 1950s have been major contributors to military research devoted to the development of "no-touch" torture techniques. Several APA presidents made their reputations by developing the psychological techniques of sensory deprivation, mind control and self-inflicted pain that formed the core of the techniques used at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Luminaries such as Donald O. Hebb, Charles Osgood and Irving Janis were rewarded and honored by APA for their work, although it must be said that the researchers commonly lied about the intended purposes of their studies. Often, the military sponsorship and use of the research was secret, and only revealed to the public years later.

Research produced by APA psychologists formed the core contributions to the torture techniques contained in the 1963 U.S. military "Kubark Counter-Intelligence Interrogation Handbook," which contains many of the psychological torture techniques used recently.

Compelling circumstantial evidence exists to suggest that Stanley Milgrim's famous obedience to authority experiments were not conducted to explore the psychology of obedience under Nazi fascism as his book claims, but were actually experiments sponsored by the U.S. Office of Naval Research and the CIA to find out if the military could reasonably expect their torture programs to be carried out by subordinate personnel, particularly in our Southeast Asian and South American counterinsurgency campaigns.

Plausible deniability based on a sanitized history is not an adequate ethical standard for APA psychologists in military interrogations.

Details of psychologists' involvement in psychological torture research can be found in Alfred W. McCoy's "A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation from the Cold War to the War on Terror" (Henry Holt, 2006).

Gary Walls, PhD
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology