By A.G. Moore
The sole chimpanzee at the Saigon Zoo
Photo by Lepidlizard
The NIH announced this week that it was retiring the majority of its chimpanzees from animal experiment programs. While some 50 of the Great Apes will be retained in labs for invasive procedures (mostly involving work on hepatitis C and monoclonal antibodies), the rest are scheduled to be retired. The 50 apes that will be subject to continued research are to be maintained in “ethologically” appropriate housing. This housing requirement, however, need not be met for about another two years.
Note, as the pros and cons of Great Ape experimentation run through your mind, that the U. S. is the only industrialized country that still allows this practice. It is the opinion of many in the research community that viable alternatives to Great Ape experiments exist. See the NIH 2011 Report.
As the NIH weighs the interests of powerful lobbies–biomedical researchers in private industry and academic institutions that engage in this research–in coming to its conclusions, ethical considerations seem to take second place in their deliberations. Although it is evident that many scientists are troubled by the continued research on apes, these reservations are trumped by the principle of expediency. Proponents of continued ape research rarely say that progress in the lab will be halted by an ape embargo; they do claim that it will be “slowed”.
Even if this were true–and many qualified experts in the research community challenge this assertion–must the NIH and scientists not weigh the profound suffering imposed on animals against a putative lag in progress?
The NIH is inviting public comment on its final recommendations. In a previous comment period it appears that public input was considered, though it is impossible to say how persuasive this input was. Speak up, if you care about this issue. The comment form can be found at the NIH website, Request for Information (RFI): Input on Report from Council of Councils Working Group on the Use of Chimpanzees in NIH-Supported Research .