Invasive Research on Chimpanzees No Longer Makes Sense – Scientifically, Financially or Ethically

11 Aug

There’s a two-day public hearing going on convened by the Institute of Medicine to examine whether invasive chimpanzee research is still necessary. Representative Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) has a wonderful Op-Ed in today’s New York Times explaining why he no longer believe such experiments make sense — scientifically, financially or ethically.

Bartlett has introduced the bipartisan Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act with Steve Israel (D-NY), Dave Reichert (R-WA), Jim Langevin (D-RI) and Ed Towns (D-NY), along with Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT). The Act would end invasive research on great apes and retire the 500 federally owned chimpanzees from laboratories to sanctuaries.

As Bartlett points out, the newest research techniques that do not use great apes are cheaper, faster and more effective. Chimps have also proven inferior in research when compared to these alternative methodologies. And it makes sense economically–Retiring the animals would save taxpayers about $30 million a year. And then there’s the ethical argument:

There is no question that chimpanzees experience pain, stress and social isolation in ways strikingly similar to the way humans do. James Marsh’s recent documentary, “Project Nim,” chronicles the 27-year life of Nim Chimpsky, a chimpanzee who was the subject of a controversial research project that involved raising him as though he were a human. Nim was taught sign language — and he used those signs to tell his human interlocutors that he was traumatized by his living conditions.

Nim isn’t alone. In his book “Next of Kin,” Dr. Roger S. Fouts recounted his reunion with a chimp named Booee. After 13 years of separation, and after Booee was deliberately infected with hepatitis C, Booee recognized, signed and played with Dr. Fouts, to whom he had given the signed nickname of “Rodg.” Other visitors reported that Booee used the American Sign Language gesture for “keys,” indicating that he wanted to get out of his cage.

Rep. Bartlett ends by writing that we can “no longer justify confining these magnificent and innocent animals to traumatic invasive research and life imprisonment.” I agree completely and my perspective is similar to Jane Goodall’s: Since animal research will continue, I would like to see it limited to the greatest extent possible as we develop and utilize alternatives where appropriate. In the case of great apes, the course of action is clear.

Contact your legislator to support the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act

Further reading: Next of Kin, Bonobo Handshake, Reason For Hope

Photo: Diana Goodrich

9 Responses to “Invasive Research on Chimpanzees No Longer Makes Sense – Scientifically, Financially or Ethically”

  1. vanessa woods August 11, 2011 at 10:36 am #

    I couldn’t agree more! End chimps in biomed facilities now!

  2. Linda August 11, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

    This is an informative and yet very sad post about our Great Ape cousins. It is so hard to read about how these magnificent animals have been targeted for experimentation for so long.
    I have signed and sent in my support for the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act, and I applaud the various senators and representatives who have introduced this and are moving it forward.

  3. J.A. Gibbons August 11, 2011 at 7:22 pm #

    I’m a vegetarian partly because I don’t like the way farm animals are treated. However, I worry if we outlaw medical research on primates (I realize the legislation only mentions Great Apes) it will just get outsourced to countries where the citizens are too poor to have the luxury of caring how research animals are treated. At least in the U.S. all such experiments must go through a rigorous ethics review process.

    If the alternatives really are cheaper and more effective then there shouldn’t be any need to outlaw it anyway. The fact that it’s an issue indicates that there must still be some use for it and with all of the money and emotion involved medical conditions there is no chance of ending primate testing on this Earth.

  4. Paul August 12, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

    “As Bartlett points out, the newest research techniques that do not use great apes are cheaper, faster and more effective. Chimps have also proven inferior in research when compared to these alternative methodologies.”

    Sorry, but proven in which fields of biomedical research, and by whom?

    Studies involving chimpanzees account for a tiny, tiny proportion of biomedical research in the USA, I doubts it’s even 0.01% of the total animal research done in the US, let alone biomedical research as a whole.

    Sure, in many areas of research Chimpanzee use has been replaced by more advanced in vitro techniques, genetically modified rodents, monkeys etc., and in most they were never used very much, but there are still a few important areas, such as developing vaccines and treatments for hep C and RSV, where there is still a strng case to be made for their continued use. There is also a cgood case for continued invasive research involving chimpanzees where that reserch is intended to help secure their own survival – a recent study of an Ebola vaccine certainly falls into this category, and many people do not appreciate how this act will prevent scientists from carrying out even minimally-invasive research that required the taking of blood samples and carrying out scans, this legislation will make a lot of behavioral research in chimpanzees impossible.

    This is what the Institute of Medicine http://www.iom.edu/Activities/Research/Chimpanzees.aspx is currently discussing. I think we ought to wait to hear its conclusions before coming to any premature decisions in the utility or necessity of chimpanzee research.

    • Brian Schmidt August 14, 2011 at 4:31 pm #

      IOM is studying the scientific and (implicit) financial reasons for using chimps versus alternatives, but they obtusely refused to study ethical implications. In other words, they’re playing politics.

      The pro-chimp people are also playing games, IMHO. They want there to be no financial or scientific reasons that conflict with ethics, so they simply declare that to be the case – and convince themselves. We’ve heard this song before when it comes to climate change.

  5. Isis the Scientist October 13, 2011 at 9:10 pm #

    Since animal research will continue, I would like to see it limited to the greatest extent possible as we develop and utilize alternatives where appropriate.

    This gives me cause for concern…

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

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  3. A Closer Look at the Great Ape Protection Act (GAPA) | Speaking of Research - November 21, 2011

    [...] First up is the question of what exactly would be banned under GAPA.  The legislation is pitched as a measure to end invasive research with chimpanzees.  Much of the media coverage and discussion of chimpanzees in research also makes specific reference to invasive studies. [...]

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