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Doris Lin

Save Chimpanzees from Research

By January 24, 2013

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An internal committee of the U.S. National Institute of Health has recommended that over 300 of the federal government's 360 chimpanzees in research be retired and sent to a sanctuary where they can live out the rest of their lives. But we can speak out to try to save all of them.

Chimpanzee in cage
Chimpanzee in cage, stock photo

The Council of Councils Working Group on the Use of Chimpanzees in NIH-Supported Research announced their recommendation on Tuesday. NIH will now hold a 60-day public comment period before the director of NIH makes a decision.

The proposal calls for maintaining a colony of approximately fifty chimpanzees for "future potential research that meets the (Institute of Medicine) principles and criteria." NIH announced that they would stop funding chimpanzee experiments in December of 2011, when the Institute of Medicine determined criteria for when chimpanzees can be used in experiments. The use of chimpanzees in biomedical research should be limited to studies where:

  • The knowledge gained must be necessary to advance the public's health;
  • There must be no other research model by which the knowledge could be obtained, and the research cannot be ethically performed on human subjects; and
  • The animals used in the proposed research must be maintained either in ethologically appropriate physical and social environments or in natural habitats.

Disturbingly, the proposal also states, "Mouse models will be developed based on genetic crossing or genetic engineering that will provide new potential for allowing pathogen replication and pathogenesis. Examples of these new strains include knock-in mice with human receptors for specific viruses, knock-out mice with higher susceptibility to infection, humanized mice, and xenotransplanted mice as well as any number of combinations derived by breeding different genetically altered mice. In addition, new non-human primate models and other non-murine animal models are being developed."

From an animal rights point of view, substituting another animal for a chimpanzee in research is not acceptable. Vivisection is no more justifiable when performed on mice than when performed on chimpanzees. Singling out chimpanzees is speciesist, as is believing that humans are unique in deserving moral consideration. There are no traits that make chimpanzees or humans unique, including the most important trait - sentience. In this case, the Working Group was charged with examining chimpanzees being used in research, so the decision to limit the proposal to chimpanzees was not made by this group. But at some earlier point, NIH decided to limit the scope of their review to chimpanzees.

Still, whether these chimpanzees would be replaced with mice is up in the air, but retiring them from research would definitely save these individuals.

NIH has already begun transferring 110 chimpanzees from their New Iberia Research Center to the Chimp Haven federal sanctuary.

What you can do: Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is asking people to request that all chimpanzees be released to the federal sanctuary system. As PCRM states in their online petition:

While the Working Group recommended that NIH maintain a colony of 50 chimpanzees for current research, neither the science nor the ethics is supportive of such a move. The 2011 Institute of Medicine report on chimpanzee experimentation could not point to a single area of human health research for which chimpanzees are essential. Further, behavioral and comparative genomics research can be conducted in the wild or at wildlife refuges and sanctuaries, a point reiterated by the Working Group.

Sign the PCRM petition here.

Read more about vivisection here, and about NIH's decision to stop funding chimpanzee experiments here.

John Foxx / Getty Images

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