"If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin."
- Charles Darwin

Sep 13, 2007

Primate Experimentation Under the Microscope

Europe moves towards banning experiments on non-human primates.

Macaque used for invasive brain experimentation.
Image: Unattributed

As I wrote in my post The Dangers of Technological Adolescence, the history of experimentation on unwilling human subjects has a long and despicable record. However, the use of invasive experiments with primates on everything from cosmetics testing to HIV infection studies is ongoing. There have been numerous recent court cases on the rights of primates in the legal system (for example see Trapped Between People and Property). The evidence of advanced primate cognition and emotional richness raises important questions about what are appropriate scientific ethical norms for necessary, and potentially life saving, research.

Ghandi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Currently, the United States has the most lenient policy on primate experimentation in the Western world (see Nature 417, 684-687 – subscription required). According to a resolution to end primate experiments passed by The Humane Society and endorsed by Jane Goodall, as of 2004 there were 54,998 primates in some 200 facilities used for invasive biomedical research (this figure doesn’t include laboratory primates used for breeding). Between 1,300 and 1,400 of these individuals were chimpanzees, the only great ape used in biomedical labs and who share between 98.6% and 99.4% of their DNA with humans.

As reported today in New Scientist Europe is on track to make the United States unique in our permissive research policies by banning all experiments on great apes and other non-human primates. Last week 433 of 626 members of the European Parliament signed a non-binding document that:

“Urges the Commission to propose an end to all non-human primate experiments . . . in scientific procedures, specifically: to prohibit chimpanzee experiments and the use of wild-caught primates in the EU and phase out all non-human primate experiments in the EU over the next six years;”

Later this year the European Commission is scheduled to redraft the regulations on animal experimentation. This written declaration provides a strong indication of the direction these regulations will take and may well overturn the 21-year policy allowing experiments on non-human primates. The written declaration exceeds those currently in place in Britain that bans great ape experimentation and is very close to what the Primate Freedom Project has been advocating in the United States.

While biomedical research has undeniable benefits for us, I think we should carefully consider what costs we would be willing to inflict on others to reap them. As Europe joins the chorus of voices urging scientists to cease their invasive experimentation on primates, perhaps it's time for us to reexamine our position.

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Oldfart said...

This whole issue reminds me of the Right-To-Life debates. It is undeniable that the destruction of a fetus is also the destruction of a human life. It is also undeniable that we humans need to control our population. Abortion is a primitive solution to that problem. To replace abortion with some more civilized solution requires more research and more understanding of human risk taking behavior. Instead there is a group of people who wish to ban certain behavior before any replacement technology is in place. Furthermore, this same group denies the efficacy of education on birth control. Yet the need to control population and disease is obvious.

By the same token, in my mind at least, using animals for experimentation is cruel and primitive. But, we do that because we are primitive and have no better method. If you really want to stop the use of animals for experimentation, use your brains and your education to come up with a different way. Come up with some kind of non-animal model which medical researchers can use. Pass laws which require the replacement of animal models with non-animal models whenever the non-animal model has been discovered or created or designed. Until that point we are still too primitive to replace animal victims. Denying the necessity of the research will not work. Tell that to the person whose very existence depends on the success of medical research. As for cosmetic companies - there is NO excuse for that whatsoever. I'm sure there are millions of women who would volunteer to be paid for that kind of research. After all, there are literally billions of poor people on this planet.

Keep in mind the Vegan myth. Vegans choose not to eat any kind of meat or meat product thinking that they are saving the lives of animals. (While they are saving the lives of animals they are, of course, eating plants and plant children alive, boiling them alive, steaming them alive ... and so forth). But, if everyone became a Vegan it would result in the greatest die-off of animal life this earth has seen since the last blast 65 million years ago. There is absolutely NO reason for farmers to keep cows, chickens, pigs or any other kind of meat animal if no one is going to eat them.

Be careful what you wish for.

Anonymous said...

may i ask if the photograph posted is open source. and if i may use it.