Europe moves towards banning experiments on non-human primates.
Macaque used for invasive brain experimentation.
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.