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

Mar 13, 2009

Cruelty to Chimps in Research Lab

Science questions the morality of invasive experimentation.

Chimpanzees suffering from isolation and disease in the name of science.
Image: Animal Aid

The National Institute of Health scandal involving the abuse of chimpanzees has a full write up in the just released issue of Science. After working undercover and filming cases of abuse at an NIH facility, the Humane Society has published a 100-page report (summary here) calling for an end to invasive experimentation on all great apes. The video footage can be found here.
The video shows a chimpanzee falling from a perch and smacking the floor after being darted by a tranquilizer gun, an anesthetized monkey rolling off a table, a baby monkey writhing while receiving a feeding tube, and other strong images of caged primates. "A major issue for us is the psychological deprivation and torment that these animals are enduring," said HSUS President Wayne Pacelle at a press conference.
A ban on invasive experiments has already been established in Europe, where personhood rights for great apes are much further along than in the U.S. Naturally, in the interest of "balance", Science felt the need to include the opinions of those who are in favor of inflicting needless suffering on our closest relatives.
Several researchers who conduct studies on chimpanzees say the legislation is shortsighted. Geneticist John VandeBerg, the chief scientific officer at the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research in San Antonio, Texas, says researchers there use chimpanzees primarily for testing drugs and vaccines against hepatitis B and C, diseases that he notes affect nearly 500 million humans.

Neuroscientist Todd Preuss of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta complains that the bill defines "invasive" too broadly. It would prohibit his and other groups from sedating chimpanzees to perform brain scans or drawing blood for behavioral experiments and endocrinology studies. He calls these interventions "minimally invasive."
Since Dr. VandeBerg is such a humanitarian I'm sure he wouldn't mind testing the vaccines on himself or his family (or he can give his students extra credit for each injection). Chimpanzees have emotional and sensory lives as rich as our own. The pain and stress of isolation as well as the intentional infection with debilitating diseases is needlessly cruel and should be abolished. This concern about the definition of "invasive" is the same kind of verbal gymnastics that bent the definition of torture into utter meaninglessness. If you wouldn't perform an experiment on a person you shouldn't perform it on a chimpanzee. Period.

Jane Goodall has condemned the practices by the New Iberia Research Center, where the nine month investigation took place, and is a firm supporter of the Humane Society's proposed ban.
In no lab I have visited have I seen so many chimpanzees exhibit such intense fear. The screaming I heard when chimpanzees were being forced to move toward the dreaded needle in their squeeze cages was, for me, absolutely horrifying.
Today we rightly condemn the disgusting experiments conducted as part of the Tuskegee Study in the hope of understanding the course of syphilis. The intention was humanitarian then just as it is now. But to intentionally inflict suffering in order to reduce suffering elsewhere is an empty moral argument. Hopefully in a few decades our children will read about this current squabbling over how immoral we can afford to be in the name of science with the same disgust that we feel about such experimentation in the past.

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1 comment: said...

Lets hope that this will make congress change the laws and get the chimps out of the labs.