Chimps deserve bill to to ban their use as research subjects

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“There is no profit in curing the body if in the process we destroy the soul.” Samuel Golter

Remember when those chimpanzees flew those planes into the Twin Towers in New York? Or how about that chimp in Belgium that barged into that daycare with a 12-inch knife and murdered those infants and mutilated all those kids?

Those monsters deserve nothing better than to be isolated in barren cages and spend their lives treated as statistical aggregates to be infected, cut, poked and biopsied for the small possibility that all of their suffering might lead to some kind of benefit to the divine human.

The Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act, a bipartisan federal bill, would end this cold dominion of our closest cousins by phasing out invasive research on chimpanzees, retiring about 500 federally owned chimps to sanctuaries and prohibiting breeding the animals for research.

Chimpanzees, who share about 99% of their DNA with humans, have been sought-after test subjects because of their physical proximity to our species. We have published papers on the trauma of separating mother from baby, sent them into space before killing them, infected them with uncountable viruses, cut them open again and again and, probably the worst of our offenses, has been to make these creatures so much like ourselves our lifelong prisoners.

Dr. Pedro A. Ynterian, president of the Great Ape Project International, has spoken at great length about the trauma of captivity. As a former political prisoner himself, he speaks of banning the manufacture of cages altogether, so “nobody could have animals in absurd and traumatic captivity.”

Captive chimpanzees can live 50 years, and many have lived that long, jailed as prisoners of science for the benefit of humankind.

Many like to argue that we are doing these animals a favor, like so many others, by saving them from the cruel realities of Mother Nature. While Nature can and does offer wild creatures a cruel death, the suffering is relatively quick and the life lived was one of freedom.

The argument for robbing these self-aware creatures capable of leading rich emotional and social lives of their freedom is simple: the means justifies the end. The means being enslaving a group of animals only one percent different than our own species and psychologically and physically torturing them in the name of science. The end being a debatable miniscule contribution to fighting disease in humans.

Torture sound like too strong a description? Let’s take a look at the United Nation’s definition:

“any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining … information.”

Somehow we have been able to live with the hand we have dealt these animals who mourn their dead as we do by inventing that intangible word – person.

But the years of research with little resulting benefit to humans has been noticed. Chimpanzee research has either been completely banned or severely restricted in the European Union, Japan, New Zealand and Australia.

Late last year, the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academies of Sciences, issued a report recommending stringent limits on the use of chimpanzees in biomedical and behavioral research. The chair of the committee making the recommendations, Jeffery Kahn, said in a press release:

The committee concluded that research use of animals that are so closely related to humans should not proceed unless it offers insights not possible with other animal models and unless it is of sufficient scientific or health value to offset the moral costs. We found very few cases that satisfy these criteria.

While this represents a step in the right direction, the hypocrisy of the statement still leaves a bad taste in the mouth. When experiments would cause so much suffering that they cannot be morally done on humans – even those hardened criminals who have committed heinous acts of cruelty against our own species – it is the morally correct choice to subject innocent creature to such extreme agony.

PBS Newshour recently ran a segment, Chimpanzee Testing: Is it the Beginning of the End, questioning the use of chimpanzees in medical research.  Reporter Miles O’Brien spoke with scientist Robert Lanford at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, which keeps 150 chimps as research subjects.

Lanford speaks of the difficult decision he’s had to make between the benefit to humans and the harm to the chimps. He assures us that the animals are not suffering. But, if the animals are not suffering, then why is it not OK to do it to humans?

The problem with Lanford’s credibility is that PBS cameras were not allowed to report video of any chimps actively being used in research. O’Brien questioned Lanford, asking him if there was something he’d rather the public not see going on at the center.

Lanford reverently spoke of his mission to improve human health, and said that when people see the reality of what the animals are subjected to in the name of improving human health “their empathy as a human automatically goes out to that animal and says, this doesn’t look good.”

So basically we are being protected from our own destructive empathy, because we are incapable of making informed decisions.

I could go on and on about all the ways in which chimpanzee research has failed and even been detrimental to human health. According to a PBS documentary, Chimpanzees: An Unnatural History, 70% of drugs that have tested safe in non-human primates are known to be harmful to the human fetus.

We’re not really sure about anything we test on animals until we test it on humans. I watched one man express how sincerely grateful he is to chimps for the development of a drug used to treat Hepatitis C. He called the chimps his heroes. A hero has a choice in the matter. You don’t thank a torture victim for the information he reveals under torture. To do so is to mock the victim and belittle his suffering.

There is no excuse for subjecting our cousins to suffering we would and have condemned when inflicted on the weak of our own species. We are better than this.

“I had bought two male chimps from a primate colony in Holland. They lived next to each other in separate cages for several months before I used one as a [heart] donor. When we put him to sleep in his cage in preparation for the operation, he chattered and cried incessantly. We attached no significance to this, but it must have made a great impression on his companion, for when we removed the body to the operating room, the other chimp wept bitterly and was inconsolable for days. The incident made a deep impression on me. I vowed never again to experiment with such sensitive creatures.”

— Christiaan Barnard, MD, The world’s first human-to-human heart transplant surgeon

Ask your legislator to support the bill to ban research on chimps.

Sources and further reading:
  • Tina Page

    Tina is a journalist and mother of three who's lived all her life in the South Bay of Los Angeles except for a two-year stint in the heart of Spain. She believes humans have the capacity to make this a beautiful world for all species to live, and mothers have a special charge to raise their children to enjoy, love and respect all creatures.

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