The decision by Oklahoma State University President Burns Hargis not to participate in an anthrax research project that would have resulted in the euthanasia of more than 100 baboons has occasioned some interesting reaction, especially from the research community in his own university. However, his decision is not unique. The Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in Massachusetts barred any primate research in its laboratories for a long time (I am not sure if it still does). There were two main reasons why the school made this decision — one ethical and one pragmatic. The ethical reason dealt, among other issues, with the challenges of providing adequate care for the primates. The pragmatic reason was that the New England Primate Center was located nearby. In another case, a committee of experts convened by the National Research Council concluded that it was not ethical to euthanize research chimpanzees simply for reasons of space, economics or human utility. This decision then led indirectly to the passage of the CHIMP Act and the establishment of a retirement program for unwanted (and expensive) laboratory chimpanzees. The Humane Society of the United States is now promoting the Great Ape Protection Act in Congress to end all invasive research on chimpanzees. We argue that the use of chimpanzees in biomedical research is expensive, difficult, of limited use in developing new knowledge, and morally unacceptable given that chimpanzees display many of the qualities of personhood that appear to be the foundation for the societal prohibition against using humans as mere means to ends. The baboons that would have been used in this project are not thought to have mental lives that match the complexity of those displayed by chimpanzees. However, they still lead highly developed cognitive lives and will suffer in boring and cramped housing. They are also difficult and expensive animals to maintain in laboratory cages. Generally their existence in such facilities ranges from significantly compromised at best to miserable at worst! We at The Humane Society of the United States understand why Hargis decided as he did and we hope that the discussion rippling out from his decision leads to the rapid ending of invasive research on chimpanzees (the only acceptable ethical outcome) and a re-evaluation of how we keep and use baboons in laboratories across the nation. Rowan is chief scientific officer of The Humane Society of the United States.Comments
The Humane Society of the United States is now promoting the Great Ape Protection Act in Congress to end all invasive research on chimpanzees.