A bill has been introduced to prevent chimps and other great apes from being used in medical experiments, and to provide animals currently used for that purpose sanctuary. From “Bedrooms for Bonzo” by Neil Munro in the National Journal (July 11, 2009—no link). From the story:
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., has gathered almost 60 cosponsors for the Great Ape Protection Act. The bill states that chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans, and gibbons “are highly intelligent and social animals, and research laboratory environments involving invasive research cannot meet their complex social and psychological needs.” The measure would forbid the use of federal funds in experiments on apes, impose fines of $10,000 a day for violations, and require the government to provide retirement shelters for the animals.
Scientists are concerned:
Animals, including chimps, are needed for research that yields novel drugs and other treatments, counters Carrie Wolinetz, an advocate at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. “We could not do medical research without them,” she said. Her organization is a coalition of 22 groups, many of whose members are employed at major research universities. Scientists do much of their work on cells and other tissues kept in glass containers. But this in vitro research must be complemented by in vivo experimentation, using mice or chimps as stand-ins for human patients. “Sooner or later, you have to take that [potential product] into the whole organism to see how the entire animal responds, and you certainly can’t do that in humans,” Wolinetz said.
The battle over chimps, she said, may be a precursor to disputes over scientists’ use of mice, rats, and similar creatures. “We’re a long way from that, [but] we are concerned there is not as much appreciation in the general public about how important animals are in research,” Wolinetz said.
That is exactly the game that is afoot. Indeed, ending all animal research may be the primary goal of the animal rights movement.
Later in the piece, I weigh in on human exceptionalism:
In 2007 Spain’s legislature declared that apes are part of the “community of equals” with people. The statement was a victory for the Great Ape Project, an international coalition pushing to extend some human rights to primates...“The Great Ape Project specifically seeks to topple human beings from the pedestal of exceptionalism and to turn us just into another animal morally equal to chimpanzees,” said Wesley J. Smith, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute in Seattle. But “if we think of ourselves as just another animal in the forest, that’s just how we’ll act...”
The animal-rights perspective is at odds with the view of most Americans, who believe that humans’ exceptional sense of morality obliges them to treat animals decently, but more important, to recognize rights only for fellow humans, said Smith, the author of a forthcoming book, A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a BoyThe Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement. (The title plays off a controversial 1989 statement by PETA co-founder Ingrid Newkirk.) If advocates win rights for animals, then the longstanding notion of “human exceptionalism is over,” he said, and with it the idea of human rights.
Wayne Pacelle, of the HSUS—an animal rights group that masks its intent behind animal welfare actions, insisted I am wrong:
“We don’t think our ethic is contradictory to that hierarchal notion of life,” countered the Humane Society’s Pacelle. Compassion “is the mark of humanity, and this [chimp-protection bill] is a logical extension of the principles of compassion and kindness to animals who can clearly suffer as we can,” he said.
Notice, Pacelle doesn’t say what he really believes in this regard. That is a classic example of deflecting the ultimate issue, a form of misdirection at which Pacelle and HSUS are expert.
Human exceptionalism requires us to treat animals humanely. Chimps, as a highly intelligent and social species deserve special consideration, I believe. But we also have a duty to serve the needs of humanity. Thus, limiting chimp research is certainly justifiable based on a duty to chimps versus duty to us analyses. But a full ban, could result in much human suffering, as I have discussed in other venues, and is not justifiable.