The BBC recently reported that several animal groups in Europe had united to urge the European Union to ban all experiments on great apes. Research on great apes is already explicitly banned in many European countries, including Great Britain. Activists especially want a laboratory in the Netherlands that conducts research on chimpanzees to be shut down.
Jane Goodall is leading the charge against such experiments, though it’s a bit odd that she apparently has not thought through her views on animal experimentation. She told the BBC,
I think it’s unethical to experiment on chimpanzees and other primates — and also on dogs and cats. But I don’t know where you draw the line. We need to develop research on human tissue in test-tubes. That’s the only scientifically valid and ethical way to go.
At least part of the last sentence is demonstrably false since medical research on non-human primates has provided important medical advances over the last century. At the very least one would hope someone as widely admired as Dr. Goodall would think through her beliefs on animal experimentation before saying “I don’t know where you draw the line.”
Helene Guldberg recently wrote a short, informative article for Spiked Science laying out the case against great apes being similar enough to human beings to be granted rights. She nicely dispenses with the “ape research is scientifically invalid” argument by pointing out that people like Goodall are trying to have it both ways,
According to Jane Goodall, ‘the higher intelligence and the emotional nature of the great apes sets them apart from non-primate animals’, making experiments that cause them suffering entirely illegitimate. In fact, it is precisely what we have in common with great apes — not cognitive or behavioural characteristics, but genetic similarities — that makes research on primates so valuable.
Guldberg runs through a lot of the problems with claims that apes are self aware or have other human-like characteristics. Her summary of the claims for language among great apes is especially on target with Guldberg writing that, “Most importantly apes never develop the ability to use language to regulate their own actions. … It is when thought and speech come together that children’s thinking is raised to new heights and they start acquiring truly human characteristics. Language becomes a tool of thought allowing children increasingly to master their own behavior.”
Campaign demands EU ape research ban. Alex Kirby, The BBC, March 28, 2001.
The great ape debate. Helene Guldberg, Spiked-Online.Com, March 29, 2001.