The Humane Society of the United States’ Kathleen Conlee wrote an account of a session at the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science conference about chimpanzee research in which she articulates the HSUS’s desire for a ban on chimpanzee research in the United States by 2005.
Conlee writes that the presentation by a National Institute of Health official noted the importance of chimpanzee research in the past and the likely importance of research utilizing the animals in the future. According to Conlee,
When the session came to an end, I had one particularly burning question to ask the speaker: “What is NIH doing, if anything, to address the fact that various countries have decided to ban the use of chimpanzees in research?”
I wasn’t expecting the response that I gotÂ—at least not in public. The official said he could foresee a time in the futureÂ—he couldn’t say whenÂ—when chimpanzees are no longer used in research in the United States. He then pointed out that public opinion has had an influence on this issue.
Like the morning fog that eventually lifts from Puget Sound, that sinking feeling from earlier in the day was gone. I felt there was hope that chimpanzee research in the U.S. will endÂ—that the 1,300 chimpanzees currently used, held, bred or purchased for use in federally supported or conducted research might one day soon have a better life. I also felt that The HSUS must peek its head inside the door that was cracked opened that day in Seattle.
Conlee continues that HSUS is now firmly behind that effort because it views chimpanzee research as inherently inhumane,
Documentaries and accounts of chimpanzee families in the wild have shown us their complex natures: We’ve seen their various emotions, such as anger, joy and jealousy; their use of tools; and how they can be deceptive to obtain something they want. I worked with chimpanzees at a sanctuary and observed such behaviors firsthand.
Now consider those same complex chimpanzees living alone in a small laboratory cage (5x5x7 feet) with little to do, nothing to look forward to, and occasionally suffering from the research they have been subjected to. The bright eyes of the wild chimpanzee are nowhere to be found.
The lucky ones have social partners and live in larger enclosures, but they still live behind bars and are used as subjects for research. We have to ask ourselves, “Is the price of chimpanzee research too high?” The Humane Society of the United States argues that it is. That is why we are urging the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the parent agency of NIH, to create a plan to end chimpanzee research by 2005. We sent a letter to HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson (as well as two NIH officials) to that effect in November.
The NIH responded to HSUS’ letter by saying it had no plans to change its approach to non-human primate research.
Conlee argues that the elimination of research involving chimpanzees would have only limited affects on the progress of biomedical research because most such research is unnecessary and alternatives could likely be created for the rest,
Some argue that chimpanzees must be used in biomedical research in an attempt to cure human diseases. However, many of the research areas for which chimpanzees are used also involve the use of other experimental approaches and models. Therefore, phasing out chimpanzee experiments would have limited impact on the pace of biomedical progress.
The HSUS also argues that alternatives to chimpanzee use haven’t been adequately explored. Why isn’t funding dedicated to finding these alternatives? Scientific results from any type of research conducted on apes are compromised as a result of the animals’ captivity-related suffering. Development of alternatives should be a priority; the chimpanzees, however, cannot wait for thisÂ—they must be retired from research as soon as possible, and we believe 2005 is a realistic time period.
Conference Call: Remark Leads HSUS to Publicly Call for Ban on Chimp Research. Kathleen Conlee, Humane Society of the United States, January 2004.
The HSUS Calls on Federal Government to End Use of Chimpanzees in Biomedical Research. Press Release, Humane Society of the United States, December 11, 2003.