(NaturalNews) The question of whether chimpanzees and other primates should be used for biomedical research is an issue that has recently been reinvigorated thanks to 186 chimps at the Alamogordo Primate Facility in New Mexico who are waiting for their verdict of either life in a grassy sanctuary or a life of torture in the name of medical research.
For years, these chimps were used for biomedical research, primarily for hepatitis and HIV. Lennie, once a space chimp, has been documented as suffering atrocities, including being infected with HIV and hepatitis as well as enduring four spinal taps, a bone-marrow biopsy and repeated blood draws, to name a few. All of these very stressful experiments, no doubt, contributed to his death, apparently from heart disease, in 2002.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), a U.S. government entity, is interested in relocating these chimps from their "sanctuary" on an Air Force base in New Mexico, where they've been on a 10-year hiatus from invasive experimentation, to the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio, where they'll be put back into invasive research.
Due to public outcry spearheaded by animal rights activists, such as the Humane Society, Animal Protection of New Mexico and In Defense of Animals, the NIH has commissioned a panel to determine the fate of chimpanzees in experimentation.
An analysis - to be completed in seven months - is being conducted by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the medical branch of the independent National Academy of Sciences, "to reassess the scientific need for the continued use of chimpanzees to accelerate biomedical discoveries."
According to Eric Kleiman, the Research Director for In Defense of Animals, the IOM process is illegitimate and the outcome a foregone conclusion because of the pro-experimentation make-up of the panel and the fact that the NIH deliberately omitted the topic of ethics from the panel's charge.
For Kleiman, who's been fighting against chimpanzee experimentation for seventeen years now, it's a frustrating scenario. He points to what he calls a "remarkable" editorial in Nature, one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world.
In its June 16 issue, the journal wrote that "[The NIH] may wish to divorce the science from the ethics, but society at large will not accept such a distinction. Nor is it intellectually defensible...." Consequently, Kleiman believes that the IOM report will not be definitive. The same Natureeditorial wrote that the panel's report will provide a "valuable starting point" for the much broader discussion of the use of chimpanzees in experimentation.
In fact, many researchers now believe that animal testing isn't necessary anymore. A Petri dish can hold just as much knowledge as a live animal. For the recently-published McClatchy Newspapers Special Report "Chimps: Life in the Lab," Arthur Caplan, a University of Pennsylvania ethicist who chaired a government panel in the 1980's that set guidelines for animal research stated that, "the burden of justifying the research is on the researcher, and it's very high. For primate research, you had better be able to show me that you've got something that's pretty promising: an HIV vaccine, a cancer drug."
"Chimpanzees have not been a universally satisfactory model for human diseases," concluded the National Research Council (affiliated with the National Academy of Sciences) in a 1997 report; while Science Director, Jarrod Bailey, of the anti-animal testing New England Anti-Vivisection Society is quoted as saying, "100 vaccines had been tested in nonhuman primates, including chimpanzees, and success in animals didn't translate to success in humans."
Of course, groups like the NIH stand by their beliefs that these animals are important to their research, however there are myriad factors to consider. So where do we draw the line? "When it comes to animal experiments, in general, we're one of the most regressive countries in the world," laments Kleiman as he explains that, "NIH is the largest funder of animal experiments." America is the only country, besides Gabon, that allows for invasive experiments to be conducted on chimpanzees.
As a country that should be leading the way, we are falling radically behind in the arena of ethics and animal rights. Still, America isn't entirely at fault. Although it is true that most countries have outlawed such experimentation, their companies are still free to travel overseas to utilize American facilities. Such allowances are simply loopholes and should not absolve these countries of their culpability in the perpetuation of this heinous activity.
After an hour-long conversation with Kleiman, it was clear that there was a whole lot more to the story than most people are aware of, quite literally enough to write a book about. The labyrinthine issue is a mine-filled mess of fabrications and deceptions. "They've [the NIH] violated the law, they've lied to Congress," says Kleiman. "What they're legally doing to these chimpanzees is appalling. The NIH shouldn't be allowed within a thousand miles of them."
When asked what he expects to see change over the next ten years, Kleiman does not seem optimistic, even though he believes the NIH's lack of use of these chimpanzees at the APF over the past ten years is a clear indication the agency's claims that these chimps are vital for experimentation is false. The reality is "the research goes where the money goes," and "the NIH still has an 'animal-model' mindset."
He explains that much of the research conducted on animals is for useless experiments that aren't cited by anyone but the researchers themselves. "It's a fundamentally broken system," says Kleiman.
At some point, when playing God with the creatures we cohabitate with on planet earth, we have to ask ourselves what our obligation is as caretakers, and how long can we keep declaring that the ends justifies the means.
The Dalai Lama has said that, "Today more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of universal responsibility, not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to other forms of life." Even Einstein said, "Our task must be to free ourselves -- by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty." From spirituality to science, the answer seems crystal clear. Let's hope the panel sees it that way too.
When asked what the general public can do to support this cause and the freedom of the Alamogordo chimpanzees, Kleiman suggests going to this link (which provides information on contacting your representatives/senators): http://ida.convio.net/site/MessageViewer/&pr....