‘Should apes have legal rights?’ leaves out the science
Aug 03, 2013 • News Articles

NEAVS President Theodora Capaldo, EdD

The following is in response to The Week's Aug. 3 article, "Should apes have legal rights?"

As president of the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS), an 118-year-old Boston-based animal protection organization that spearheaded national efforts to end the use of chimpanzees in research, I first want to thank you for your story, “Should apes have legal rights?” Given our level of expertise regarding the use of chimpanzees in U.S. research, I am writing to identify questionable areas in your coverage – in large part the result of choosing who was quoted on very technical issues. For example, in regards to the science of their use:

"If we are going to consider closing down AIDS and hepatitis research and giving human rights to chimps," said University of Florida animal psychologist Clive Wynne, "we had better be certain we are not just giving in to a natural but baseless anthropomorphic tendency without solid evidence to back it up."

Why would an animal behaviorist (as a psychologist, I have no awareness of the term “animal psychologist” being used to describe a discipline) make a comment about the usefulness or need for chimpanzees in AIDS research if it is something clearly outside his field of purported expertise, and if his opinion is obviously outdated and misinformed of current scientific thought? There is no controversy about how unnecessary and unproductive chimpanzees have been, are, and would continue to be in our battle against AIDS. As for their need in hepatitis research, even the IOM could not reach a consensus, while scientists from private pharmacology companies testified to the IOM how they “no longer” need or use chimpanzees in vaccine development – including hep C. We would be happy to make available to you for future stories a PhD geneticist and former researcher, NEAVS Science Advisor Dr. Jarrod Bailey, who has spent the last seven years studying the historic and present use of chimpanzees in major human killer disease research like AIDS. His publications expose how limited their value is, how erroneous research results from chimpanzees are when applied to humans, and even how dangerous some conclusions have been for humans. Their use actually severely delayed advances in certain areas and once the chimpanzee model was abandoned, our understanding, prevention, and treatment of certain diseases accelerated.

Further, conclusions such as the following show a lack of familiarity with free-living and captive chimpanzee behavior:

Humans have rights because we live under a moral code, said John D. Morris, an evolutionary creationist. Animals have no understanding of that code. "No ape has any awareness of right or wrong," he said. "If a loose chimp steals a picnic basket in the park, does he go to jail?"

All great ape groups live by strict codes and when an individual digresses from it, he or she is severely punished … even, if you consider social isolation the original “jail,” being sent to jail for the “crime.” However, there is also the capacity to forgive after even the most severe incidents. When the offender makes amends to the group they are forgiven and embraced.

Your article only discusses ethical concerns, a valid part of the equation of course, but says nothing about the actual bad science involved in research on chimpanzees and relies on less-than-substantive opinions to make any case for their use. Both the Institute of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health recently declared chimpanzees were not necessary in any research for human health. As noted above, we have published no less than eight papers in peer-reviewed journals attesting to what poor models they have been for use in research to benefit humans. Our final study actually examined autopsy reports of chimpanzees who died while being held for research use. Independent pathologists who reviewed the autopsy reports summarized the terrible condition they were in – suffering from terminal and multi-organ diseases that would never have made them a suitable research subject even if they were in the first place. It was another indictment of the shoddy science those who defend their use accept.

I applaud The Week wanting to weigh in on a topic that has the attention of not only the American public, but of legislators, government regulatory agencies, and the scientific community itself. In fact NEAVS is proud to have played a major role in originally bringing the issue up for debate, and helping reach this tipping point in the science and ethics of research.

This issue has major implications not just for chimpanzees, but for everyone you love whose lives and the quality of their lives depends on sound biomedical research and a culture committed to compassion as one of its highest values.

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