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Autopsy study reinforces need to get chimpanzees to sanctuary

CONTACT: Nate Leskovic / 617-523-6020 / 978-352-8175

Chimpanzee autopsy study reinforces urgent need for U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to define and implement retirement criteria to get chimpanzees to sanctuary

Oct. 22, 2012 – Boston, Mass. – A Review of Autopsy Reports on Chimpanzees in or from U.S. Laboratories, in press for the October 2012 journal Alternatives to Laboratory Animals (ATLA), Volume 40, Issue 5, compiles data from 110 autopsies performed in the last 10 years on chimpanzees who died in or were from laboratories. The data show a full 64% of those chimpanzees suffered significant chronic illnesses and 69% had multi-organ diseases that should have rendered them too sick for research use. Yet, despite this knowledge on the part of the laboratories, many of these chimpanzees were held in labs for research despite their poor health and unsuitability for use.

The study raises concerns that labs circumvent their ethical and scientific responsibilities by not retiring chimpanzees who should be deemed no longer needed for research and therefore eligible for sanctuary under the 2000 Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance, and Protection Act (CHIMP Act). Its findings challenge current practice allowing laboratories to decide who is sent to sanctuary, and concludes the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must meet her legal mandate and define and enforce stringent criteria for retirement rather than leaving the decision to laboratories with a financial interest in maintaining all chimpanzees.

“Recommendations by the Institute of Medicine concluding they see no necessity for chimpanzee use in most areas of current research implicitly demand an end to warehousing chimpanzees in labs,” said study co-author Marge Peppercorn, MD. “The practice is scientifically and ethically indefensible. Our review of chimpanzee deaths adds urgency to this demand.”

Documents recently obtained under the Freedom of Information Act suggest chimpanzees currently in labs face the same dire health conditions as those in the study. New Iberia Research Center (NIRC) communications regarding the pending transfer of 110 federally owned chimpanzees – recently announced by NIH Director Francis Collins – include notes indicating several of these chimps are “geriatric” and “chronic clinical cases.” The records further conclude that, for some, euthanasia may be the “responsible thing to do…rather than risk death during transport.” The list of “who should not go” to a new facility includes Mindy who is in “renal failure,” Jet who is an epileptic, and Sharon and Paco because “they will not make it.” Yet, as recently announced by Dr. Collins, HHS’ National Institutes of Health intends to send only 10 to the federal sanctuary Chimp Haven and transfer the remaining 100 to another lab – even though NIH has deemed all 110 “permanently ineligible” for research.

“While there is no reason to keep any chimpanzees in U.S. labs, many like those on NIRC’s ‘who should not go’ list should have been sent to sanctuary years, if not decades ago,” said study co-author and NEAVS President Theodora Capaldo, EdD. “All chimpanzees suffering chronic or incurable physical or psychological illness should be immediately released to sanctuary. While NEAVS wants all chimpanzees out of labs and safe in sanctuary, there is a triaged urgency to get those out who should be there right now because of failing health. They deserve to spend every minute of their remaining years in the comfort and safety of a healing environment.”

NEAVS, the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance, and others submitted a Rulemaking Petition to HHS last month asking HHS to fulfill its responsibility under the CHIMP Act and set clear criteria for the immediate retirement of hundreds of chimpanzees. Its citations include this autopsy study’s findings.

Read the autopsy study abstact and download the paper here.

The New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS) is a Boston-based, national animal advocacy organization dedicated to replacing animal research with alternatives that are ethically, humanely, and scientifically superior.