News & Alerts

Fall 2011 newsletter

Fall 2011 newsletter

President's Message: 

Everywhere I look, it seems that everyone, or almost everyone, is talking about chimpanzees. Our years of work have brought us to a place where the stage is firmly set for the U.S. to join other nations that have already protected the first nonhuman species, chimpanzees, from science.

Whether it is the National Academies of Science, Hollywood, novelists, journalists, other organizations, TV commentators, or school children, everyone is discussing chimpanzees—their plight in research, the wild, or on our TV screens. It is clear that the plight of chimpanzees now lives in our own hearts and minds.

Looking to other social justice movements gives us insight into how, when and why injustice finally falls. I have no doubt that we are at a tipping point in our own work on behalf of chimpanzees. The debate over whether or not chimpanzees, our closest relatives, should or must be used in research for human health is being asked and answered. To anyone really listening, the answer is no—not scientifically, not economically, and not ethically.

Our strategy of focusing on chimps is not because NEAVS is partial to them over other species. We care deeply about ALL animals. Rather, it is because only chimpanzees have the power to help us break the species barrier in science that wastefully and cruelly keeps all species behind the cages and walls that allow their unbridled use while those of us on the outside—only members of the species homo sapiens—are protected.

We need to remember, though our hearts break as our fingers impatiently tap waiting for urgent change, that it wasn’t always that way. When NEAVS began we were also fighting for the protection of categories of humans deemed unworthy of such protection. Mostly, that battle is won, though our collective guilt over what we did to humans is still with us, as testified to most recently in the best-selling The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Author Rebecca Skloot’s history of the use of cells from a poor African-American woman by scientists at Johns Hopkins without her knowledge or permission reminds us that humans have not long been out of the reach of entitled science. Skloot’s work also introduces us to how the field of cell culture research began. While applauding the scientific breakthrough that cell culture was, Skloot raises poignant, critical and necessary questions about how science goes about its work.

All challenges to science—like hers and ours—leave me optimistic. It is only from deep moral questioning and targeted scientific criticism that science has progressed. Today not only has the use of great apes risen to the fore of moral and scientific thought, but so much else of what is now considered “bad” science is being challenged—from NIH Director Collins’ call for “bench to bedside” research, to our immoral history of science’s use of humans, to today’s use of chimpanzees, to the need for better models for vaccine development, and on and on. The long overdue great debate is happening. For most of us, affording all animals the protections of compassion and advancing a commitment to better science is a painfully slow process. But that is the nature of change. Then one day the pieces fall together and we wonder how we could have thought or acted the way we did!

Please, keep working with us…calling legislators, writing letters, or praying to your angels. The chimps and all animals in research need our help. When you look around, you too will likely see so much right now about the chimps. And you will likely also see NEAVS because we are there at every twist and turn, steadfastly working to get them and all animals in science the safety and protection they so deserve.

Theodora Capaldo, EdD

To read the full newsletter, you can download Fall 2011 UPDATE here.