The Bioethics of Great Ape Well-Being:: Psychiatric Injury and Duty of Care

October 17, 2011 Capaldo, T., Bradshaw, G.A. (2011) Animals & Society Institute Policy Paper Science Papers

Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) possess the same psychological faculties and capacities that, when found in humans, motivate laws to protect our species from abuse. However, current U.S. regulations permit captive chimpanzees to be treated in ways that humans are not, such as in use for biomedical research.

Recent diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in chimpanzees who have been used in biomedical research requires us to re-examine the regulatory status quo for two reasons. First, the ability to evaluate great ape psychological well-being using the same American Psychiatric Association criteria codified for assessing human mental states nullifies scientific arguments that defend a double ethical and legal standard for how individual chimpanzees and human beings should be treated. Second, the acknowledgement of psychiatric damage in great ape biomedical research subjects indicates that research institutions and related regulatory agencies fail to follow current regulations, and suggests that a breach of what is known as “statutory duty of care” has been committed.

From the perspectives of science and ethics, and whether or not great apes are conferred personhood, chimpanzee captivity and their use in experiments comprise a violation. This understanding compels the banning of great ape testing and captive breeding. Bioethical standards and regulations governing human research subjects, such as the American Psychological Association's Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct and Declaration of Helsinki, should logically extend to great apes.

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