Chimpanzee Experiments Nearing End
After a long battle, the use of chimpanzees in laboratory experiments is about to end. To recap from the beginning of the story: In September 2010, the Physicians Committee and others began a campaign to stop the National Institutes of Health from transferring a group of chimpanzees from Alamogordo, N.M., to the Texas Biomedical Research Institute.
As the controversy grew, NIH called for an investigative report by the Institute of Medicine as to whether chimpanzees were actually required in research. The Physicians Committee managed to have some biased IOM committee members removed, including the chair, and Physicians Committee director of academic affairs John Pippin, M.D., testified to the IOM panel about the scientific and ethical problems of chimpanzee use.
The resulting IOM committee report was surprisingly strong, not finding any area of invasive chimpanzee experiments that cannot be replaced with nonanimal methods. Meanwhile, however, the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act, which passed the Senate committee, was blocked by a handful of senators as the session came to a close, and it died as the clock ran out.
But that was not the end of the story. On Jan. 23, 2013, NIH released its own report on how it would implement the IOM committee’s findings. If chimpanzees are not actually necessary for research, NIH asked, what do we do with the chimpanzees still in laboratories? The answer, thankfully, was to let them go. The NIH panel decided that all but 50 of the 360 government-owned chimpanzees will be retired to sanctuaries as quickly as space can be made available, effectively ending the use of chimpanzees in federally funded research.
The NIH decision left two issues: 50 chimpanzees are to be held in “reserve,” in case some unanticipated need arises. The Physicians Committee is now working to have them sent to sanctuaries, too. Second, this new policy does not cover chimpanzees not owned by the federal government, so it is essential that private industry follow suit.
“We do not believe there is a valid scientific justification for reserving a population of captive chimpanzees for potential future research needs,” said Dr. Pippin in a letter he wrote to NIH director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., this February. “It is in the best interest of NIH, progressive research practices, and captive chimpanzees to phase out all invasive experiments on these chimpanzees and retire them to sanctuary.”
More than 25,000 Physicians Committee supporters have signed a petition asking Dr. Collins retire all government-owned chimpanzees to sanctuary.
Sign the petition to NIH at PCRM.org/GAPCSA.