As a medical doctor, I completely support Andrew Knight's call for an immediate ban on research on chimpanzees.1-3
That chimpanzees are intelligent, complex beings has been repeatedly confirmed in scientific research by Frans deWaal, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and Kim Bard, among others. DeWaal identified that they have a system of justice. Savage-Rumbaugh illuminated their ability to understand and use language?including sentences and syntax. Bard demonstrated that they have self-awareness. In the words of physiologist\ecologist Jared Diamond, we humans are the third chimpanzee, and according to primatologist Geza Teleki, "They are us." Chimpanzees must be protected from the same abuses against which we protect our fellow humans, and accorded the same considerations.
The mountains of evidence and uncontested awareness that humans and chimpanzees share so many characteristics, until now considered only human, constitute sufficient grounds to ban laboratory chimpanzee research. Evidence shows that will, consciousness and self-concept are unlikely to be unique to humans.4 Self-consciousness in great apes differs from that of humans only by degree. Their self-awareness and ability to place things in perspective provides them with mental images of themselves and others which they use to plan their activities.5, 6
Apes also show undeniable evidence of intelligence.7 Many also have rich cognitive and intentional lives (communication and deception, play, vigilance behavior, monitoring social relationships, discrimination of kin and other individuals, tool use, food-catching, injury-feigning)8-14 Chimpanzees can plan ahead.15 Monkeys and apes show complex social relations and societies and rich cultures.8,9,13,14-18 Great apes' capacities to show awareness of themselves, knowledge of psychological characteristics of others, and reflective self-awareness indicate that they are much like young human children.5 Indeed, convincing arguments have been made placing humans, gorillas and chimpanzees in the same subfamily.7
If Fletcher's 15 characteristics of personhood are to be accepted, then there are no real, significant differences between chimpanzees and humans, as they both show: at least minimum intelligence, self-control, a sense of time, a sense of futurity, a sense of the past, capability of relating to others, concern for others, communication, existential control, curiosity, change and changeability, balance of rationality and feeling, idiosyncrasy, and neocortical functioning.19
With respect to chimpanzee use as animal models in biomedical research to gain knowledge of human physiology and pathology, the failures of this approach are legion. When The Chimpanzee Breeding Plan was first proposed by NIH in the mid 1980s, it was publicly criticized by those believing it to be ill-advised on scientific grounds because chimpanzees could and would not model AIDS, on ethical grounds because of the findings by Goodall and others demonstrating the many human characteristics of chimpanzees, and on financial grounds because of the enormous expense of maintaining large chimpanzee colonies. Nevertheless, NIH proceeded with their wrongheaded plan, only to find that chimpanzees, as predicted, were ill-suited for laboratory use for these very scientific, ethical, and financial reasons. It turned out that chimpanzees were not vital to AIDS, malaria, cancer, brain, and behavioral research. The failure was so extensive that in the mid-1990s chimpanzees, despite the initial hype, were completely dropped from AIDS research, creating such a laboratory chimpanzee surplus that euthanasia was (not surprisingly) initially proposed by researchers as a solution.
The immunological and clinical differences between human and chimpanzee reactions to the same virus are numerous. For example, hepatitis B virus, pathogenic for humans, is often carried asymptomatically by chimpanzees. Despite these known differences, there have been numerous misguided attempts to infect chimpanzees with human viruses, such as giving them meat tainted with bovine spongiform encephalopathy virus, as well as attempts to infect them with HIV (humans develop clinical AIDS much more readily than chimpanzees, if, indeed, chimpanzees get AIDS at all).
Even the wisdom of studying chimpanzees to understand human evolution has been called into question. According to Tim D. White, anthropologist at The University of California at Berkeley: "Modern chimps show us the kinds of possibilities that were open to hominids, but the final evidence has to come from fossils and other information at hominid sites." Milford H. Wolpoff, anthropologist at University of Michigan, expresses doubt that living chimps offer a looking glass into the world of early hominids: "I don't think chimps are a good model for hominids. It's not clear that we even know what ancestral chimps were like from 4 to 6 million years ago." Robert J. Blumenschine, anthropologist at Rutgers University, argues that living chimps serve up only a partial glimpse of how hominids procured meat. He believes that whereas modern chimps are killers, early hominids were scavengers.20
Because chimpanzees share the same essential characteristics as humans, experimenting on them constitutes abuse and must end immediately. The United States must impose a ban on it, as other civilized countries have already done.
Murry J. Cohen, M.D.
Dr. Cohen has been a physician for 43 years, in private practice for 35 years, and currently lives and practices in Virginia.
1. Knight A. The poor contribution of chimpanzee experiments to biomedical progress. J Appl Anim Welf Sci 10(4):281-308, 2007
2. Knight A. Chimpanzee experiments: questionable contributions to biomedical progress. Alternatives to Animal Testing & Experimentation 14 (Spl. Issue: Proc. 6th World Congress on Alternatives & Animal Use in the Life Sciences: Proceedings): 119-124, 2008
3. Knight A. The beginning of the end for chimpanzee experiments? Philosophy, Ethics and Humanities in Medicine 3(16), June 2, 2008
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