Thursday, December 15, 2011

Today U.S. lab chimps get a life sentence, while freed chimps experience grass

December 15, 2011, is a momentous day for chimpanzees subjected to traumatic research.
At 8 am, caregivers at Save the Chimps sanctuary in Florida were making final preparations for introducing ten recently rescued lab chimpanzees to grass. After ten years of moving nearly 300 chimpanzees from a biomedical lab in New Mexico to a beautiful sanctuary home in Florida, Save the Chimps gave the last group of ten former lab chimps a gift that is an intrinsic right of chimpanzee-hood: the ability to walk out into the sunshine for a final release to an island that is all theirs.
At the same time, bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., were making final preparations for introducing the public to the next sorry chapter in federally supported research on nearly a thousand chimpanzees in steel cages. After 60 years of federally funded traumatic research on thousands and thousands of chimps (see Kathleen Conlee’s excellent history on chimpanzee research), the Committee on the Use of Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research gave the 937 federally owned or supported chimpanzees a life sentence in the research program. Little hope of parole, with nothing but a federally funded necropsy at the end of their lives.
Committee members Warner Greene, Jeffrey Kahn, and Sharon Terry brief the public on the report "Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research: Assessing the Necessity"
To be sure, the Committee's recommendations made some nice sounding statements. The National Institutes of Health should limit the use of chimpanzees to studies that meet certain criteria. (See Barbara King’s NPR blog for a discussion on those criteria.) But listen closely to what the committee members only hinted at during the briefing. All the current facilities are fine. They could not cite research that did not meet the criteria. The feds have to keep chimps for the future, for some unseen and unexpected potential need. NOTHING CHANGES for the chimps in the research programs. (Oh, okay, NIH concedes a temporary moratorium, while the furor dies down.)
Many animal welfare advocacy groups, who have spent five years promoting a bill - the Great Ape Protection Act - that has never been put up for a vote, and doesn’t appear to be on the congressional agenda in the future, will present this report as a positive step forward. They have to do that to keep their supporters hopeful and involved. But I don’t see it that way. Surprising enough, I agree with one of the leaders of the pro-research industry. As James Gorman, NY Times, reports:
But Dr. Thomas Rowell, director of the New Iberia Research Center in New Iberia, La. — which houses 471 chimpanzees, more than any other center in the country — also said he was “quite pleased” with the report. He said, “It just confirms what we’ve been saying all along in regard to the chimpanzee model for advancing public health research.”
Save the Chimps founder Carole Noon had a dream of a new life for the chimpanzees who were living their nightmares in solitary confinement at the Coulston Foundation compound. Her dream is now reality.
I desperately hope I'm wrong, but it appears to me that the 937 chimpanzees owned or supported by the federal government have only a tiny chance for daydreams. Their nightmares are their reality. Perhaps forever.

P.S. As I listened to the committee briefing, I was especially intrigued by one of their "general conclusions." The report states that: "application of the committee's criteria would provide a framework to assess scientific necessity to guide the future use of chimpanzees in biomedical, comparative genomics, and behavioral research." The future use. So I asked a question about it. This is a transcript of the exchange:

Dawn – “I’d like to have some clarity, please, on what you consider future research. As you know, while you were considering this, the NIH in September approved a $19 million grant to put the Alamogordo chimps back into Southwestern’s program. As I understand, $471 thousand was supposed to cover FY11, and the additional funds are for the next four years, including a public relations campaign, education campaign, and advertisements for the use of chimps for research. Would you consider that $19 million grant future research or current research not under the purview of the recommendations?”
Jeffrey Kahn – “The nice thing for us is that we don’t need to answer that question the way that you asked it. We have crafted recommendations that can be applied to ongoing research as well as any future research that may be proposed. So we would encourage the NIH, when they make their announcement about the recommendations and what they choose to implement, to apply the criteria to the question that you asked. It was outside of our purview to answer the question about whether any particular project would be (unintelligible).”
Dawn – “Oh, I just thought that since you did do case studies about particular projects that you might look at the project that was the impetus for the entire exercise.”
Jeffrey Kahn – “We looked at areas of research but we did not look at any particular project. Thanks for your question.”
- End of exchange -
Please note, the committee’s PowerPoint slides reported on nine case studies: on Monocolonal Antibodies, development of mAbs; Monocolonal Antibodies, safety testing of mAbs; Therepeutic HCV Vaccine; Prophylactic HCV Vaccine; Comparative Genomics (FOXP2); Joint Attention Cognition; Respiratory Syncytial Virus; HCV Antiviral Drugs; and Altruism.
After the briefing, the NIH director evidently told the New York Times that, for now, the Alamogordo chimpanzees will remain where they are.

UPDATE, 12/21/2011: Am I being too cynical about this? Should I trust NIH more than I do? I like the Jane Goodall Institute's approach, and I hope they are right. They are certainly right in calling for transparency.

No comments:

Post a Comment