Two years ago a television documentary that aired on “Nightline” showed footage of employees at the New Iberia Research Center (NIRC) mistreating and neglecting the chimpanzees used for testing at their facility.
The footage was so disturbing that the NIRC had to pay a fine of $18,000 for their violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Since the incident, they have passed numerous inspections, but animal activists are still set on shutting the organization down, and rightfully so.
In an effort to stop chimp testing once and for all, the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act was reintroduced in April.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, “The bill would phase out invasive research on chimpanzees in laboratories in the United States, retire the more than 500 government-owned chimpanzees to sanctuary, end breeding of chimpanzees for invasive research and save taxpayers approximately $30 million every year.”
By “phase out” they mean that three years after the enactment of this bill, there will be absolutely no invasive research on chimpanzees. Three years might seem like a long time, but the fact of the matter is society needs that time to advance scientific research and find more alternatives than human volunteers and in-vitro methods.
There are approximately 1,000 chimpanzees living in laboratories in the United States and although we can’t free them all at once, we should make an effort to gradually lower that number.
Some chimpanzees just sit in cages and aren’t even used to conduct experiments, and there is no reason not to release them immediately. The ones that are kept for necessary testing need to be treated more humanely, meaning laboratories need to pass more than just a few inspections now and again. Studies have concluded that chimpanzees and humans react to trauma in similar ways they both share fear, anxiety, grief, rage and have even been known to develop Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.
Activists don’t deny that chimpanzees have helped contribute to the discovery of Hepatitis C and vaccines against Polio and Hepatitis B, but they feel that there isn’t a need for them anymore and that there are different alternatives when it comes to testing. But this is only partly true. There are alternatives for testing vaccines, however when it comes to the riskier task of developing treatments by experimenting with immune responses, chimpanzees are necessary.
Humans would naturally be better subjects to test immune responses on because a human and another human have closer immune systems than a human and a chimpanzee. However, using humans for riskier tests is an even greater ethical problem than using animals because if you inject them with a virus and it kills them, you’ve just murdered your test subject.
By gradually lowering the numbers of chimpanzees that are being used for testing, scientists will have more time to develop more alternatives than animals for the riskier experiments.
Thomas Rowell, director of the NIRC, argues that the National Institute of Health spends around $12 million a year caring for the 734 chimpanzees it supports as opposed to the billions people spend on healthcare for diseases that might be preventable, such as Hepatitis C. While he does have a good point, with all the technological advancements in today’s world, if scientists can’t come up with more alternative testing methods or any kind of breakthrough in three years then perhaps we should be worried that it might not ever happen.
The Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act isn’t asking for the immediate abolishment of chimpanzee testing, just a gradual phase out. If every other country in the world besides Gabon has done it, why can’t we?