Legal Petition Seeks to Compel HHS Chief Kathleen Sebelius to Retire Elderly New Mexico Chimpanzees and Cancel Their Move to Texas Laboratory
WASHINGTON—Elderly chimpanzees living at a nonresearch facility in Alamogordo, N.M., should not be shipped to Texas for use in invasive experiments, says a federal complaint to be filed Sept. 23 with Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services.
Doctors and scientists with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) seek to halt the National Institutes of Health’s planned transfer of nearly 200 federally owned chimpanzees to a laboratory in San Antonio, Texas. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and primatologist Jane Goodall have also spoken out against the proposed transfer.
The doctors’ legal petition invokes the Chimpanzee Health Improvement Maintenance and Protection (CHIMP) Act, enacted to ensure that chimpanzees used in experiments for many years are retired to sanctuaries. Many Alamogordo chimpanzees are elderly, have been used repeatedly for invasive procedures, and deserve a peaceful retirement, PCRM’s complaint says. For example, Flo, Guy, and James were born in 1957, 1959, and 1960, respectively. Many suffer from heart disease, making them especially unsuitable for medical experiments.
“There can be no scientific, legal, or ethical justification for returning a 50-year-old chimpanzee to laboratory experiments,” says John J. Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C., senior medical and research adviser for PCRM. “More than five decades of experiments have shown us that chimpanzees are poor models for researching human diseases. Are we such slow learners that we now return to these outdated methods?” In submitting the petition to Secretary Sebelius, Dr. Pippin is joined by 11 other authorities, including Harvard professor Richard Wrangham, Ph.D., and University of New Mexico professor John Gluck, Ph.D.
The doctors and scientists argue in their complaint, “Chimpanzees have repeatedly proved to be poor models for human disease research, including for HIV—a disease for which repeated failures have led most researchers to stop using chimpanzees—as well as for hepatitis, malaria, and cancer. Therefore, these animals are not necessary for this type of research. Superior alternatives are available and researchers continue to develop new, cutting-edge models for human disease research.” The hepatitis C virus behaves very differently in humans and chimpanzees, and decades of experiments have failed to produce a human vaccine. Leading hepatitis C researchers are using human-cell-based research methods.
The mothers of some Alamogordo chimpanzees now live in a sanctuary in Washington State—Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest—and have come to the attention of Sen. Maria Cantwell. Sen. Cantwell recently introduced the Great Ape Protection Act (GAPA), S. 3694, which would advance medical research by phasing out wasteful and misleading chimpanzee experiments and releasing federally owned chimpanzees to sanctuaries. A parallel House bill, H.R. 1326, has gained significant momentum and now has 149 co-sponsors. The United States is the last country in the world that permits and funds large-scale chimpanzee research and testing. Earlier this month, the European Union banned great ape experiments.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.