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NEWS RELEASE April 4, 2014

New Paper Calls for Rights for Chimpanzees in Laboratories

Researchers Say Chimpanzees Should Be Considered “Vulnerable Subjects,” Findings Could Effectively End Chimpanzee Experimentation
WASHINGTON—Chimpanzees used in experimentation should be regarded as “vulnerable subjects” in the same way that children are now, according to a new paper published in the journal Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics. These findings could effectively end invasive experiments on privately owned chimpanzees.

The recommendations come after two years of deliberation by a consortium of scientists and ethicists meeting at Georgetown University with funding from the National Science Foundation. Neal Barnard, M.D., of the George Washington University School of Medicine and the Physicians Committee co-authored the new paper, “Chimpanzees as Vulnerable Subjects in Research.”

dr-john-pippin“Like children or people confined to institutions, chimpanzees are vulnerable to harm and exploitation,” says John J. Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C., director of academic affairs for the Physicians Committee. “Recent advancements in our understanding of chimpanzees’ intelligence and emotional capacity make it clear that they should not be used in invasive experiments.”

The new publication explains that chimpanzees are particularly susceptible to harm in experimental settings. Everything from the actual invasive experiments to captivity and transport causes chimpanzees stress and pain and has been shown in some cases to lead to post-traumatic stress disorder and other severe psychological disorders. The researchers apply the framework used for human bioethics and rights of human subjects to show that chimpanzees in laboratories also fit this framework and application of rights.

Under the guidelines, experimenters could no longer use chimpanzees without the approval of a caretaker whose sole consideration is the welfare of the chimpanzee, which would likely limit experiments to those that could benefit the individual chimpanzee. For example, this might include a study of an experimental cancer drug for a chimpanzee with cancer.

The new paper will likely have a significant impact on privately owned chimpanzees in laboratories. New Iberia Research Center (New Iberia) in Louisiana houses more privately owned chimpanzees than all other U.S. research facilities combined, and the Physicians Committee is encouraging the laboratory to follow these new recommendations and end invasive experiments on chimpanzees, permanently retiring its approximately 246 chimpanzees. These include Emma and Reggie who were transferred from Bioqual, a facility in Maryland, to New Iberia in 2011.

Only two other U.S. research facilities have privately owned chimpanzees: Emory University’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center has approximately 78, and Texas Biomed has approximately 38 privately owned and another 91 who are privately owned but supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Invasive experimentation on chimpanzees has been declining for decades, and the United States is already phasing out federally funded chimpanzee experiments. In 2013, the Working Group on the Use of Chimpanzees in National Institutes of Health-Supported Research recommended that more than 85 percent of all government-owned chimpanzees be permanently retired from research. NIH director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., has accepted 27 of the 28 Working Group recommendations and announced that nearly all NIH-funded invasive research on chimpanzees will be phased out.

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.

Media Contact:
Jeanne McVey, 202-527-7316;

Follow Dr. Barnard on Twitter:@DrNealBarnard


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