Last month, two federal agencies took steps that together may come close to ending research on chimpanzees in the United States.
First, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed to list all chimpanzees, including those in captivity, as endangered. (Currently, only wild chimpanzees are listed as endangered, while captive chimpanzees are listed as threatened). This would require that almost all research on chimps be done with a permit, and the agency has suggested that these permits may only be granted for research that enhances the propagation or survival of the chimpanzee species.
Second, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) decided that more than 300 of the approximately 360 research chimpanzees that it owns will be retired and moved into sanctuaries. This decision was based on an Institute of Medicine report finding that most current research on chimpanzees is unnecessary, and that chimps should be used only when public health is on the line, no other animals are appropriate, and ethical experiments on humans are not possible. On the basis of these findings, the NIH is planning to keep a colony of about 50 chimps available for research that is not possible in any other way.
Comparing these two agency actions raises an interesting question: In evaluating whether research on chimpanzees is ethical, does it matter whether the beneficiary of the research is the chimpanzee or the human species, and if so, on what grounds? Read More