NIH to “Substantially Reduce” Research on Captive ChimpanzeesPosted by ALDF Guest Bloggers, Neil Abramson, Daniel Saperstein, and Kelly Anne Targett, Proskauer Rose LLP on June 26, 2013
Today, the National Institutes of Health (“NIH”) announced its intention to substantially reduce the use of chimpanzees in NIH-funded biomedical research and to designate for retirement most of the chimpanzees it currently owns or supports. In what was a banner day for captive chimpanzees in the United States, the NIH accepted most of the recommendations made by an independent advisory council tasked with implementing a set of principles and criteria proposed by the Institute of Medicine for the use of chimpanzees in NIH-funded research.
As part of its deliberations, the NIH solicited and reviewed public comments on the council’s recommendations. ALDF, represented by pro bono legal counsel from the law firm of Proskauer Rose, submitted a comment calling for an end to cruel and unnecessary behavioral and biomedical testing on chimpanzees. Our comment emphasized that NIH policy was languishing behind the laws of many other countries, which, particularly in recent years, have banned or otherwise restricted chimpanzee-based research. We also stressed that the NIH was out-of-step with public opinion and actions by other federal government agencies, which have embraced greater protections for captive chimpanzees.
Indeed, the NIH announcement comes on the heels of the recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposal to reverse a nearly forty-year policy of “split-listing” chimpanzees, a practice that inharmoniously afforded endangered species protections to wild members of the species residing in Africa while simultaneously denying any protection at all to their captive counterparts living in the United States. The NIH expects to adapt its policies to comply with the final rule issued by the FWS.
Although part of the NIH plan involves the maintenance (without breeding) of a colony of up to 50 chimpanzees for possible future biomedical research, we remain confident that the weight of history, public opinion, and international outcry ultimately will persuade the NIH to end its testing on chimpanzees once and for all. With a ban on this expensive and counter-productive practice, the NIH could marshal its resources toward developing non-animal research models that are not only scientifically sound, but also more ethical and humane. To echo the NIH press release, formulating behavioral and biomedical research models that are not dependent on animal testing is just “the right thing to do.”