Growing up in a household dominated by scientific thought, Ive always considered myself to be in favor of anything having to do with scientific advancement.
My mother, a scientist herself, left me with the impression that science was the cure to all the worlds problems. AIDS, cancer, starvation I believed science could fix all these pressing issues. With more research, I was certain the world would continually improve.
But what if scientific improvement comes with a cost: animal suffering? Solving one problem, it seems, creates another.
My concern about this dilemma was compounded when I learned of the shocking conditions under which many chimpanzees are held in captivity.
In addition to enduring frightening experimental procedures, many chimps are isolated in cages and go for long periods of time without interaction with other beings. Chimpanzees, our closest relative both genetically and culturally are subjected to many of the same treatments as species disparate from humans.
Because chimpanzees are so similar to humans, they feel pain and suffer from stress in the same way as humans. Some chimpanzees, as a direct result of testing and confinement, even suffer from levels of post-traumatic stress disorder consistent with torture victims.
Chimps experience depression, anxiety, fear, and empathy emotions common to humans that shape our experience and response to the environment. The moral issue here is clearly not one of a trivial nature.
Fortunately, as I have been taught all my life, science provides the answer even to this difficult dilemma.
Scientific discoveries and new methods have revealed alternatives to chimp testing that can lead to comparable scientific progress.
Chimps used to be considered the best subjects for the study of hepatitis and other infectious diseases. Now, breakthroughs in stem cell research and bacterial culture make it possible for scientists to make just as much progress without testing on chimps. Chimpanzee testing is largely unnecessary.
Sadly, these breakthroughs do not completely solve all of the ethical problems related to chimpanzee testing. One remains: transferring the once-necessary chimpanzee test subjects into sanctuary.
In September, the National Institute of Health announced that 110 chimpanzees would be retired from the New Iberia Research Center in Lafayette, La.
While this news seems encouraging, only 10 chimpanzees will be moved from the New Iberia Research Center to Chimp Haven, a nearby chimpanzee sanctuary.
The other 100 chimpanzees arent so fortunate. The rest of the chimpanzees will be moved to the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio. Furthermore, the New Iberia Research Institute will continue to house other primates, including 240 privately-owned chimpanzees.
While the 100 chimps that will be moved to the Texas Biomedical Research Institute wont be used for invasive research, they can still be used for noninvasive procedures, such as behavioral studies.
This means these chimps will still be locked in cages, which causes substantial mental trauma to these animals.
Additionally, more than 300 chimpanzees will remain in other facilities supported by the National Institutes of Health. These chimpanzees will be available for invasive research.
While the retiring of 110 chimpanzees from the New Iberia Research Institute represents a crucial first step toward eradicating testing on chimpanzees, it is not nearly a comprehensive enough solution. Further measures must be taken to improve the situation.
All chimpanzees, whether they are used for invasive medical research or not, should be transferred out of research facilities to live in chimpanzee sanctuaries. There, the chimpanzees can spend the remainder of their lives in a tranquil environment.
Our legislators should push for the passage of the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act, which would outlaw the use of chimpanzees and other great apes for invasive biomedical research.
I continue to believe that science is one important answer to most, if not all, of societys problems. I also believe, however, that empathy and care are crucial to improving the world.
As science continues to evolve and contribute to our welfare, people must continue to consider important ethical issues surrounding science.
Just as science has now made chimpanzees unnecessary for invasive biomedical research, I am confident that empathy and care for other beings will ultimately lead to a better solution for both humans and our closest relative, the chimpanzees.
Margaret Coates is a student at Duke University.