In an impassioned plea, a Maryland congressman is arguing that the U.S. should ban scientific testing on primates, saying modern technology has made it unnecessary to subject “these magnificent and innocent animals” to pain and imprisonment.
Writing on the op-ed page of Thursday’s New York Times, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a Republican, says that “Americans can no longer justify confining these magnificent and innocent animals to traumatic invasive research and life imprisonment.”
Bartlett, a former physiologist at the Navy’s School of Aviation Medicine, says that while he conducted tests on squirrel monkeys that helped send men to the moon safely and “believed such research was worth the pain inflicted on the animals,” he has since changed his mind.
He wrote that he can no longer support the kind of research that he conducted for years because “our understanding of its effect on primates, as well as alternatives to it, have made great strides, to the point where I no longer believe such experiments make sense — scientifically, financially or ethically.”
Because of his changed view, Bartlett has come together with Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) to introduce the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act, which would phase out invasive primate research and retire the 500 federally owned chimpanzees in labs to sanctuaries.
Bartlett writes that he also supports the end of chimpanzee research as the Institute of Medicine on Thursday begins a two-day public hearing on whether there is still a need for it.
Nine countries, as well as the European Union, already forbid or restrict invasive research on great apes. Americans have to decide if the benefits to humans of research using chimpanzees outweigh the ethical, financial and scientific costs,” he says, adding that “the evidence is mounting that they do not.”
Technologies including computer modeling, the testing of very small doses on human volunteers, and in vitro methods used to grow human cells and tissues have made primate research far less necessary than it once was.
“We also know more about the consequences of invasive research on the animals themselves,” he writes. “Biomedical procedures that are simple when performed on humans often require traumatizing restraint of chimpanzees to protect human researchers from injury, as chimpanzees are five times stronger than humans. For instance, acquiring a blood sample from a chimp can require a ‘knockdown,’ or shooting it with a tranquilizer gun. If you’ve seen video of a knockdown, you know it is clearly frightening and stressful.”
With all that in mind, Bartlett concludes that research on primates isn’t necessary or worthwhile.
“Continuing innovations in alternatives to the use of invasive research on great apes is the civilized way forward in the 21st century,” he says. “Past civilizations were measured by how they treated their elderly and disabled. I believe that we will be measured, in part, by how we treat animals, particularly great apes.”
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