A bill in Congress would outlaw invasive medical research on chimpanzees. This is folly. Chimps are highly intelligent and social creatures, and we should not use them in research blithely. But chimps are the closest genetically to humans in the natural world, meaning that in limited circumstances where the potential human benefit is most pronounced, we still need to be able to use them in research.
A story today illustrates the point. It turns out that, contrary to what was previously thought, chimps do die from HIV infections. From the story:
A team of scientists, including two from Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, have discovered chimpanzees in Tanzania falling ill and dying from an AIDS-like disease, a surprising finding that researchers hope could lead to new insights into the disease process and ultimately to a vaccine. The team’s study, to be published in Thursday’s edition of the British research journal Nature, showed that chimps infected by certain strains of Simian Immunodeficiency Virus, a precursor to HIV, died 10 to 16 times more frequently than uninfected chimps during a 9-year study.
Could there be a more urgent cause in reducing human suffering and death than finding a vaccine or cure for AIDS?
PETA’s alpha wolf Ingrid Newkirk once said that she would rather see AIDS remain uncured than see animals used in research. Ponder that when you think you might support animal rights because those really are the stakes in the research debate. And it turns out, we still need to use chimps in the most urgent areas of medical research. Unless, we prefer to permit millions suffer and die from AIDS rather than use chimps in medical research.