Last year, millions of dollars Ė public and private money
Ė were spent on biomedical research on chimpanzees and monkeys housed in
research institutions across the county. 1,300 chimps and tens of
thousands of monkeys live in private and federal facilities, and are used
to study all manner of naturally occurring human diseases, and pathogens
likely to be used in warfare.
For twenty years, scientists have been using monkeys and
apes to develop drugs and vaccines for HIV. The very first experiments on
the virus entailed inoculating nonhuman primates with the tissues of
infected humans. It was discovered that only the chimpanzees could be
persistently infected; a large-scale breeding program designed to supply
chimps for AIDS research produced most of the chimpanzees living in labs
today. One chimpanzee, Jerom, was born during that time, at the Yerkes
Primate Center, a federal lab in Atlanta. He was experimentally infected
with three strains of the virus. To the surprise and disappointment of the
researchers, the HIV infected chimps did not develop AIDS, and by the
early 1990s, research using chimpanzees slowed down. Instead, researchers
found ways to infect some monkey species with HIV, studied the monkey
version of the virus (SIV), and created a chimera Ė a hybrid of the two,
SHIV. It was around the time that SHIV was created that Jerom started
showing symptoms of AIDS, over a decade after he was first infected.
Twenty years of research on nonhuman primates has not
produced an HIV vaccine or the cure for AIDS. AZT first appeared on the
market in the 1960s as an anti-cancer drug; pressure from AIDS activists
in the 1990s forced the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to test the
drug in human clinical trials without first being studied in animals.
Although the protease inhibitors used in the cocktail were tested in
animals, one manufacturer has admitted that his companyís product was
delayed for years because of misleading results from animal studies. The
only AIDS vaccine that went to large-scale human clinical trials, AIDSVAX,
was tested in only a handful of chimpanzees, and was an abysmal failure.
The FDA estimates that only 5 in 5,000 compounds tested in animals reach
clinical studies in humans. Itís not possible to know how many of the
4,995 potential pharmaceuticals screened out by the process could have
been the cure.
The biomedical industry has been developing alternatives
to live animal research, but they have not yet replaced the millions of
individuals like Jerom used every year. While the alternatives are being
implemented chiefly because of their economic benefit, some research is
changing because of the recognized ethical concerns with using especially
nonhuman primates. We are moving in the right direction.
More than ever before, nonhuman interests are being
recognized. Using and promoting alternatives is not only good for the
research subjects, but is also good for humans. We have a responsibility
to the other species around us to treat them with respect and not use them
wantonly for our selfish purposes. Our moral evolution depends on the
compassion we extend.
Jerom was a teenager when he died eight years ago today.
He was alone and scared for many months. He was afraid of humans and he
wasnít allowed contact with other chimpanzees. When he died, he hadnít
seen the sun in at least six years. On the evening before he was
euthanized, I gave him some donuts and a candy bar; we spent hours
together, sitting and grooming. His interest in living a life free from
human control was impossible to ignore, but because his interests did not
rise to the level of the human interest in doing research, he was afforded
only the minimal level of legal protection.
Researchers claimed that Jeromís death proved definitively
that HIV causes AIDS. His short, bleak life was spent in service to humans
to prove a premise that did not need proving. He was not the first, and he
will not be the last.
Most people can agree that there is a possibility
that the use of animals as surrogates for humans in medical studies is
doing some amount of damage by wasting research dollars and leading
scientists down blind alleys. If that possibility exists, donít we owe it
to the humans who depend on medicines to live to begin a serious, national
inquiry about the efficacy of animal-based science? Caging sentient beings
and performing medical experiments on them does irrevocable harm not only
to the study subjects, but also to the researchers and care-givers who
must develop a thick skin about the cruel work they are doing. Donít we
owe it to our ideal of a fair and equitable society to find a way to
continue to expand our ethical decision-making to encompass and recognize
the interests of nonhumans? The time is now.
Go on to Peaceable
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