In “U.S. Will Not Finance New Research on Chimps” (New York Times, December 15, 2011), James Gorman reports,
The National Institutes of Health on Thursday suspended all new grants for biomedical and behavioral research on chimpanzees and accepted the first uniform criteria for assessing the necessity of such research. Those guidelines require that the research be necessary for human health, and that there be no other way to accomplish it.
The announcement was not controversial. Not much chimp research is going on in medicine; it’s expensive and usually unnecessary. And the ban exempts the usual “chimps r’ us” staple of the pop science media:
For behavioral and genomic experiments, the report recommended that the research should be done on chimps only if the animals are cooperative, and in a way that minimizes pain and distress. It also said that the studies should “provide otherwise unattainable insight into comparative genomics, normal and abnormal behavior, mental health, emotion or cognition.”
In making the announcement, Dr. Francis S. Collins, the director of the N.I.H., said that chimps, as the closest human relatives, deserve “special consideration and respect” and that the agency was accepting the recommendations released earlier in the day by an expert committee of the Institute of Medicine, which concluded that most research on chimpanzees was unnecessary.
That’s been known for a long time. But the chimps were there and so were the grants.
Of course, the key question is, what’s to become of the (probably) thousands of chimps who are still expensive but no longer grant attractors? Some of these liberations don’t always turn out misty-eyed.