In June 2013, NIH Director Francis Collins eluded to the likeness of chimpanzees to humans, saying in a statement that greatly reducing the use of chimpanzees in experimentation was “the right thing to do.” I agree. But I also must ask, what attributes do the other nonhuman primates lack that they are locked out of this inner sanctum of greater consideration? Monkeys, who make up more than 98 percent of nonhuman primates in U.S. laboratories, are highly social and intelligent animals. They form intricate relationships, experience the same wide range of emotions that we do and exhibit a capacity for suffering similar to ours. They can count, use tools, recognize faces, communicate complex information and express empathy. They demonstrate a sense of fairness. There is also evidence of social culture among monkeys. Should our evolving understanding of the astonishing abilities of our primate cousins not inform how we draw the boundaries of our moral community—and help determine what constitutes “the right thing to do”? I think it should, and I think this should be a central point of discussion at NIH’s upcoming workshop on primate research.
-Darlene H. Moak, M.D.
Private Practice Addiction Psychiatry Charleston SC, Adjunct Faculty Medical University of South Carolina.
Former Clinical Researcher in Medication Development for Alcohol and other Substance Use Disorders.