The widely acknowledged similarity of nonhuman primates to humans—stemming from our shared ancestry and manifest in shared characteristics such as strong mother-infant bonding, complex social organization, and sophisticated communication—introduces a critical ethical dimension to discussions regarding the use of nonhuman primates in research. Scrutiny similar to that brought by the NIH (1) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) (2) to the scientific necessity of chimpanzee experiments—which revealed that chimpanzee use had been “largely unnecessary” and had “rarely accelerated new discoveries or the advancement of human health for infectious diseases”—should be brought to assessing the scientific necessity of using other nonhuman primates in research. Principles similar to those outlined by the IOM report—in particular, that the knowledge gained by proposed primate research must be necessary to advance the public’s health; that there must be no other research model by which the knowledge could be obtained; that the research cannot be ethically performed on human subjects; and that primates used in research must be maintained either in ethologically appropriate physical and social environments or in natural habitats—should be implemented for the assessment of proposed protocols involving all nonhuman primates. Applying such considerations to the experimental use of all primates would help bolster NIH’s mission to “ensure a continued high return on the public investment in research” and “exemplify and promote the highest level of scientific integrity, public accountability, and social responsibility.”
- NIH (2013): http://dpcpsi.nih.gov/council/pdf/FNL_Report_WG_Chimpanzees.pdf
- Institute of Medicine (2011): http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=1325
-Marie Crandall, MD, MPH, FACS.
Professor of Surgery
Director of Research, Department of Surgery
University of Florida College of Medicine Jacksonville