My Concerns with the NIH Agenda

Here is my comment for the NIH after seeing their draft agenda:

I am writing to express my concern that the draft agenda for the NIH workshop is structured in a manner that fails to comply with Congress’s request. In the original Appropriations Bill Report, Congress asked for the NIH to “conduct a review of its ethical policies and process with respect to nonhuman primate research subjects, in consultation with outside experts, to ensure that it has appropriate justification for animal research protocols.” Asking for a review of procedures to ensure that they have appropriate justification clearly suggests that the workshop needs to address the following question: “are current animal research protocols with primates ethically justified?”

However, the current workshop format is structured in a manner that does not attempt to answer that question. Rather than asking what the appropriate ethical principles underlying primate research should be, the workshop simply asks for a description of what the current policies are and a description of the veterinary science that was used when those policies were first put in place. Moreover, by asking “how” these procedures address welfare concerns, the report assumes, without discussion, that such concerns are addressed, rather than asking if they are addressed, which is what Congress requested.

If the NIH wishes to be in compliance with Congress’s request, the workshop should devote significant amounts of time to discussing different ethical perspectives on primate research, in conjunction with current evidence about primate cognitive and affective capacities, including evidence from studies of primates in their natural environments.

I will also note that the original request from Congress made it clear that they wanted this review to be conducted in conjunction with trained ethicists. While I have heard that at least a couple ethicists have been invited to participate in the discussion, it seems to me that the format of the workshop has been designed in a manner that will minimize their ability to contribute their expertise.

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