1. Peer-reviewed scientific evidence shows that many animals, including but not limited to nonhuman primates, certainly the 100,000+ monkeys now held in NIH-funded and other US laboratories, live complex family lives marked by intelligence, social acumen, and emotional response to events including individual stress and others’ deaths. When animals are housed singly and/or undergo procedures especially but not only in level C, D, and E experiments, they are consciously prone to physical and emotional suffering. 2. NIH’s research-proposal review should be updated to include full ethical consideration explicitly and directly among its primary concerns along with scientific value. 3. NIH emphasizes the existing layers of federal regulation and oversight that govern animal research. We know, however (e.g., L.A. Hansen, 2012, “Institution animal care and use committees need greater ethical diversity” Journal of Medical Ethics 39(3); 188-190), that the bar to gain approval to experiment on primates (and other animals) is low; that when research proposals are considered across rather than only within institutions approval rates go down significantly, suggesting a role for local approval bias; and that IACUCs as currently constituted are “highly skewed” towards animal researchers and institutional veterinarians who have “vested interests in continuing animal research.” These problems were evident with biomedical research on chimpanzees at NIH, which in 2011 was deemed “unnecessary” by an independent Institute of Medicine review– yet which for years prior had been approved and funded. 4. In conclusion, taking concrete steps to ensure better committee diversity/ transparency of oversight of ethical processes should become a top priority.
Barbara J. King, PhD, Emerita Professor, Dept. of Anthropology, College of William and Mary