In last year’s House Appropriation’s Bill HR 2029, the United States Congress asked the National Institute of Health to “conduct a review of its ethical policies and processes with respect to nonhuman primate research subjects, in consultation with outside experts, to ensure it has appropriate justification for animal research protocols.”
In an accompanying letter explaining their thinking behind the request, five members of Congress wrote:
We continue to believe that the time has come to critically evaluate the ethical policies and process surrounding all nonhuman primate research…We are confident that you will ensure the review is as independent as possible, so that the most difficult ethical questions with regards to the use of all non-human primates in a wide range of experiments can be honestly asked and answered…We look forward to working with you to ensure that critical taxpayer dollars are spent on research that is scientifically and ethically justified and appropriately humane to all non-human primate subjects involved.
In response, the NIH outlined their plans on a blog post for a Sept 7th Symposium focused on the ethics of primate research. After noting that the “NIH remains confident that the oversight framework for the use of non-human primates in research is robust and has provided sufficient protections to date,” the post explains the NIH’s plans to, “discuss the ethical principles underlying existing animal welfare regulations and policies” and requested 250 word comments from the public about the topics of the symposium and potential speakers.
This Congressional request and the workshop provide an excellent opportunity for thoughtful and informed discussion on the ethics of non-human primate research. Public views on research, the frameworks of professional ethicists, and scientists’ understanding of primate cognition have all evolved tremendously in recent years, and it is important for the NIH to make sure that their approach to research is responsive to these developments.
In their request for comments, the NIH noted that comments “may be shared publicly.” Since it is not clear if all comments will necessarily be shared publicly, and since this is a great opportunity to have a thoughtful discussion about the ethics of primate research, I have created this blog to highlight the comments from experts on ethics and primate cognition as a resource for the public and for future discussions. My hope is that academics and other experts will use the 250 word comments as an opportunity to think about what an ideal discussion of the ethics of primate cognition should look like. What ethical frameworks should be taken into account? What is the relevant research on the cognitive and affective capacities of primates? Which types of expertise should be represented in such a workshop?
If you haven’t already, please make sure to submit your 250 word comment to the NIH by clicking this link. If you would like your comment posted on this site, please email me at ashriver [at] mail.med.upenn.edu .