Friday, December 16, 2011

Chimp Research Coming to an End

While there have been a few negative responses to the Institute of Medicine’s report assessing the necessity of chimpanzee use in biomedical and behavioral research, released yesterday, I find the report surprisingly good. It is certainly more than I realistically expected coming from a scientific committee commissioned by the National Institutes of Health (the largest source of funding for animal experimentation in the world).

The IoM committee had a very narrow charge – to explore the scientific necessity of current and future research using chimpanzees. Many of us commented that the ethical issues associated with keeping highly sensitive, intelligent, social animals such as chimpanzees in captivity to be used in often painful, sometimes lethal research, could not be separated from the questions of scientific necessity. In large part, the committee agreed “the committee feels strongly that any assessment of the necessity for using chimpanzees as an animal model in research raises ethical issues, and any analysis of necessity must take these ethical issues into account.” But given their limited charge, they were not able to fully explore the ethical issues. (as they note on p. 15 “the committee was neither tasked nor appropriately composed to evaluate and reach consensus” on the ethical issues.) Nonetheless, their conclusions raised the bar for justifying research with chimpanzees and, importantly, the committee found that most of the research that is currently being done with chimpanzees is not scientifically necessary and would not pass their much more rigorous new criteria. This is a major finding for chimpanzees in laboratories. It marks the beginning of the end of research with chimpanzees. Using chimpanzees in research is expensive and has been lucrative for those doing it. If the funding dries up, the remaining laboratories that use chimpanzees will stop -- certainly not for ethical reasons, not necessarily for scientific reasons, but for purely financial reasons. The conclusions reached by the committee and the NIH announcement that they will not fund new research with chimpanzees means that the 70 year era of using our closest living relatives in laboratory experiments is coming to a close.

As happy as this prospect makes me, I realize that those of us interested in promoting and protecting the well-being of captive chimpanzees still have a lot of work to do.

Four immediate issues strike me as important to explore (this isn’t in order of importance):

“Ethologically appropriate” housing – if, after going through a serious oversight committee and being judged by the stringent new criteria, a particular biomedical research protocol using chimpanzees is approved, “the animals used in the proposed research must be maintained either in ethologically appropriate physical and social environments or in natural habitats.” Most of the chimpanzees at research facilities today are not provided with ethologically appropriate housing. Chimpanzee experts Jill Pruetz and William McGrew suggested ten years ago (in “What does a chimpanzee need? Using natural behavior to guide the care of captive populations” in Linda Brent’s The Care and Management of Captive Chimpanzees (2001)) that, at a minimum, chimpanzees need:

1) Nesting: sites for elevated nesting and nesting material

2) Space for subgrouping & escape

3) Resources for foraging and processing rather than eating.

4) Three dimensional structures for travel and movement

5) Equitorial photo periods (12 hr)

6) Mixed age and sex groups

7) Rivals and allies for dominance

8) Community level affiliation

9) Extended mother offpring associations

10) Mental Stimulation (characteristic of wild chimps)

While there are obviously challenges to providing for all ten needs, this is what would minimally constitute ethologically appropriate housing. The committee suggests that AALAC accreditation satisfies this standard for housing. This misperception needs to be addressed and quickly.

"Minimally Invasive" Behavioral Research -- The report allows behavioral research with chimpanzees as long as “experiments are performed on acquiescent animals, using techniques that are minimally invasive, and in a manner that minimizes pain and distress.” However, the report provides an example of what the committee thinks is “minimally invasive” that seems dubious. The report seems to find it acceptable to separate individuals from their groups and to administer anesthesia for behavioral research purposes (as opposed to restricting separation or anesthetization to occasions in which it is necessary to promote the interests of a particular individual or her social group):

“In performing some comparative genomics or behavioral research, it also may be necessary to temporarily isolate an animal from its social group to perform behavioral tasks or for anesthesia. It is anticipated that anesthesia may be necessary for noninvasive imaging studies, the collection of biological samples (including blood, skin, adipose, or muscle) that do not involve surgical invasion of body cavities, the implantation of radio transmitters to measure autonomic nervous system function or physical activity, and the use of biosensors for recording central nervous system responses in freely moving animals” (page 34 of the report).

This needs to be challenged.

Oversight committee

In 1989, recognizing that chimpanzee research required greater oversight, the NIH created an Interagency Animal Model Committee (IAMC) to “review all federally-supported research protocols involving the use of chimpanzees.” The committee consisted solely of government employees. The IoM committee has recommended the establishment of a new oversight committee, that includes members of the public, to apply the new criteria proposed in their report.

This may sound like a small thing, but it is actually extremely important as it will create more accountability and transparency. The period of chimpanzee use from the time the IAMC was established is a dark one in which far too many chimpanzees suffered and died in unspeakably bad conditions (e.g. during that period the Coulston Foundation had over 600 chimpanzees). Trustworthy oversight must include public representatives and NIH needs to be pressured to establish such a committee.

The biggest, most complicated question, one brought up by April Truitt at the briefing when the report was released, one that goes beyond the scope of the IoM committee's charge and the report, is the question “Where are these chimpanzees going to live and who will pay for their retirement.” The North American Primate Sancutary Alliance members, including Chimp Haven, are working on these issues and need support.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Animal LIberation: A Graphic Guide

Almost 25 years ago now Peter Singer and I wrote a popular book. I remember thinking I wanted to write a book about animals that my (now late) mother would understand. We then learned that the little press that was publishing the book (a splinter group from the original Writers and Readers series) commissioned an extremely talented, yet not necessarily mother friendly artist, David Hine, to illustrate the book. The images in the book become somewhat iconic while the book itself was relatively obscure.

I'm excited to learn you can now access the book online at Conflict Gypsy. How nice to have it available again.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

On Death

I've been thinking about and writing about animal death lately. For a long time, after enduring the deaths of too many chimpanzees that I was close to, I couldn't even write about their lives, let alone think about writing about their deaths. I haven't quite gotten to the point that I can actually write about their deaths, but I have been able to think harder about what death means to other animals and write about that.

While most of us think of death as a bad thing, especially when the one who dies was not sick, philosophers have famously recognized that there is a problem identifying just who is harmed by death and when that harm occurs. This may strike you as one of the many odd things that philosophers tie themselves in knots over. It seems obvious that death is a harm to us when we die. But as Epicurus wrote long ago -- “[T]he most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not.” In other words, before death there is no harm as death hasn’t happened yet and thus does no damage to the creature who eventually will die, after death there is no one to be harmed since death marks the end of that creature and all of her experiences. In order to avoid this philosophical problem, I’ve been thinking of death as a social harm. Death is not so much a harm to the one who dies, but rather to those who remain.

This social harm was made particularly vivid to me this week with the death of the dog Bella, who became well-known through her uncommon friendship with a gentle giant, Tarra, an elephant who lives at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. Elephants, of all the other animals, are perhaps best known as those who grieve those who die and often suffer trauma when they witness the murder of one of their own. Bella died at the sanctuary during the night when she apparently was attacked by coyotes and killed. Tarra looks to have retrieved the body to bring Bella to rest close to “home.” Now Tarra, the elephant caregivers (read Suz’s heartbreaking account), and all of us who have been following this unlikely friendship grieve. We are suffering the social harm that death is, while Bella is no more.

Fortunately for Tarra, she has friends like Shirley (another remarkable elephant who I write about in Chapter 5 of Ethics and Animals) and she, and all of us who mourn with her, will get by with the help of our friends.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Self Interest and Vegetarianism

Advocates of vegetarianism and veganism often provide a three-pronged argument for their views: the Environmental Argument, the Moral Argument, and the Health Argument. The Environmental and Moral Arguments center on issues that appeal to more abstract or distal concerns than the Health Argument, and because of this, the Health Argument seems conspicuously to be gaining ground lately, especially in a culture dominated by values of self-interest and, as some argue, Baby Boomer obsessions with aging (or rather, not aging). A few prominent examples include Bill Clinton's recent conversion and "coming out" as a vegan; notorious British carnivore, author, and chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's recent public advocacy for the eating of mostly fresh grains and vegetables (though Fearnley-Whittingstall swears that he is not now (nor ever will be) a vegetarian); and the success of the documentary film Forks Over Knives. These cases seem to support the view that in a consumer culture populated by aging agents of self-interest, perhaps the most effective argument for vegetarianism will turn out to be not the one that requires ethical abstractions about the lives of other sentient beings or the rescuing of the biosphere, but the one that convinces people that they will feel better, and live longer, healthier lives if they adopt a whole-foods, vegetarian diet. That such (un-)enlightened self-interest, such obsessions with the self, may turn out to have positive, unintended consequences that will decrease animal suffering and decelerate global climate change I find both encouraging and discouraging. Encouraging for obvious, consequentialist reasons; discouraging because to think that the same Adam-Smith-like forces that gave us things like rampant consumerism, environmental destruction, and factory farming might need be relied on to move us towards solutions to the problems it created, can sink the spirits of those of us who believe that we can be moved to action and change by those more "abstract" and "distal" ethical concerns.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Become an ASI HAS Scholar

   HAS logo  

This is a great way to network with others working in animal studies!


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Happy Birthday Sheba!

Sheba is 30!

Respecting Differences

This post appears originally here where LG was an invited guest blogger.

Two summer movies featuring “chimpanzees” (no actual chimpanzees were used in the production of either film) have really got folks talking about our primate cousins. People seem to be both fascinated and frightened by the idea that scientists might create intelligence in other apes. What’s interesting is that other apes are already intelligent without our manipulations -- we just don’t know how to appreciate it because we’re too focused on our own cleverness. Project Nim, a documentary by James Marsh, director of the acclaimed Man on a Wire, reveals the quirks inherent in cognition research with chimpanzees as well as some of the quirkiness of the people who do that research. Rise of Planet of the Apes, directed by Rupert Wyatt, is a science fiction precursor to the original Planet of the Apes, forty years later, and indirectly addresses more invasive forms of research with great apes.

In both of these movies scientists are trying to make chimpanzees more like humans. The lead chimpanzees in the films, Nim and Caesar, are raised by humans, dressed in human clothes, and taught to use a type of human language. In the case of Nim Chimpsky, researchers tried to teach Nim to communicate using a type of human sign language. The project tragically failed. Herb Terrace’s ill-conceived research project did not allow Nim to acquire the skills associated with human language and ultimately traumatized Nim. In his early years he was passed from person to person, then later sent from laboratory to laboratory, and finally he spent many years in social isolation, before dying of a heart attack when he was just 26 (many chimpanzees in captivity live into their 50s). In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, apes do pick up sign language and are able to communicate particularly well among themselves after genetic manipulation and in the fictitious case, their communication leads them to organize against the extraordinarily hubristic apes -- us.

Humans have been interested in making chimpanzees more like us for over a hundred years. The project really got off the ground in the US when Robert M. Yerkes (while working at Yale University) started his Anthropoid Experimental Station in Orange Park, Florida in 1930. There he planned to “shape chimpanzees to specification instead of maintaining them (a vain effort) as in Nature. Thus, by bold venture in the control of our materials of research, we may succeed in creating a subject incomparably more serviceable for research than any available natural type…The ideal experimental chimpanzee should then be small, … behaviorally highly adaptive, active, original, non-destructive, cooperative; naturally tame and readily gentled, non-pugnacious, affectively stable and with high emotional threshold, unselfish or altruistic, frank, dependable, easy to handle, good-natured, even-tempered..” Yerkes, who was also interested in eugenics and participated in the establishment of standardized intelligence testing, was not successful in creating the ideal, humanized chimpanzee for research. Nonetheless, the quest to do so continues.

Nim was one of dozens of chimpanzees that were part of “cross-fostering” experiments in which chimpanzees were raised in human homes and treated like children in the hopes of humanizing their cognitive capacities. Nim’s daughter, Sheba, who just celebrated her 30th birthday, was also “enculturated” and worked in cognition research where she learned how to count.

Sheba’s life has fortunately gone better than Nim’s, but it has not been free of suffering or trauma. She was ripped away from her mother Lilly at the Institute for Primate Studies in Norman, Oklahoma, where Nim was also taken from his mother Carolyn less than a decade earlier. Sheba was then shipped away from her human caregivers who she had grown attached to at the Ohio State University. She has also experienced the death of a number of her chimpanzee friends, some of whom she seemed particularly fond of. She now lives in a stimulating, enriched sanctuary environment at Chimp Haven (where the chimpanzee voices for Rise of Planet of the Apes were recorded) and I think her life is going well. Though she is forever a captive, the expert care-takers at Chimp Haven work to promote her and all the chimpanzees’ “wild dignity.” Yet when I look into Sheba’s eyes, I can’t help but wonder, “why did we do this to you? Why can’t we humans accept you for the marvelous, smart, interesting being that you are? Why do we need to think you are more like us in order to care about you?”

The answers, of course, are complicated. Journalist Jon Cohen speculates that "We're fascinated by the notion that we can communicate with species on other planets, that the universe isn't as lonely as it appears to be [and] If we could somehow have a chimp that was more like us, it would satisfy this deep science-fiction desire for communication with others, and make us feel less lonely. But it's a fantasy." Communication across difference is hard, to be sure, but it is not in the realm of fantasy. It is imperative in our dealings with humans who are categorized as “others” that we figure out ways to respect differences. While it is a constant struggle for the subaltern to speak, it is a matter of justice that those in power figure out how to listen. This is true in the case of humans as well as in the case of non-human others.

Fortunately, systematic attempts to think harder about what we have done to Sheba, Nim, and the other chimpanzees we have subjugated have begun. The Institute of Medicine has convened a committee to determine whether the use of chimpanzee is or will be necessary in biomedical and behavioral research.Their findings will be out at the end of the year. The National Fish and Wildlife Service has just begun a review to determine whether captive chimpanzees should be reclassified as endangered. Wild chimpanzees have been classified as endangered since 1990, but by special rule, at the time captive chimpanzees were given a lesser listing as threatened, so their use could continue. That classification is being revisited and public comments are welcome. And there is a bipartisan bill working its way through Congress that will protect great apes from use in invasive research. The United States and Gabon are the only countries in the world that still use other great apes in such research.

It may be that we, the talking apes, can talk ourselves into a new history and retire the nearly 1000 chimpanzees that are currently captives in laboratories. I can only hope that I will be able to look into Sheba’s eyes when that day comes.

Lori Gruen is the author of Ethics and Animals: An Introduction. She is the chair of the Philosophy Department at Wesleyan where she also co-coordinates Wesleyan Animal Studies. She is currently working on a book on the ethical and epistemological issues raised by our relationship to captive chimpanzees.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Paul Root Wolpe's TED Lecture: "It's Time to Question Bio-engineering"

Last November, Emory University bioethicist Paul Root Wolpe gave a TED lecture which included some chilling uses of animals in biotechnology. There are quite a number of important ethical and biological questions raised by the type of biotechnoloogy presented in Root Wolpe's talk. For example, though difficulties in making clear demarcations among and between species have long been discussed in the philosophy of biology literature, the work on animals we see in Root Wolpe's presentation has the potential to make those kinds of difficulties seem quaint and simplistic. Further, the ethical import and implications of this kind of research for notions like species, sex, gender, human, and animal are profound. Check out this 19:42 video.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sex, Gender, Species Conference

I'm just recovering from a wonderfully engaging conference I co-hosted last weekend at Wesleyan called 'Sex, Gender, Species." Feminist engagement in and with animals studies is where it's at. The papers were theoretically provocative and expansive. For absracts go here. For scenes from the event go here. For a discussion from Scu, who gave a great presentation, go here.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

David Jentsch: Justifying Animal Experimentation

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education profiles UCLA Professor Jentsch who uses vervet monkeys in his research. The article includes a truncated description of a dialogue I had with Jentsch over a lunch organized by Chronicle reporter, Robin Wilson.

In one passage, Wilson recounts her version of a question that I supposedly put to Jentsch, namely, "What gives you the right to experiment on primates for the benefit of humans?"

Though this is not the kind of question I would ask, what she recounts as Jentsch's response leads to a few important points. She writes:

Mr. Jentsch had a ready answer: "Normal people on the street." He likes to cite a 2009 survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press that found that 52 percent of the public favors the use of animals in research. "They have thought through this issue," says Mr. Jentsch, "and have acquired a comfort zone....Society has grappled with these issues and thinks using animals is legitimate. But we are constantly called upon to redefend it.

I think Jentsch's response raises some interesting ethical, pedagogical, and professional issues.

One thing it raises is the question of ethical relativism. Does Jentsch really believe that what ethically justifies animal experimentation is that 52% of the culture believes it to be a morally acceptable practice? I wonder how Prof. Jentsch would respond if, say, Pew repeated the survey in a few years and it turned out that at that time only 48% of the public supported the use of animals in scientific research. Would he then make a public pronouncement declaring the use of animals in research immoral?

Another issue raised by his response involves the question of the amount of education graduate students and professors who work in labs receive on the subject of animal ethics, specifically, the ethical issues surrounding animal experimentation. Regarding such programs at UCLA for instance, students receive just one hour of instruction on the guidelines for the treatment of lab animals, taught not by a professional ethicist, but by a scientist. Given that in the US alone, over 100 million animals suffer and die in laboratories every year, requiring that researchers (and future researchers) take a rigorous course in animal ethics taught by a professional trained in ethical reasoning seems at least a reasonable minimum.

Jentsch's responses to the ethical issues raised by his work—which involves addicting monkeys to methamphetamine—and the work of others like him point to a larger issue regarding the attitude that people (even PhD'd research scientists at elite universities) take toward ethics as a practice and profession. Though most people agree that scientists, those who conduct research using animals, medical professionals, airline pilots, auto mechanics, and baristas require varying levels of rigorous training to become specialists in their respective fields, it is widely believed that anyone with an opinion and an argument to back it up can do ethics. But becoming a professional ethicist—as with most academic disciplines—requires rigorous study at the graduate level, usually culminating in a PhD. Professional ethicists are rigorously trained experts schooled in those theoretical complexities involved in (among other things) assessing and weighing the value and merits of various ethical arguments and positions one may take with regard to a multitude of practical ethical situations and dilemmas. Were this fact acknowledged by the university-animal-research-industrial complex, questions regarding the use and treatment of animals in scientific research would be put in the hands of professional ethicists, not scientists familiar only with so-called ethical guidelines such as those found governing IACUCs or NIH guidelines for the treatment of lab animals. We let professional scientists do science, we should let professional ethicists do ethics, and let's hope they can more regularly work together. We are all too aware of the dangers that can occur when science does its thing without ethical reflection and oversight.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Making Monkeys Obese

The NYTimes reports on a series of experiments that keeps highly social primates in isolation cages to fatten them up to test obesity drugs, among other things. These are long-term studies and the article reports that there are additional obesity studies being done in baboons at the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research. Another researcher at the University of South Florida has been doing experiments with fat monkeys for forty years. (Hasn't the human obesity epidemic emerged within those forty years?) The Times reports that such studies costs "several million dollars."

Dr. Kevin Grove, a researcher at the Oregon National Primate Center who defends socially isolating the macaques he makes fat, has learned that in humans "eating a healthy diet during pregnancy reduced troubles in the offspring." What a finding! Perhaps spending a few more million dollars and causing countless primates more suffering will eventually lead doctors to tell pregnant women to eat well while pregnant. Oh wait, doctors already tell pregnant women that.

This article raises a very important ethical question -- are there any experiments with animals that experimenters are prepared to condemn? Their credibility depends on their being able to critically reflect on the ethical issues associated with using other animals in research and to recognize that some experiments cannot be justified.

When federally funded after school programs and other social services aimed at curtailing human obesity are being cut, spending millions of tax dollars to make monkeys obese raises serious questions.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Chimpanzee Ads during the Superbowl

My compassionate Super Bowl Party hosts knew that the CareerBuilder advertisement that featured actual chimpanzee youngsters would distress me, so they fast-forwarded through the ad. But I am not an ostrich. I know that even though I didn't see the ad that it exists means there will be more chimpanzees exploited in the entertainment industry and then discarded when they are no longer willing or able to perform.

The four chimpanzees used in the original CareerBuilder Super Bowl commercial -- Kodua, Mowgli, Bella, and Ellie -- are now living at a wonderful sanctuary in Florida called the Center for Great Apes. They spend their days playing with other chimpanzees, they have lots of enrichment, and terrific human care. But providing for captive chimpanzees is expensive and, more importantly, breeding more chimpanzees to spend their lives in captivity cannot be justified, particularly for inane advertisements.

To read more go here. And here.

Advertising Age has an editorial against using chimpanzees.