By Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board on Wed, Dec 7, 2011
Never doubt the ability of government bureaucrats to stay the course despite being ordered to stand down on plans that fail ethically, scientifically and fiscally. After all, what's rationality when there are contracts to award and someone else's money to spend?
In an amazing feat of moral and financial irresponsibility, the National Institutes of Health approved a five-year grant in September so Texas Biomed can perform research on 25 chimps in San Antonio, Texas, including 14 relocated from Alamogordo. NIH approved this tax-dollars-at-waste spending even though it publicly acquiesced in January to pressure from New Mexico Sens. Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman and Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin to stop shipping chimps from the southern New Mexico sanctuary, where around 200 have been free from invasive testing for a decade. Not about to let a bad process be circumvented by a good decision, NIH explains that the contract was launched before the transfer was halted.
NIH purportedly was waiting for results of an in-depth analysis by the Institute of Medicine on the "scientific need for the continued use of chimpanzees" in biomedical research. (That report is expected this month.) At the same time, the 112th Congress has bipartisan support for The Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act (H.R.1513/S.810), with 84 cosponsors in the House and eight co-sponsors in the Senate agreeing to end the use of chimpanzees in invasive biomedical research and retire all federally owned chimpanzees to permanent sanctuary.
The United States, under the sadly misguided leadership of NIH, is the only developed nation in the world still using chimps for testing, though they are sentient beings with the capacity to suffer psychological distress, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. And chimps are so different from humans on a cellular level that decades of attempts to use them to study/prevent/cure everything from cancer to hepatitis to AIDS have proven fruitless.
NIH has now approved shelling out more public money to subject chimps to new bone and lymph node biopsies, cerebrospinal fluid taps, serial sedations, hepatic injections, and vaginal and tracheal washes. Apparently, the NIH feels the American public can afford to pay for more chimpanzee pain even if there is little to no hope for scientific gain.
The reality is the American public can't afford this folly — ethically, scientifically or financially. Sens. Udall, Bingaman and Harkin should do whatever they can to force NIH to adhere to the intent of its promise to stand down on chimp testing, and Congress should move to put The Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act into law.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.