I'm a college student studying both biology and the humanities. In one course, I engage in conversation with scientists who are doing groundbreaking work for the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health (this work often involves animal testing). In another class, I'm studying the ethics of how animals are treated in the food industry, in zoos and as pets.
This dichotomy of course content has afforded me a unique perspective. In particular, I found myself wondering whether it is ethical to test on nonhuman primates, our closest relatives.
As someone who understands both the scientific and ethical implications of testing on animals, I urge you to think "medical progress, yes, animal abuse, no."
This dilemma has two radical views. Many scientists, research funding organizations like the NIH, regulatory agencies such as the FDA and numerous companies favor testing on animals. They argue that while not ideal, testing on other primates is essential for scientific advancement and to prevent human suffering. After all, they say, people are more important than animals.
On the other side, animal activists says that primates, in particular, are so similar to us that only a barbarian would subject them to a life of surgeries, shocks, isolation and eventually sacrifice.
Therein lies the paradox. Sharing 99 percent of our DNA with chimps and other primates is that what makes them sought-after research subjects, but it also makes that research a moral dilemma.
A middle-of-the-road argument is that animals should be given ethical consideration and only be used in experimentation when a technological alternative is not available. The National Center for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research calls for researchers to utilize the many alternatives to animal subjects, and where resources fall short to work on developing new technologies.
Today in the United States, nearly 55,000 nonhuman primates are utilized in testing annually. A recent scandal at a UCSF research facility brought to light the perils of testing on primates. Petra, a female rhesus macaque, was euthanized in a research laboratory at UCSF in the fall of 2010 after a federal inspector deemed her treatment inhumane.
I can see the importance of finding cures to diseases like Alzheimer's, a disease that has plagued my own family. But I also find it difficult to justify sacrificing primates who are physical and socially so similar to us. Therefore, I argue that nonhuman primates should only be used in tests that have no non-primate alternatives.
Emily Jorgens attended Miramonte High School in Orinda and is now studying at Duke University.