Saturday, December 17, 2011

NIH recognizes chimps can waive rights

The decision by the National Institute of Health to nearly completely eliminate invasive medical experimentation on chimps has received a medium amount of attention.  Good news, overall, except the advisory committee had no consensus on testing vaccines on chimps.  The testing could accelerate vaccine development but requires infecting chimps with potentially horrible diseases.  The lack of a consensus doesn't mean testing should go forward, but leaves a vacuum.

One intriguing development is that research can continue where chimps voluntarily subject themselves to it.  The chimps are trained to receive treats in return for allowing researchers to take blood samples, and it's up to the chimp to decide whether the research will proceed.  I suppose it's not impossible to do something similar with less intelligent animals, but it would be extremely difficult and not considered ethically important.

The other interesting development was the emphasis on testing on other animals instead of chimps - in other words, there's a moral scale and other animals rank below chimps.  These two developments inch toward the sapientist position I support - not animal rights, but rights based on intelligence.  A long way forward before we get there, though.