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“Endangered” Chimpanzees? The Ethics of Research on Animals

Wild chimpanzees have been listed as “endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature for decades now. In the United States, however, captive chimpanzees are only considered “threatened,” a difference that gives them less protection under the law. But the legal differences between wild and captive chimpanzees could be eliminated soon.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed designating captive chimpanzees as “endangered” as well. One field that would be greatly impacted by the proposed change is the biomedical research field, where chimpanzees are frequently used in studies. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s new rule would only allow scientists to use chimpanzees for research if their findings could help the survival of the species. A lot of current research involving chimpanzees would not fit these requirements.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposed rule brings up many important questions about bioethics. On the one hand, institutes like the National Institutes of Health often rely on using the chimpanzee, humans’ closest evolutionary ancestor, to conduct important medical research. But is doing so ethical, especially when chimpanzees are endangered? Is it right to use an endangered species to help advance knowledge of our own species? Thinking about the ethics of doing science is an important beginning step for any budding scientist.

To help answer some of these ethical questions, the Fish and Wildlife Service has asked for comments from the public on this proposed rule. After reading the rule here or the Science Insider article about it here, find information about submitting your comments on the Fish and Wildlife Service website here.

Learn more about caring for animals and bioethics with these lessons: Hatching Chickens (K-2), Ethics and Reproductive Issues (9-12), and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (9-12).

Image credit: Clipart.com

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