Obama Administration Protects Chimps, No Protection for Unborn

Opinion   |   Wesley J. Smith   |   Jan 24, 2013   |   11:55AM   |   Washington, DC

The NIH has restricted research on chimpanzees, and now is likely to retire all but fifty of available chimps to a sanctuary.

From the Nature News story:

The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) should dismantle a decades-old colony of 360 chimpanzees, retiring all but roughly 50 of the animals to a national sanctuary, the biomedical agency was told on 22 January in a long-awaited report. The report, from a working group of external agency advisors, also counsels the NIH to end about half of 21 existing biomedical and behavioural experiments, saying they do not meet criteria established in a December, 2011 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report. “Clearly there is going to be a reduction in the use of chimpanzees in research,” says working group co-chair Kent Lloyd, the associate dean for research at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis

By protecting these chimps we will be forgoing sources of new knowledge and biological testing! Some things we might have discovered will now not be known, or known later than would have been had we used the chimps. And as we all know from various science policy debates, that which restrains or inhibits scientific progress is anti-science!

Actually, it isn’t. Science cannot ever be permitted to become the be all and end all. Science is an incredibly powerful method of gaining and applying knowledge. But it is amoral. It can be a life saving tool or a lethal weapon. That is why a beneficent and properly functioning scientific sector requires ethical parameters to prevent it from becoming monstrous. In other words, the “duty” side of human exceptionalism–in this case, adhering to proper animal welfare principles–sometimes trumps naked science. And that’s a good thing.

Thus, those who have pushed so hard over many years to protect research chimps are no more anti-science than those who have pushed to protect embryos in research and wish to prevent human cloning, which are also ethical issues. And that’s the point of this post.


It is unremitting, the attempts to knock humans off of the pedestal of exceptionalism. But notice that it almost always involves comparing what animals do to us? And now more on chimps being “moral” because they share food and such in a “fairness game,” that for the chimps would have required some training. From the CNN story:

You might think of “morality” as special for humans, but there are elements of it that are found in the animal kingdom, says de Waal — namely, fairness and reciprocity. His latest study, published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that chimpanzees may show some of the same sensibility about fairness that humans do.

The popular belief that the natural world is based on competition is a simplification, de Waal says. The strength of one’s immune system, and the ability to find food, are also crucial. And many animals survive by cooperating.

Well obviously. Look at lions on the hunt! But that doesn’t mean the behavior is “moral.”



“Morality” is a distinctly and exclusive human concept because it requires rationality and the ability to make alternative decisions. In other words, being “moral” is a choice. For example, we collectively decided that empathy is more moral in the modern West, a moral attitude that developed over thousands of years. So, we now embrace “tolerance” and “diversity.” It wasn’t always so. Ditto “fairness,” whatever that might mean–and it means different things in different cultures.

But chimps don’t do anything like that, no matter how they act. They don’t have free will. They don’t weigh and balance and work out moral codes. Indeed, for “morality” to be truly that, acting in the opposite way must be considered immoral. When a chimp steals another’s food, is that “immoral?” If a chimp refuses to share, is that “immoral?” No. It’s being a chimp. When chimp bands war against their neighbor chimps, it is simply what they do. If we do it, it is now considered imperialism and immoral. It wasn’t always so. But we decided that conquest is wrong. Once, it was considered glorious.

I suspect the narrative thrust of this story comes from the reporter rather than de Waal, who seems to be looking into how “fairness”–again, a human concept–might have arisen via evolution. Chimps may act in ways we consider fair. But that’s because we are the exceptional measure.

LifeNews.com Note: Wesley J. Smith, J.D., is a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture. Excerpted from his A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement (Encounter, 2010).