This case examines the costs and benefits of using animals in research, particularly chimps and higher primates.
From: Graduate Research Ethics: Cases and Commentaries - Volume 6, 2002
edited by Brian Schrag
Frank Golden was an undergraduate, working on the finishing touches of his biology degree. He planned to continue his education in a doctoral program and wanted to further his knowledge in his area, immunobiology. Frank's university was associated with one of the eight main primate facilities in the United States. He felt that if he could secure a position with the facility it would help his chances when applying to graduate school the following year. Soon after graduation, Frank was hired as an animal care provider/technician and was assigned to the main facility where HIV research was conducted on chimpanzees.
Frank was assigned to be the care provider for a chimpanzee named Vern. Vern was infected with HIV by researchers eight years before Frank began working at the facility. Throughout that time, even though chimpanzees are known to be social animals, Vern was housed alone, so he would not infect other chimpanzees. Soon after Frank arrived, Vern began showing symptoms of the virus. As a result the facility determined that Vern had developed AIDS. He was the first chimpanzee said to have developed the fatal disease.
During his time at the research facility, Frank became quite attached to Vern and realized how similar apes are to humans (Byrne, 1997; Fouts, 1997). He witnessed Vern's debilitation from the pain of the disease and his endless days of suffering without relief. During the last excruciating months of Vern's life, it was obvious to many that he could only be comforted by his friend, Frank.
Frank's feelings and interests changed. He decided he no longer wanted to pursue a graduate career in this field, but he kept his position until Vern's death. One day, Frank was asked to assist in a procedure that would infect another young, healthy chimpanzee with HIV. Frank followed through with the request so he would not lose his job. He desperately wanted to stop the procedure because he was aware of the suffering Vern had endured. He watched as the virus was injected into the healthy chimpanzee.
Posted 13 years ago
Karen M. T. Muskavitch Boston College
This case raises a number of issues concerning the use of animals in biomedical research and the reactions of people who interact with these animals. In this commentary, I will consider the general issues related to the use of animals in research first and then turn to the more specific issues concerning Frank.
Whether or how animals should be used in research has been an issue of great debate for a number of years, a debate that shifts as our knowledge and understanding of animals grows. Many nineteenth century biomedical scientists viewed animals much as Descartes did, as similar to machines and incapable of feeling emotion or pain. "[T]hey interpreted the cries of an animal during vivisection as the mere creaking of the animal 'clockwork'" (Rudacille, 2000). Today, most researchers are concerned about the welfare of their animals and willingly comply with rules and regulations. They consider alternatives, the three R's of replacement, reduction and refinement (Russell and Burch, 1959) when preparing research proposals, but they also wish that IACUC review didn't take so long. The evolution in the way in which researchers view and treat their animal subjects has come as a result of our increasing knowledge about animals and their lives, as well as through interactions with what has come to be known as the animal rights movement (Orlans, 1993 and Rudacille, 2000). Our ways of thinking about the moral status of nonhuman animals have also changed over time and the lively debate currently includes, among others, those who would ascribe rights to nonhuman animals because they have inherent value since they are "subjects of a life," and others who argue that nonhuman animals do not have any rights per se and that more, rather than less, biomedical research using animals should be done because of its benefit to the human community (Orlans, 1993 and Orlans et al., 1998).
This case, because it deals with chimpanzees, has an additional layer of complexity and controversy. There are currently no nonprimate animal models for AIDS research, and there is a movement to include all great apes, human and nonhuman, in a community of equals. This movement is the Great Ape Project and is best described by its Declaration on Great Apes (Great Ape Project):
We demand the extension of the community of equals to include all great apes: human beings, chimpanzees, gorillas and orang-utans. The "community of equals" is the moral community within which we accept certain basic moral principles or rights as governing our relations with each other and enforceable by law.
Among these principles or rights are the following:
At the same time that our more detailed knowledge of the life history and behavior of nonhuman great apes is leading some of the scientists who study them, such as Jane Goodall, to call for an end to their captivity and use in experiments, we also have the AIDS pandemic affecting millions of human beings. Chimpanzees are the only nonhuman animals that can be infected with HIV, and they will also eventually develop AIDS. While monkeys will become ill if infected with a simian version of HIV, it is not clear how analogous this disease is to HIV-caused AIDS. Thus, chimpanzees are considered the best candidates for a nonhuman animal model in which to learn more about disease progression and test potential AIDS vaccines.
Issues that are specific to Frank's situation are of two types: those that concern ethics, and those that concern his goals and feelings. Ethical concerns include the general issues discussed previously in this commentary and specific issues such as whether Vern's housing and medical care meet accepted standards. It is understandable that a chimpanzee infected with HIV has been isolated from other chimpanzees, but Frank might ask if steps have been taken to enrich Vern's environment and provide other social interactions, perhaps with suitably protected humans. Frank might also question if enough is being done to minimize Vern's pain and suffering. If these are concerns, Frank should raise these specific issues as well as the general ones concerning the use of chimpanzees in biomedical research. However, to be effective he needs to do so in a nonaccusatory, questioning manner, and he may need to seek out further information from other sources to educate himself on these issues. Respectful dialogue about the use of nonhuman animals in research should be part of the culture in a facility such as the one described in this case. If there are major problems with the way in which the chimpanzees are treated at the facility and Frank cannot get his supervisors to take his concerns seriously, he may need to alert people higher in the organization. If he believes that the work done at the facility is immoral, although it is in compliance with current animal use regulations, he may need to quit his job, and possibly work to change others' opinions.
This case also raises concerns related to Frank's goals and feelings. He began work at this animal facility because he was interested in doing graduate work in immunobiology. By the end of the case, he is no longer interested in work in this field, presumably because he is uncomfortable with the costs of this research to the animals. This need not be an ethical issue, but can be one having to do with personal emotions and preferences. Many of us in academic research chose graduate school over medical school because we realized that we were not comfortable dealing with people who are sick and/or in pain. Similarly, I know several biologists who work in plant rather than animal systems because they are not comfortable dissecting or drawing blood from animals. These people are not morally opposed to animal research; they are not vegetarians, but this type of work is not for them. Choosing a field of research involves finding a niche where one is excited by the research questions and is also comfortable with the techniques employed. That is not usually an ethical issue, but one of personal interests and aptitudes.
With all the complexities involved in this case, its discussion would benefit from preparatory research by the discussion participants into such topics as views on the moral status of animals, current regulations concerning care of primates used in research, model systems used in AIDS research, and the actual case of the first chimpanzee to develop AIDS (Novembre et al., 1997).
From: Graduate Research Ethics: Cases and Commentaries - Volume 6, 2002 edited by Brian Schrag
Two main issues arise in this case. The first is whether it is moral to use animals in fatal research for the benefit of humans, and the second is whether it is moral to use chimpanzees in research. The first issue may appear to be moot since most of the animal research conducted today results in the animals' death. Social acceptance may legitimize the research, but social acceptability does not make an act moral.
Animal research is a highly debated topic, and many philosophers and ethicists have developed strong arguments for and against this issue. For example, in his book Animal Liberation, Peter Singer (1975) proposed the view that any organism capable of feeling forms of pleasure, pain and distress must be included under the umbrella of ethical consideration. In essence, Singer argued that animals matter because their pain matters. Singer did not maintain that all animal experimentation was wrong, but he felt the issue could be settled by the cost/benefit analysis. He argued that a standard must be established that required the predicted benefits of the research to outweigh the costs to the animals, and that the benefits must not be achievable in any other way (Singer, 1975). Largely, this standard is not met; therefore, Singer would consider much of the research now being conducted unjustified.
In this same camp, Tom Regan held a more extreme view. Regan argued that animals have rights not be harmed just because they are "subjects of a life." In other words, any entity has an inherent value, which is not conditional nor a value that has to be earned. Stated simply, an animal's life course and set of interests characteristic of that animal should be sufficient to warrant protection for that animal (Regan, 1983).
Lastly, Bernard Rollin (1989) challenged the idea that there is a right to do research on animals, and he pointed out the lengths to which some researchers will go to deny that any animal suffering is occurring.
On the other side of the debate, Carl Cohen (1986) argued that although we have an obligation to avoid treating animals badly, any notion of rights is ludicrous when applied to animals. For Cohen, rights are given to members of moral communities, who have the ability to make reciprocal agreements, such as a human research subject saying "stop" in the middle of a study that he/she had previously consented to (Gluck and DiPasquale, 2002).
This topic continues to be debated. Even though there is no valid conclusion as to whether it is humans' right to experiment on animals, research on animals continues.
The second issue relates to the type of animal used in this case study, namely, a chimpanzee. Some of the theories for and against the right to use animals in research are based on the cognitive abilities of humans versus animals. Cohen's (1986) argument for example, is based on humans' ability to meet certain cognitive criteria such as consciousness, self-awareness and intentions, which affords them rights. With the award of higher cognitive abilities comes increased moral protection, hence animals are used in more invasive research instead of humans. Following Cohen's view, one could insist that this whole matter of whether animal research is justified could be resolved by saying that animals do not share the same degree of relevant characteristics that humans do. All in all, humans are just more intelligent.
A problem with this proposal is that not all humans share the same level of intelligence, and in fact, some humans are far less intelligent than others. How should we treat humans who fall below the standard, a standard that has justified human experimentation on animals? It seems an entity must have two human parents in order to be protected.
The cognitive characteristics that are used to differentiate humans from nonhuman animals are not so clear-cut. Byrne's book, The Thinking Ape (1997), cites the majority of research that has been conducted on cognition in chimpanzees. Chimpanzees have been observed for many years, both in the wild and in captivity. Fouts and his research team (1997) have communicated with their captive chimpanzees with sign language, showing chimpanzees' higher cognitive capabilities. Other studies conducted with chimpanzees showed the animal's capacity for self-awareness as in the study where a red dot was placed on a chimpanzee's head without her knowledge. When the chimpanzee was looking at herself in the mirror and saw the red dot, she took it off her forehead instead of trying to get it off the mirror (Byrne, 1997). Many more studies conducted by field biologists, psychologists, linguists and ethologists have supported the existence of greater cognitive capability in chimpanzees (Byrne, 1997). The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) recognized chimpanzees' cognitive abilities, and the 1995 amendments require better housing standards and enrichment for chimpanzees in research. Other countries, such as the United Kingdom, have banned the use of chimpanzees in research since 1998 (Orlans, 2002).
This background brings us to the dilemma of using chimpanzees in research. On one hand, chimpanzees are given greater protection through the AWA due to their "higher" level of cognition, but on the other hand, since chimpanzees are most similar to us genetically (98.4 percent), they are more commonly sought as animal models to research highly fatal diseases in humans, which frequently results in the death of the chimpanzees, a very ironic twist.
In this case, Frank was a worker in a large primate facility. His career goals and interests changed during his employment. It appears that Frank's main goal became the care of the chimpanzee, Vern. In this context, Frank responded appropriately when faced with the dilemma of whether to participate in the infection of another chimpanzee. If Frank had protested he could have been fired, which would have prevented his caring for Vern until his death.
By collaborating with the facility and allowing the research to proceed, Frank benefited directly by ensuring he could keep his job. The research facility benefited financially from the continuation of the research. However, the research subjects, chimpanzees, do not benefit at all. In fact, they are harmed by the continuance of the research. It is not clear whether society benefits directly from this research. There is a potential direct benefit to society, which will occur only if the research succeeds.
When assessing any research protocol, a balance is sought between cost and benefit. By allowing the research to continue, Frank is potentially harmed because he is acting against his beliefs. Frank may feel somewhat responsible for the infection of another healthy chimpanzee. In contrast, the research facility does not experience any harm by continuing the research, but the chimpanzees experience the greatest harm of all, death. Lastly, society is not affected by allowing the research to continue. In fact, society may not be aware that it is going on. When the subjects of research are human, huge weight is placed on the idea that the cost to the subject should not outweigh the direct benefit to the subject. However, animals are not afforded the same justice when they are the subjects of research. In this case, for example, the party that benefited least and was harmed the most were the chimpanzees.
If in fact, chimpanzees were considered "subjects" in research, not just "materials," would it change the cost/benefit assessment? Probably not. At this time, animals are not given the same rights or moral standing as humans.
The motivation behind the continuation of the research is the research facility's obligation to society. Humans are considered superior to all other animals; therefore, society has sought the use of nonhuman animals to benefit humans in a variety of ways. The research facility uses governmental funding (as well as private funding) to search for cures for fatal diseases in humans. Many diseases have been prevented in humans due to animal research. It is the obligation of this primate facility to try to find a cure for the AIDS epidemic in humans. The facility's obligation to Frank is stated in his job description. The facility's obligation to themselves is to produce findings that will bring in more money. The facility's obligation to the chimpanzees is conduct the research with minimal amount of pain and suffering. In this case, the research facility does not appear to follow through on that responsibility. Vern spent many agonizing years full of pain and discomfort with the purpose being unclear. Instead, Vern should have been humanely euthanized to end his pain and suffering.