About R&R

About R&R

An Ethical Struggle
[T]he wolf in sheep’s clothing now goes about whispering in our ear that evil is nothing but a misunderstanding of good and an effective instrument of progress.
    — C.G. Jung, The Basic Writing of C.G. Jung

The ethical boundaries of science

At one time in the not-too-distant past, humans were in the crosshairs of science. Indigents, orphans, criminals, the mentally ill, ethnic minorities, soldiers, and others have been the subject of scientific experiments. They too were “like us,” but deemed not enough “like us” to receive ethical and legal protection.

The Nuremberg Trials of 1945-49 revealed the horrors that Nazi scientists inflicted upon humans whom they viewed as inferior and unworthy of moral protection. And as late as 1972 in the United States, public health officials ended a 30-year research study that allowed unsuspecting African American males to die of syphilis—a treatable disease even at that time—in the now infamous Tuskegee experiments.

Cy comforted by caregiver
Photo: © Nancy Megna

Fortunately, times have changed for humans in America, in part due to groups like NEAVS that advocated for such change. New ethical boundaries have been placed on the American scientific community. We now recognize that all human beings are worthy of protection. Ethical codes and new laws for experimenting on humans require full disclosure, an individual’s written consent and the right of the human subject to withdraw at any time.

First, do no harm

NEAVS has long advocated that the scientific code of ethics for research and the protections it affords be expanded to include non-human species. Achieving that goal will take years. But one species—the chimpanzee, increasingly acknowledged as so “like us”—is in a unique position to lead the way to great compassion for all non-human species whose life and will are destroyed in the name of science.

NEAVS/Project R&R’s science team has shown that chimpanzees, “like us,” suffer when confined, stripped of agency, repeatedly physically injured and subjected to constant fear and stress. While the genetic similarities between humans and chimpanzees was used for decades to justify their use and necessity in biomedical research, (a scientifically erroneous assumption), their emotional, social and behavioral similarities did not afford them ethical protection against their use—until November 17, 2015, when the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that it would no longer support biomedical research on chimpanzees and that it would also no longer maintain a colony of 50 chimpanzees for possible future. All NIH-owned chimpanzees were deemed eligible for retirement.

The mandate for “good” science must include an evolving code of ethics, not just the development of new methods and knowledge. In many cases, progress in both these arenas goes hand-in-hand. Ethical consideration must drive scientific progress. Without an ethical system that protects all species, science will continue to fall prey to the cruelties of an over-zealous intellect—an intellect that has too often shown itself to be dangerously devoid of heart and blind to its own false assumptions.

NEAVS/Project R&R has served as a call to all Americans and to all scientists to commit to what would be one of the greatest advances in scientific and social consciousness: ending the use of chimpanzees, and therefore all great apes, in research. Next, we must ensure that all rescued chimpanzees are allowed to live out the remainder of their lives in the relative freedom of sanctuary.


(1) Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online http://www.jsonline.com/news/metro/jun01/stut16061501a.asp

(2) 103d Congress, 2d Session committee Print S. Prt. 103-97. http://www.gulfwarvets.com/senate.htm

(3) CBS News http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/04/29/60minutes/main614728.shtml

(4) Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 6(1) 1998 4-9

(5) National Public Radio http://www.npr.org/programs/morning/features/2002/jul/tuskegee/

(6) Ibid.

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