Fauna News Comment: The CHIMP Act Passes
by Diana Goodrich
Winter 2001 newsletter
On December 20, 2000, President Bill Clinton passed the Chimpanzee Health Improvement Maintenance Act (H.R. 3514), first introduced by Representative James Greenwood (R-PA) on November 22, 1999. When the bill was introduced into the House of Representatives it appeared to be a step towards permanently removing chimpanzees from research. Many organizations, including the Fauna Foundation, encouraged support of the bill. Unfortunately, the changes made to the bill before it reached the Senate altered the original intent, that of permanent retirement for surplus biomedical chimpanzees.
The "surplus chimpanzee problem" was officially acknowledged by the government of the United States when, in 1997, under contract by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Research Council (NRC) reported that, "…the combination of an increase in chimpanzee numbers and less-extensive research use than was expected has created a surplus of chimpanzees and a substantial management problem."
The problem was initially created when the government established a chimpanzee-breeding program in 1986 to study the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Studies of HIV in chimpanzees did not result in the scientific and medical breakthroughs that researchers had hoped for, however, as chimpanzees are simply a poor medical model for AIDs. This fact, combined with the high costs associated with maintaining chimpanzees in laboratories and the increasing ethical concerns about using a species so similar and genetically close to humans for invasive research, led to the "management problem."
One solution suggested by the NRC was the establishment of a sanctuary system where identified surplus chimpanzees could retire. These would be created and run through a combination of public and private funds. The CHIMP Act, as initially proposed, seemed to be the legal sanctioning of such a system and held the promise of a new and better life for hundreds of individuals.
The amendment to the CHIMP Act that erased the promise of a new and better life for surplus chimpanzees (3)(A)(ii) can be read in the box (see adjacent). This amendment allows the government to remove chimpanzees from their sanctuary homes to return them to invasive research. Clearly, this is does not constitute permanent retirement. Instead, it becomes a method of warehousing chimpanzees that is less expensive for the government than keeping them in laboratories. Many people, including the trustees and supporters of the Fauna Foundation, regard passage of this act as a step away from permanently removing chimpanzees from biomedical research because it allows the government and the biomedical research community to continue having access to and control over the lives of the individuals placed in the "sanctuary system" while it frees up space and funds for continued research on new chimpanzee subjects.
A chimpanzee may be used in research if:
(i) the Secretary finds that there are special circumstances in which there is need for that individual, specific chimpanzee (based on that chimpanzee's prior medical history, prior research protocols, and current status), and there is no chimpanzee with a similar history and current status that is reasonably available among chimpanzees that are not in the sanctuary system;
(ii) the Secretary finds that there are technological or medical advancements that were not available at the time the chimpanzee entered the sanctuary system, and that such advancements can and will be used in research;
(iii) the Secretary finds that the research is essential to address an important public health need; and
(iv) the design of the research involves minimal pain and physical harm to the chimpanzee, and otherwise minimizes mental harm, distress, and disturbance to the chimpanzee and the social group in which the chimpanzee lives (including with respect to removal of the chimpanzee from the sanctuary facility involved).
Several animal protection groups, such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the National Antivivisection Society (NAVS), have released statements applauding the government for passing the CHIMP Act and hailing it as a victory for chimpanzees.
It is important to acknowledge the dedication that these organizations have shown to ensure passage of this bill and to recognize their goals regarding the elimination of using animals in biomedical research. However, any sanctuary that cares for former research subjects must have serious concerns regarding whether the passage of the CHIMP Act is a victory for chimpanzees. Some of the issues that are of particular concern follow:
President Clinton's statement seems to encourage the new executive branch under President Bush to further amend the act to make the removal of chimpanzees from the sanctuary system even easier.
Most currently established sanctuaries would not accept chimpanzees under the condition that they may be removed when the government deems it necessary. If new sanctuaries are built to take the surplus chimpanzees identified under this act they will be operated in part by the research community and the standards of care and treatment may not differ dramatically from those of biomedical laboratories.
The sanctuary system will allow for continued and expanded research on chimpanzee subjects not in the sanctuary system.
Without question, there are differing opinions regarding the CHIMP Act. We at the Fauna Foundation have spent a great deal of time thinking about and discussing the issues surrounding the act and how its' passage affects chimpanzee individuals and chimpanzees overall.
We encourage everyone to determine on their own whether the passing of the CHIMP Act is a victory for chimpanzees or a victory for biomedical researchers who use chimpanzees as subjects. The entire act (H.R. 3514) can be accessed through the Internet at: http://thomas.loc.gov. Read President Clinton's full statement made on the date of signing here.