Nonhuman Primates, Human Need, and Ethical Constraints

Hastings Center Report 46 (4):27-28 (2016)
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“The Ethics of Infection Challenges in Primates,” by Anne Barnhill, Steven Joffe, and Franklin Miller, is an exceptionally timely contribution to the literature on animal research ethics. Animal research has long been both a source of high hopes and a cause for moral concern. When it comes to infection challenge studies with nonhuman primates, neither the hope—to save thousands of human lives from such diseases as Ebola and Marburg—nor the concern—the conviction that primates deserve especially strong protections—could be much higher. Coming just a few years after the National Institutes of Health adopted the Institute of Medicine's recommendations regarding chimpanzees, Barnhill and colleagues attempt to nudge the clarification and specification—one might say the evolution—of NHP research ethics and regulation. They assert that NHP challenge studies “are not justified by marginal gains in human safety or by efficacy gains that are unlikely to translate directly into saving human lives or preventing morbidity.” How, in turn, is their standard—which, although stringent, does permit causing NHPs to suffer and die for human benefit—to be justified?
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