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The Nightstar Zoo • View topic - Morality of medical research on apes

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 27, 2004 11:18 pm 
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OK, here's a morality question about medical experimentation and research on apes. Specifically chimpanzees.

I was watching this show on the Science Channel the other day, called "My Brilliant Chimps: Keeli and Ivy", where this scientist, Sally Boysen, is studying chimps at Ohio State University. She's raised these two from babies.

At four years old, they can pass the "scale model test", in other words, shown a scale model of the play room, Sally hides a scale model of a treat under the scale model of one of the toys, then sets the chimps loose in the play room. They go instantly and unerringly to the place where the treat is hidden. This shows that they recognize the model as being a representation of the real thing.

She's teaching them to read and write too, by use of a special computer program. When they were up to the point of knowing that words were symbols representing actual things, she started showing them pictures of chimps and asking them to point at the name of that chimp.

Now here's where it gets real freaky. When Keeli was shown a mirror, he instantly pointed to his name on the computer screen. When he was shown a picture of himself, he pointed to his name. When he was shown a picture of one of the other chimps, he pointed to that chimp's name.

And this is at 4 years old. This shows development right along the same timeline as a human child.

As far as I'm concerned, this shows conclusively and beyond doubt that chimpanzees are sapient, self-aware, thinking and reasoning beings, just as humans are. (or claim to be)


So that brings up the question of medical research. Is it moral to experiment with medical treatments on other sapient beings?

But then again, lots of human lives are saved through animal research, and chimps aren't at our level of complexity as far as their intelligence is concerned, and shouldn't we look out for number one?

But then again, the chimps are at a level of intelligence about par with a human child of 4 to 8 years old... Imagine this medical research being done on kids 4 to 8 years old... Isn't that awful?

But don't we still have to look out for number one first? Maybe the best solution is to continue the research, but do it as kindly and gently as possible, and give the chimps the respect they deserve?

I'm torn.


Now, I don't have much of a problem with the intelligence research, because that's more on the lines of cultural research, it's not invasive or harmful to the chimps, and they're quite definitely treated very nicely and with much respect, no cruelty of any sort there.


Whatever the moral answer is, I certainly do not think we should abandon any advances we've made in medicine due to animal research, just as we did not abandon the cotton and tobacco fields that were originally cultivated by slave labor.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 28, 2004 2:02 pm 


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 01, 2005 5:24 am 
Chimps are sentient, not sapient. And they never reach the mental abilities of a 6 year old human, which are actually the same as an adult. But those are a matter of semantics and minor details. Actually I don't think that particular mirror test is very impressive. That particular result could be easily reproduced through training to look at the mirror, then point to a given symbol. And reconition of a chimp with the same appearance and name is not the same thing as reconition of self. A much more impressive test is simply showing a chimp a mirror, and seeing it make faces. Though the conclusions drawn require the knowledge that with only three exceptions, human, chimpanzee, and orangutang, an animal will either treat a mirror as another member of it's species or ignore it entirely.. Making faces in a mirror requires that you know that the image in the mirror is your own.

As far as the question goes it might be better to view chimps as mentally retarded. Though to be fair a chimp is fully capable of taking care of itself. Unlike a child a chimp will never advance past that point. So you do have to view the problem from adifferent perspective. But a retarded person is granted rights. And I'm not about to suggest that be changed. I also beleive that consistancy is important. One final aspect that Ogre mentioned is where I start to see a bit of grey involved. And that is the issue of putting your own species first.

As far as the issue of abandoning previous research goes. Well that's rather silly I think. What's done is done. You learn from the past, and you move forward,


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 01, 2005 6:35 am 


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