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Lawmakers Want To Ban Chimps From Medical Research

April 14, 2011

U.S. lawmakers proposed bills on Wednesday that would ban medical researchers from using chimpanzees in the U.S.

“Scientists worldwide have halted chimpanzee experiments, because these intelligent creatures suffer immensely and are poor models for researching human diseases,” Elizabeth Kucinich, director of government affairs for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, said in a statement.

Her research ethics group has campaigned for the bills now being pushed in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Susan Collins, a Republican senator, are sponsoring the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act, which would put an end to experiments on chimpanzees.

The bill would mandate the release of sanctuaries of chimps owned by the government and bar the breeding of chimpanzees for experiments.

Representative Roscoe Bartlett, a Republican who worked with some of the first chimpanzees in space as a research scientist, is introducing a companion bill in the House with Republican congressman Dave Reichert and Democrats Edolphus Towns, Steve Israel and Jim Langevin.

The European Union banned the use of chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans last year in experiments and set restrictions on using other primates, after similar measures passed in Japan, Australia and other wealthily nations.

About 1,000 chimpanzees remain in labs in the U.S., including half that belong to the National Institute of Health.

The chimpanzee numbers are dropping due to a ban on reproduction in captivity and because importing them are against the law.

Some researchers continue to mount a vigorous defense of using animals like mice and chimpanzees in labs to advance medical research.

“We’ve made a lot of progress in research on hepatitis using chimpanzees,” Southwest National Primate Research Center director John VandeBerg told The Washington Post in an interview published last month.

He told the newspaper that the experiments led to the development of “many drugs for treating both hepatitis B and C.”

Chimps infected with hepatitis underwent two medical examinations where blood was drawn to gauge the levels of the virus, while two needle biopsies extracted tissue from their livers for examination.

“The animal rights people make it seem like it’s a horrible thing to do,” VandeBerg said. “It’s a very simple clinical procedure. It’s not painful.”

Kristin Bauer, who plays Vampire Pam on HBO’s True Blood, called Congress in a phone message Tuesday to urge lawmakers to join in the effort on behalf of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine to win passage of the Great Ape Protection Cost Savings Act (GAPSCA).

“I’m calling to ask you to co-sponsor the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act. I’ve always been fascinated by the incredible intelligence and rich social lives of chimpanzees,” said Bauer.

“This bill would end painful, invasive experiments on chimpanzees, saving taxpayer dollars. I’d like to invite you to a briefing on the bill this Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. at the Capitol, room S.115.”

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