Bioethics Blogs

The Ethics of Non-Human Primate Research

Andrew Fenton and Syd M. Johnson criticize the acceptance of non-human primate research.


At the end of 2015, the US National Institutes of Health announced that it would no longer support biomedical research on chimpanzees and that it would send the last of its chimpanzees to sanctuaries. In support of its decision, the National Institutes of Health cited both the reduced need for chimpanzees in biomedical research, and the principles set forth by the Institute of Medicine in its much-needed report on chimpanzee research. This was one of many recent developments that evince ongoing, informed reconsideration of the scientific use of non-human primates. At the same time, some in the biomedical research community have railed against what they consider to be misinformed and extremist propaganda that jeopardizes research on these animals.

In May, 2015 the journal Nature Neuroscience carried an editorial decrying the impact of “animal rights extremists” on the climate surrounding non-human primate research. The impetus for the editorial was the announcement by Nikos Logothetis (a neuroscientist at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics), that he was discontinuing his research using rhesus macaques because of “‘never ending abuse’ by animal rights activists.” The editorial called for a significant show of researcher solidarity, greater enforcement of anti-harassment laws, and a push to counter the “distortions” and “terrorism” of animal rights activists with the “truth” about the importance and benefits of harmful non-human primate research in areas like neuroscience.

To be clear, we agree that violence or threats of violence have no place in civil society (though this should not be confused with acts of civil disobedience).

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.