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It was a big day for chimpanzee rights too

June 27, 2013|By Paul Whitefield
  • Two chimps at Chimp Haven in Keithville, La. The government will retire most of the chimpanzees that have spent their lives in U.S. research labs.
Two chimps at Chimp Haven in Keithville, La. The government will retire… (Gerald Herbert / Associated…)

Wednesday was a big day for human rights. And it was a pretty good day for primate rights too.

It was hard to miss news of the Supreme Court’s twin rulings that furthered gay rights and marriage equality. Plenty of folks celebrated, including gay couples -- and wedding planners, caterers, florists and, sadly, probably divorce lawyers. Hey, love may be blind, but it’s not always forever.

Still, big as it was, that wasn’t the only news out of Washington. As my colleague Julie Cart reported, “The National Institutes of Health announced Wednesday it would retire the majority of the approximately 360 government-owned chimpanzees currently held in laboratories.”

And I’m guessing that, nice as it is that gay folks are making progress on marriage equality, those chimps are equally thrilled that, from now on, they are going to get to be chimps and not medical guinea pigs.

It’s not as though they haven’t paid their dues. As Cart reported, “Scientists credit chimps with helping make important discoveries involving cancer, hepatitis, autoimmune diseases and other conditions.” But genetically engineered mice, rats and other animals are considered the test subjects of choice these days.

Of course, some will argue that no animals should be used for medical research. But the use of chimps, which have 98% of the same DNA as humans, now seems especially inhumane.

Wednesday’s news shows how times change. Going -- or gone, hopefully -- are the days when chimps were used as lab animals or for cheap laughs as entertainers.

The Supreme Court rulings weren't total victory for gays. The NIH announcement isn't going to give those chimps the life they deserve as wild animals in their natural environment.  

But just as we’re moving toward being a better, more tolerate society when it comes to gays and lesbians, we’re also a better people for showing our human side to our closest living relatives in the animal world.

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