More Human than Humans

Michael Friese

As the years go by mankind finds that it has more in common with its ape cousins than previously thought.  The ape that humans have the most in common with is the chimpanzee.  Emory University may have closed the gap even further with a new play entitled Hominids.  In this play humans enact a true story of intrigue that occurred within a troop of chimpanzees in the 1970s.  The most interesting thing about the play is that the actors are not pretending to be chimpanzees, rather the play’s  approach is to enact the story as if it were humans upon whom the story is based.

A summary of the play is as follows:

“A conniving kingmaker and his young protégé conspire to overthrow a popular king. Their plot fails, so they murder him instead. The kingmaker then installs his protégé as ruler. The young king does not properly reward his mentor, however, so the kingmaker selects a new protégé. Together, they torment the young king to the point of madness. He throws himself into the palace moat and drowns.
The brutal power struggle reads like a Shakespearean tragedy, but it actually happened on an island of captive chimpanzees at a Holland zoo during the late 1970s.”

The implications of this play are far reaching.  It intends to leave spectators wondering what makes us human.  The play asks how different are chimpanzees than humans?  Specifically these questions have important effects on the ethics of medical testing on human’s closest relatives.  If chimpanzees’ actions are so close to human actions, then how can we justify testing on chimpanzees in situations where testing on humans would be unethical?

Chimpanzees have and are used in biomedical research because of their close genetic similarity to human beings.  In some cases chimpanzees are the only available nonhuman species that can be infected with the microorganism that is being studied.  Two well known microorganisms whose creation of vaccines depended on the testing of chimpanzees, are Hepatitis B and C.

There is no doubt of the scientific value of animal testing.  However there is serious doubt about the ethics of such testing.  The value of testing vaccines on human beings would be even greater then testing vaccines on chimpanzees, but people would consider such tests to be both unethical and criminal.  With the line blurring between human and nonhuman, particularly in the case of our fellow apes, can we continue to justify biomedical research that may harm chimpanzees,  especially considering chimpanzees lead lives as complex as their human counterparts?

2 Responses

  1. Great post. I would say that there is doubt though as to the scientific value of animal testing. Since animals are similar to us but not quite the same, animal testing has led to dangerous, inaccurate results at times, and has also postponed medical solutions from being put on the market based on the information derived from inaccurate tests.

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