From my point of view there’s little more distressing in the world of animal welfare than the thought of a full-grown chimpanzee living behind bars. Even a dog’s confinement galls me. But how anyone can justify such an outrage against a being so incredibly human in its psyche almost completely eludes me.

Almost, I say … because if someone could convince me that the chimps in question were undeniably vital to the limitation of a huge clot of human suffering … well, then, I could live with myself even if I had to be the one to inflict any pain or discomfort said chimps would have to endure.

In admitting to such an outrage, am I copping to my speciesist tendencies? Am I, in fact, confessing to holding the belief that animals of some stripes are more valuable than those of another?

Well, yes … I am.

Just as I’ll deign to kill fleas and ticks in the service of my patients’ health, submitting rodents and rabbits to scientific study is something I consider necessary to the advancement of humanity. And since I happen to be human, I have this thing about ensuring that those humans who are among my loved ones survive. Which, by extension, means that I will side with humanity over non-humanity whenever push comes to shove. And also, not-so-surprisingly, happens to mean that I value chimpanzees more than I do fleas.

Yes, chimps and other apes get bonus points in the world of scientific research. You’ve got to prove that the research will do lots and lots for humanity before these creatures can be used for scientific research. In fact, our collective discomfort over using chimpanzees has led to a moratorium on their use in recent years.

This can only be a good thing. We needed time to stop and think about all we’d done to these animals. We needed to look back at all the feckless research that had been committed against them in humanity’s name before deciding whether we were justified in using animals who could look at us with soulful eyes for experiments that might or might not pass the ethical smell test.

But now that, as McClatchy News Service has recently reported, we’re thinking of bringing the retired chimps back into service, the game is, again, altogether changed. Are we willing to accept that there are some investigative uses for these chimps that merit their ultimate sacrifice?

Chimpanzees are the lab animal veterinarian’s Holy Grail and ultimate quandary. Grail because they represent the ultimate challenge when it comes to compelling the most human-like medical experience we can provide. Quandary, because, in so doing, we submit our souls to that ultimate ethical smell test.

It’s not easy to be a laboratory animal veterinarian these days. Less so now that all those chimpanzees living their lives in "chimp rescue" obscurity might well be making their way to a facility near them.

What can I say but that I sure am gratified to know I won’t find myself in a position to have to make an up-close and personal decision on the subject anytime soon. God willing, those ultimately charged with it will make better choices than I could.

Dr. Patty Khuly

Pic of the day: Chimpanzee by bragithor