National Institutes of Health to stop funding chimp test subjects
The decision was actually put into motion thanks to pressure from several animal rights activist organizations, who demanded a new investigation into exactly how necessary chimp subjects were in scientific studies. As a result, the United States Institute of Medicine did a little research and eventually wrote up a report that stated that scientists for the most part didn't really need to use chimpanzees in their experiments. They suggested that the NIH cut funding to any new studies with chimp subjects--and the NIH took them seriously. Not only will no new studies get money to experiment on the primates, but the head of the NIH will also conduct an investigation into ongoing studies and see how many of them deserve continued funding and how many should really just be cut off. He estimates that only about half of current studies will be allowed to progress.
Luckily, chimp research isn't widely used among scientists as it is. Only about a thousand chimps are currently held in scientific facilities--but that's still a thousand more than is necessary. Hopefully most of those animals will see much happier lives in the near future. Some facilities may continue to use chimpanzees in the case of an outbreak of infectious disease, where new medicines that work on humans need to be developed fast, but on the whole, chimps will only be employed as test subjects where it's absolutely necessary.
Of course, animal rights activists may still be concerned by the thousands upon thousands of other animals still in use as test subjects. It's a tricky question of exactly how much we humans can ask animals to sacrifice for us against their will. Is it worth making other creatures suffer if it means fewer humans will suffer in the future? Where is the moral trade-off and how do we measure it? While it's a very hard question, I think we can at least agree that we should wait until there are no other options before we use one of the most intelligent animals on the planet in medical studies.