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Non-human primates: the appropriate subjects of biomedical research?


Following the publication of the Weatherall report on the use of non-human primates in research, this paper reflects on how to provide appropriate and ethical models for research beneficial to humankind. Two of the main justifications for the use of non-human primates in biomedical research are analysed. These are the “least-harm/greatest-good” argument and the “capacity” argument. This paper argues that these are equally applicable when considering whether humans are appropriate subjects of biomedical research.

  • biomedical research
  • research subjects
  • primates

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  • i There are many stages and facets of biomedical research, and not all involve non-human primates or even humans. Stages of research include basic and applied research, in vitro research on cell and tissue cultures and in vivo research in the form of preclinical animal trials and clinical trials in humans.

  • ii There may be a capacity-based argument that would point to research on vulnerable humans being less desirable than that on non-human primates. This argument appeals not to the capacities of the vulnerable humans themselves but rather those of their nearest and dearest. It is likely that the use of these humans would generate suffering for those people who care for them. This might perhaps give us a reason not to use them in this manner.

  • Competing interests: None

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