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PRESS RELEASE: 7-18-16 New in the Hastings Center Report

Research on nonhuman primates, disputes over frozen embryos, and more in the July-August 2016 issue.

The Ethics of Infection Challenges in Primates
Anne Barnhill, Steven Joffe, and Franklin G. Miller

During the recent Ebola outbreak, scientific developments involving infection challenge experiments on nonhuman primates (NHPs) sparked hope that successful treatments and vaccines may soon become available. Yet these studies intentionally expose sophisticated animals to severe suffering and a high risk of death. Should research on NHPs other than great apes be subject to tighter restrictions than it currently is? The authors explore this question in the context of infection challenge studies. “We advocate a presumptive prohibition on infection challenge experiments in NHPs,” they write, “but we also argue that exceptions to this prohibition are permissible, subject to strict substantive and procedural safeguards, when necessary to avert substantial loss of human life or severe morbidity for a substantial number of people.” Barnhill and Joffe are at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, and Miller is at Weill Cornell Medical College and the National Institutes of Health.

Three commentaries address medical research on primates. Two “Other Voices” respond to the “infection challenge” article. In “Nonhuman Primates, Human Need, and Ethical Constraints,” David DeGrazia, of George Washington University, asks how the proposed standard “which, although stringent, does permit causing NHPs to suffer and die for human benefit” is to be justified? In “Beyond Primates: Research Protections and Animal Moral Value,” Rebecca L. Walker, of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, questions whether “the more sophisticated capacities of a species as a whole give it greater ethical protections” and whether “less intellectually or socially sophisticated animals ought to therefore receive less protection when it comes to painful experimental interventions.” “The End of Chimpanzee Research,” by Lori Gruen, of Wesleyan University, applauds the United States for being “poised to join the rest of the world in ending invasive research on our closest primate relatives.”

Embryo Disposition Disputes: Controversies and Case Law
I. Glenn Cohen and Eli Y. Adashi
When prospective parents use in vitro fertilization, freeze excess embryos for later use, and then divorce, what happens to the embryos? Courts and legislatures have struggled with how to handle these cases, which seem to pit one partner’s right to procreate against the other’s right not to procreate. “The issue is ripe for revisiting because in the last year, embryo disputes have become a battlefront for larger conflagrations over the moral status of embryos,” write Cohen, of Harvard Law School, and Adashi, of Brown University. They explain the current state of the law and make recommendations for changes.

Also in this issue:

“What Is the Value of Three-Parent IVF?,” “The Disposable Author: How Pharmaceutical Marketing Is Embraced within Medicine’s Scholarly Literature,” At Law (“Politics and Public Health: The Flint Drinking Water Crisis”), Case Study, In Practice (“Getting to Know Patients”), and Field Notes (“Gender, Identity, and Bioethics”)