|A gun-toting chimp: fiction today, tomorrow a reality?|
CINEMA thinks the Planet of the Apes trilogy may bring to focus the implications of real life scientific research utilizing primates, as its plot revolves around the scientists’ search for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease that created instead an ape with human-like intelligence.
It’s a fact that primates are being experimented upon by humans for medical purposes. According to US-based PETA—People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals—“over 105,000 primates every year are imprisoned in US laboratories… abused and killed in invasive, painful, and terrifying experiments…” (See https://www.peta.org/) Primates are prime targets for experimenters because they share important biological and psychological characteristics with humans, such as sensitivity and intelligence.
In July 2011, as Rise of the Planet of the Apes hit the theaters—showing, among other images, a chimpanzee that fired an AK47 towards humans—the Academy of Medical Sciences of Britain (AMSB) said the dangers of disturbing animal-human experiments are real. In a hard-hitting report the academics warned that research is close to pushing ethical boundaries and urged the government to create tough new rules to prevent such a scenario (of gun-toting primates) from becoming a reality. Professor Martin Bobrow, a medical geneticist at Cambridge University and lead author of the report, said society needed to set rules before scientists began experiments that the public would find unacceptable. Three particularly “sensitive” areas in animal research, the report stated, are cognitive, that of reproduction, and creation of visual characteristics that would make them see themselves as human. Relating to reproduction, the report recommended that animal embryos produced from human sperm or eggs do not develop beyond a period of 14 days.
Furthermore, the AMSB report called for a ban on extreme attempts to give laboratory animals human attributes—such as injecting human stem cells into the brains of primates—and called for a closer monitoring of the experiments by a new body of experts. “If a monkey that received human genetic material begins to acquire capabilities similar to a chimpanzee, it’s time to stop the experiments,” said Bobrow. A co-author of the report, Professor Thomas Baldwin, said: “The fear is that if you start putting very large numbers of human brain cells into the brains of primates suddenly you might transform the primate into something that has some of the capacities that we regard as distinctively human—speech, or other ways of being able to manipulate or relate to us. These possibilities that are at the moment largely explored in fiction, we need to start thinking about now.”