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Clinton Statement on Chimpanzee Health Act

WASHINGTON, Dec. 20 /U.S. Newswire/ -- The following was released by the White House:

STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT

I am today signing into law H.R. 3514, the "Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance, and Protection Act." This Act is a valuable affirmation of the Federal Government's respon-sibility and moral obligation to provide an orderly system to ensure a secure retirement for surplus Federal research chimpanzees and to meet their lifetime needs for shelter and care. However, I sign this measure with reservations concerning flaws in the bill that the next Administration and the Congress should correct to ensure the viability and effectiveness of the proposed sanctuary system.

The Act requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to establish a sanctuary system of lifetime care for chimpanzees that have been used by Federal Government entities for research and that are determined to be no longer needed for research. The sanctuary system is to be operated by a nonprofit private entity with appropriate expertise under contract with the Secretary, under standards established by the Secretary and meeting the criteria established in the Act. Chimpanzees accepted into the sanctuary system may be used for further research only if stringent conditions are met, including a determination by the sanctuary operator's board that the research design minimizes harm to the chimpanzee. At the Secretary's discretion, and upon payment of such fees as the Secretary may establish, chimpanzees that are not "surplus chimpanzees" from Federal research programs may be accepted into the system.

Certain aspects of this Act will require amendment to eliminate defects relating to biomedical research and to the viability of the proposed sanctuary system.

The Act puts severe constraints on use of a chimpanzee for further research, once it has been declared "surplus" and accepted into the sanctuary system. Before it could thereafter be used, other than for noninvasive behavioral research, the Secretary must determine that extremely stringent criteria are met concerning the indispensability of that particular chimpanzee and the key nature of the research. In addition, the board of directors of the nonprofit entity operating the sanctuary must determine that the research design minimizes physical and mental harm to the chimpanzee -- a determination that can be set aside only if the Secretary finds it arbitrary or capricious. Finally, the Secretary's and board's determinations must be published for a public comment period of not less than 60 days. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other HHS components using chimpanzees in research already employ a rigorous screening procedure required by law to assess the necessity and quality of any research using chimpanzees. The added criteria mandated by H.R. 3514 are complex and give insufficient weight to important public health issues, which could prevent or delay valuable biomedical research. In addition, of the total number of chimpanzees that have participated in biomedical research, over 250 are currently being maintained by NIH at a military installation. These chimpanzees may or may not be declared surplus, and I am signing this legislation with the under-standing that implementation will neither conflict with the installation's military mission, nor further burden the installation's national security requirements.

Other concerns about H.R. 3514 relate to the administrative structure and funding of the proposed sanctuary system. Prescrip-tive details concerning organization and management, notably with respect to the qualification, terms, and role of the nonprofit operator's board of directors, eliminate flexibility to respond appropriately to unforeseen and varied circumstances. The requirement to contract with a single nonprofit entity to operate the sanctuary system presents the risk that, if that entity withdraws or ceases to qualify for the contract, there will be no alternatives for placement of the chimpanzees in the system. In addition, the bill virtually eliminates any Federal role in the operation or oversight of the system, although the Federal Government will remain responsible for the welfare of the chimpanzees accepted into the system.

Despite the concerns detailed above, I am approving H.R. 3514. My Administration agrees with the bill's sponsors about the Federal Government's obligation to provide compre-hensive, compassionate lifetime care to chimpanzees that are no longer needed in federally supported research. The Act provides a statutory framework for a sanctuary system in fulfillment of this obligation. I am confident that the executive branch and the Congress can work together to satisfactorily resolve the problems inherent in the legislation in its current form.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON

THE WHITE HOUSE, December 20, 2000.