Neuralink Denies Animal Cruelty during Testing￼
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a nonprofit devoted to animal testing alternatives, sent a letter to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) requesting an investigation into Neuralink’s animal testing practices due to “apparent egregious violations of the Animal Welfare Act related to the treatment of monkeys used in invasive brain experiments.” The organization alleges a “pattern of extreme suffering and staff negligence,” resulting in 23 monkeys being subjected to having their “brains mutilated in shoddy experiments… [before the monkeys] were left to suffer and die.”
Neuralink, co-founded by Elon Musk, uses macaque monkeys to test implants with the goal of allowing brains to directly connect to and communicate with computers. The company has been implanting Bluetooth-enabled chips into the monkeys’ brains and claimed in Apr. 2021 that the implants have allowed the monkeys to play the video game Pong with only their minds, a feat first accomplished by scientists in 2002. Future plans include allowing humans with paralysis to interact with computers.
Partnered with the University of California, Davis, Neuralink and the university deny any wrongdoing. Neuralink stated that the company is “absolutely committed to working with animals in the most humane and ethical way possible” while maintaining that the “central mission is to design an animal care program prioritizing the needs of the animals, rather than the typical strategy of building for human convenience alone.”
Beyond a concern for animal welfare, Elon Musk’s rhetoric about Neuralink has raised red flags. Anna Wexler, Professor of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, stated, “What concerns me in the near term are the potentially false claims. Neuralink’s employees are scientists and engineers working on developing what appears to be a legitimate device for medical purposes. Yet, the company’s co-founder is fond of making grandiose and bombastic claims about the potential for that same technology to cure all diseases and allow humans to merge with AI [artificial intelligence].”
The allegations come amid news that captive orangutans are able to use stone tools with minimal instructions according to research from the Kristiansand Zoo in Norway, and the United Kingdom’s Twycross Zoo. As well as news from Gabon’s Ozouga Chimpanzee Project that chimpanzees may use insects for first aid for wounds.
1. Should animals be used for testing medical devices such as implants that could aid paralyzed people? Why or why not?
2. Should animals be used for testing other than medical innovations? Should animal testing for cosmetics be banned? Explain your answers.
3. Do your opinions on animal testing change based on the types of animals used? Explore the “Number of Animals Used for Testing” resource for more information.
1. Hannah Ryan, “Elon Musk’s Neuralink Confirms Monkeys Died in Project, Denies Animal Cruelty Claims,” cnn.com, Feb. 17, 2022
2. Mack DeGeurin, “Elon Musk’s Neuralink Pushes Back against Monkey Torture Allegations,” gizmodo.com, Feb. 15, 2022
3. Tony Tran, “Elon Musk’s Neuralink Accused of Abusing Brain-Hacked Monkeys,” futurism.com, Feb. 10, 2022
4. Alyse Stanley, “Neuralink: We Got a Monkey to Play Pong Using Only Its Mind,” gizmodo.com, Apr. 10, 2021
5. Isobel Asher Hamilton, “Elon Musk’s Neuralink Scientists Are Not the First to Get a Monkey to Control a Computer with Its Mind,” businessinsider.com, Apr. 11, 2021
6. Neuralink, “Neuralink’s Commitment to Animal Welfare,” neuralink.com (accessed Feb. 22, 2022)
7. Isaac Schultz, “These Orangutans Got Suspiciously Close to Inventing Stone Tools,” gizmodo.com, Feb. 16, 2022
8. Ed Cara, “Chimps Might Use Insects as First Aid, Scientists Find,” gizmodo.com, Feb. 7, 2022