A Monkey for Your Grandmother

Animal-liberationists force medical research on the backburner. Original Article

The anti-human values that permeate the animal-rights/liberation movement are, once again, vividly on public display. Cambridge University, under pressure from animal liberationists, recently announced it has dropped a proposed multimillion-pound research project that would have, in part, conducted experiments on monkeys in the urgent search for the causes of and cures for devastating neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and stroke.

The university cited “financial risks” in justifying its craven decision. But, of course, the real reason was fear — fear of the potentially violent reaction of animal liberationists who hold the lives of monkeys far more dearly than the alleviation of suffering in human beings. Indeed, Carla Lane, an animal-sanctuary operator who worked hard to kill the project told The Scotsman, “I can bear the thought of having Alzheimer’s myself one day better than what happens to these animals.” Tell that to the tens of millions of families devastated by their loved ones’ serious neurological diseases.

All of this is reminiscent of the infamous “Silver Springs Monkey case” — a nasty piece of work that nearly ruined the career of one of our best medical researchers and put People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) on the political map. To this day, PETA’s website brags that after its founding in 1980, it “hit the ground running with an undercover investigation of a Maryland laboratory that resulted in the first-ever conviction of an animal experimenter on charges of animal abuse.” But the real story speaks volumes about the tactics and goals of the animal-rights/liberation movement.

The Silver Springs Monkey Case appears to have been the brainchild of Alex Pacheco, cofounder of PETA with Ingrid Newkirk, and like her, an “animal-rights” fanatic who believes that animals are equal to people. “The time will come,” he once stated, “when we will look upon the murder of animals as we now look on the murder of men.”

In 1981, Pacheco decided to target Dr. Edward Taub, who was then conducting experiments with monkeys to learn whether paralyzed people could be taught to reuse limbs that had no feeling. Pacheco gained access to Taub’s lab and his trust as a “student volunteer.” Little did the researcher know that the animal liberationist’s secret agenda was to discredit his work and destroy his career.

As part of Taub’s study, the nerves in the monkeys’ forelimbs were severed surgically. This was not done to be cruel or to cause the animals to suffer. Taub’s purpose was to train the animals to reuse their numb forelimbs; research he hoped would prove valuable in rehabilitating human stroke patients.

Unaware of Pacheco’s subversive intentions, Taub left on a vacation expecting that his lab would be maintained properly during his absence: Two animal caregivers were supposed to tend to the animals daily and Pacheco was also available as a failsafe to alert administration if anything went wrong. Unfortunately, after he left, the previously reliable animal caregivers suddenly stopped showing up for work. Whether by plan or coincidence, their absences played right into Pacheco’s hands.

Due to the caretakers’ dereliction, sanitation in the lab fell well below proper standards. But Pacheco did not alert the administration. Instead, as conditions in the lab became more unhygienic, Pacheco invited animal-rights activists and animal-use professionals to witness the “poor” conditions that now existed in the lab. The group took pictures to present to the media and legislators as proof of the abuse and animal cruelty supposedly countenanced by Taub. Pacheco then reported the lab for cruelty to animals. The lab was shut down and the monkeys were confiscated; when Taub returned from vacation he found himself charged with 119 counts of cruelty to animals.

When the truth came out that Taub’s experiments were fully sanctioned by the National Institutes of Health and that the animals were not being massively mistreated in Taub’s lab, all but six counts were dropped. The remaining charges involved allegations of Taub failing to provide adequate veterinary care for six monkeys, one charge per monkey. There were three trials, successful appeals, and in the end, exoneration. Moreover, subsequent independent investigations of the incident by five separate scientific societies — including by an ethics committee of the Society for Neuroscience and a committee from the American Psychological Society — fully exonerated Taub of engaging in any inhumane practices whatsoever.

For Pacheco, all of this was beside the point. His goals were to stop the experiments (regardless of their potential for human benefit), gain publicity to influence congressional subcommittee hearings then pending revisions of the Animal Welfare Act, and to promote the newly created PETA. He succeeded brilliantly. Pacheco’s Congressional testimony became a media sensation, providing a cornucopia of free publicity for PETA, and helping it to become one of the world’s most influential “animal-rights” advocacy groups.

Happily for suffering humanity, Taub continued his important research. He has since won three national prizes from national scientific societies, and was Scholar of the Year at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1997.

More importantly, the animal research that so distressed animal liberationists helped Taub achieve a medical breakthrough in the treatment of stroke victims — called Constraint-Induced Movement (CI Therapy) — by which the brain is induced to “rewire itself” following stroke or other serious brain trauma. CI Therapy is so successful that there is now a long waiting list of stroke patients with upper limb impairments at Taub’s Alabama clinic. The technique is also in further human trials for other conditions, including as an approach to treating children with cerebral palsy and traumatic brain injury.

It is frightening to think that if Pacheco had successfully ruined Taub, CI Therapy might have been lost to humanity. “We are contrasting the treatment of thirteen monkeys with the improved motor ability and quality of life for thousands of human beings,” Taub told me a few years ago. “If I had been unable to continue with my research, it would have left the burden of thousands of stroke victims unalleviated.”

This is the true lesson of the Silver Spring Monkey Case, and it illustrates the tragic irrationality of the Cambridge University travesty.

Tremendous human suffering can be eliminated as a result of the proper and humane use of animals in medical research. Of necessity, this must in some cases include primates, which are indispensable in the development of an HIV/AIDS vaccine, research into malaria, hepatitis B and C, and the development of promising therapies to treat devastating neurological conditions.

But animal liberationists could care less. And it isn’t just about monkeys. As far as they are concerned, better your grandmother die slowly of Alzheimer’s disease than allow any animals to be used in crucial medical research.

Author Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture. He is currently researching a book on the animal liberation movement.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.