Commentary : Animal Rights and Needed Research

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<i> Renee Neaseg is a student at UC Irvine who does biomedical research</i>

Some weeks ago, a fellow student, who knew I did biological research, asked me if there were any anti-vivisectionist clubs on campus at UC Irvine. He was interested in joining one. I asked him a few questions, and his answers told me he knew nothing of medical research. He was primarily concerned with cruelty to animals (although he himself was not a vegetarian). So I told him about Orlando, and when I finished, it struck me that there must be many like him, taken in by the rhetoric of the animal activists.

I would like to tell all those people about Orlando (this is a pseudonym, as is the pen name used above. Pseudonyms were used to avoid being targeted by fanatical animal activists who believe that vandalism, theft and violence are the way to voice their opinions. Hospital names were omitted for the same reason).

Orlando was playing with four other boys in a car in Lancaster when it caught on fire. Two of the boys got clear of the car, but the other three were badly burned.


Two of the victims, each with about 60% of his body burned, were sent to a hospital in Los Angeles. The third boy, Orlando, an 11-year-old with dark, frightened eyes, was burned over more than 85% of his body; the fire spared only his scalp, lower abdomen and feet. He was sent to a hospital in Orange County.

The two boys sent to Los Angeles received traditional conservative burn treatment, which uses the patient’s own skin to cover the injured areas of his body. This method generally takes months to complete, and the patient is extremely susceptible to infection. One of these boys died soon after being admitted to the hospital. The other died of infection some months later.

Orlando, however, is still alive. He is out of the hospital and doing better every day. The difference: a new type of burn treatment that employs skin transplants from cadavers, in conjunction with a new immuno-suppressant drug called cyclosporine.

Any drug used today for medical purposes must first be tested on laboratory animals to determine effectiveness and possible side effects. This means that cyclosporine could never have saved Orlando’s life--and countless others in the years ahead--had it not been for the many years of research involving laboratory animals.

Knowing of this burn research, animal activists, in the past, have threatened to steal animals or data from the research facilities. They have already stolen animals from various laboratories at UCLA and UC Riverside.

April 24 was targeted this year as “Animal Activist Day,” and demonstrations were held around the country. Those demonstrations were mostly peaceful, including the one at UC Irvine, where 10 protesters were arrested.


But not all animal activists believe in being peaceful.

Judy Stricker of the Society Against Vivisection admitted to The Times that “we feel that nothing is going to change unless there is violence.” Years of research could be lost if laboratories are broken into and data or animals stolen. Loss of data means that the experiments will be repeated using more laboratory animals, thus defeating the activists’ purpose.

Those who applaud the criminal acts of animal activists on the grounds of humanitarianism should consider that most laboratory animals are raised for the purpose of research and know no other life. In the laboratory I work in, as in most laboratories, animals are treated with the utmost care while research is being done, and the researchers are never cruel to their animals.

Man is not the only animal to kill others for his own survival. It is true that man does not need to eat meat from animals to survive, but Orlando did need those skin grafts to survive. Without the sacrifice of some laboratory rats, Orlando would be dead. So would many thousands of other people whose lives have been saved because of medical techniques and treatments that were first tried on laboratory animals. There is no other adequate way known to test such techniques and treatments.

To stop killing other creatures for our own survival would bring technology and civilization to a standstill. It would require us to let wild animals and insects live with us in our homes. We would have to let coyotes and wolves eat our farm animals without recourse. We would have to allow insects and rodents to eat our crops.

Likewise, we would have to suspend medical research because laboratory animals are used in every form of such research before the treatment or medication in question is approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

So the question becomes: To what degree should we concern ourselves with the survival of other animals when it means sacrificing ourselves as a result? When choosing between a brother who would otherwise die of infection because of third-degree burns and a laboratory rat, few would hesitate to choose their brothers. I wonder which choice the animal activists would make.