By William Robbins, Special to the New York Times
June 15, 1984
Out of the darkness, five figures
moved quietly down a University of Pennsylvania walk, entered a building,
descended to a subbasement and broke into a laboratory.
What the band of intruders found on Memorial Day was
an audiovisual record on 32 magnetic tapes of several years of brain-damaging
experiments on monkeys and baboons. The discovery has stirred protests here,
embroiled university officials in long hours of explanations in defense of
their research and focused attention on new currents rippling through a resurgent,
centuries-old movement to defend animals against mistreatment.
Since the 18th century, organized efforts have been
under way to make more people sensitive to animals' sufferings. Groups such
as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the National Anti-Vivisection
Society have grown with differing emphases, ranging from concerns over the
treatment of pets to protests over scientific experiments with any animal.
But now, rapidly growing segments within the movement
have adopted a new philosophy that began to spread in the late 1970's: that
animals have inherent rights to a full life in a natural society and that
it is immoral to exploit them, whatever benefits might accrue to humans. ''In
the last five years we have seen a real change,'' said Douglas Moss, publisher
of Agenda, a magazine published in Westport, Conn., that describes itself
as ''the news magazine of the animal rights movement.''
''And in the last couple of years,'' he continued,
''more and more people have focused on that term, 'animal rights,' rather
than 'animal welfare.' They've gone beyond, 'Gee, let's be nice to animals,'
to address the whole relationship between people and animals.''
''It's a movement that is growing rapidly,'' said George
Trapp, the managing director of the National Anti-Vivisection Society. ''The
time is ripe. It's a logical outgrowth of the push for rights for all classes
of the human animal.''
Older groups devoted to animal welfare have tended
to work for legislative goals. But as the new organizations have grown more
vocal, many have grown more militant.
Such groups as the Animal Liberation Front, which carried
out the Penn break-in, the Band of Mercy and the Urban Gorillas have taken
the law into their own hands. Other groups, such as the rapidly growing People
for Ethical Treatment of Animals, take public positions supporting the militants'
goals, although they also seek legislative gains.
Professional groups supporting animals' rights have
also sprung up, ranging from Attorneys for Animal Rights to Psychologists
for Ethical Treatment of Animals.
No one has determined how large the movement is, according
to Mr. Moss, and even members of the Animal Liberation Front, which operates
internationally but in secrecy, generally do not know other members beyond
their immediate vicinity.
''In the last five years we have seen a real change,''
Mr. Moss said, reflected in smaller, localized groups that, in addition to
national organizations, are springing up across the country.
Debate Over Ethics
The clash of ideas was defined the other day by Barry
Cooperman, Penn's vice provost for research.
''The first question,'' he said, ''is whether it is
ethical to experiment on animals for the benefit of humans. As scientists,
we say that it is. Our opponents say it is not. With them, there is simply
no middle ground.
''The second question is, do you take every precaution
to minimize suffering, and how far do you go down that road? That is where
guidelines are needed.''
A scientist working on strengthening such guidelines
is Dr. Charles McCarthy, director of the Office for Protection From Research
Risks at the National Institutes of Health. His office has proposed revised
guidelines seeking greater assurance of humane treatment of animal subjects
of research supported by Federal grants, but he expressed concern the other
day over the increasing incidence of extralegal actions against such projects.
''I don't know if you could call it a crime wave,''
he said, ''but the increasing numbers do worry me. I have been in this office
for six years, and reports on break-ins in the first five years were zero.
In the last year there were 10.''
Comparison to Abolitionists
''We may seem like radicals to you,'' said one of the
participants in the Penn break-in the other day, a woman who identified herself
only as Lauren. ''But we are like the Abolitionists, who were regarded as
radicals, too. And we hope that 100 years from now people will look back on
the way animals are treated now with the same horror as we do when we look
back on the slave trade.''
She pointed to disclosures on the videotapes that her
band seized as justification for the break-in.
One sequence showed a monkey strapped to a table and
pulling against its bonds. The animal's head was encased in a steel cylinder
attached to a pneumatic machine called an accelerator. Suddenly, a piston
drove the cylinder upward, thrusting the animal's head sharply through an
arc of about 60 degrees.
In another sequence, as an animal lay in a coma, a
researcher's recorded voice was heard saying: ''You'd better have some axonal
damage there, monkey,'' and calling him ''sucker.'' Axons link brain cells
to one another and link the cells to other parts of the nervous system.
Letters Criticize Penn
Excerpts from one of the tapes, shown on the news program
of KYW, a local television station, and other reports generated dozens of
calls and letters to the station, to local newspapers and to the university,
most of them critical of the experiments.
Lauren and other militants contend that the animals'
movements in the first instance show a failure to use anesthetics and that
the researcher's remark in the second instance indicates callousness toward
They also contend that any discoveries possible from
such operations can be obtained by other means, such as autopsies on accident
victims. In any event, they say, experimenters have no right to sacrifice
animals for the possible benefit of people.
About 80 primates have been used in head-injury experiments
at the university, according to one researcher, who said computer simulations
had helped to limit the numbers sacrificed for the work.
Researcher Defends Tests
Dr. Thomas Langfitt, chairman of the University of
Pennsylvania Hospital's department of neurosurgery and principal investigator
of head injury programs, defended the research project. He said discovery
of what happened to the brain at the moment of injury was a vital step toward
finding better treatment for head injuries, which are a major cause of death
in the United States. Primates, he said, are the only useful subjects.
As a result of the experiments, Dr. Langfitt said,
he believes his researchers are on the threshold of major improvements in
Alhough the animals may have shown movement before
the tests, he said, they had been anesthetized to a point where they could
not feel pain.
The current conflict here is one of many that have
marked a surge over the last few years in an animal welfare movement regarded
as beginning in 1776 with a British cleric, Humphrey Primatt, who observed,
''Pain is pain, whether it is inflicted on man or beast.''
Shift Began in 1976
Experts in the field say the new growth and a change
of direction began two centuries later with the publication in 1976 of the
book ''Animal Liberation'' by Peter Singer, a professor of philosophy at Australian
National University, who equated exploitation of animals with slavery.
Now ''animal rights'' is heard almost as often as animal
welfare, and it is heard even among members of moderate old-line organizations,
such as the Humane Society of the United States.
Even longtime leaders of the animal welfare cause say
they have no idea how many people are involved in their movement, but Mr.
Trapp of the National Anti-Vivisection Society, which has nearly 50,000 members,
said, ''It's got to be many millions.''
Both he and Patricia Forkan, a vice president of the
Humane Society, whose membership she estimated at 200,000, said their organizations
had doubled in the last five years.
Illegal Actions Disapproved
Mr. Trapp and Miss Forkan look askance at actions of
groups such as the Animal Liberation Front, the Band of Mercy and the Urban
Gorillas, although she said, ''We can certainly understand how people can
grow frustrated enough'' to resort to illegal actions.
Among other actions, the Animal Liberation Front took
12 dogs last year from a medical center research project in Los Angeles, the
Band of Mercy ''liberated'' about 40 rabbits from the University of Maryland,
and the Urban Gorillas took cats from the University of California at Berkley.
Meanwhile, other groups have sabotaged seal hunts,
zoos and commercial fur farms, harassed whalers and interfered with sport
Among the new groups, one of the fastest growing is
People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, which began with 18 members four
years ago and now has 23,000 supporters, according to its director, Ingrid
''Things have changed since 1976,'' Mrs. Newkirk said.
''It's not just 'don't beat dogs' anymore. For the first time in the United
States, people are realizing that animals are creatures, too, and they have