When John Krystal, M.D., editor of Biological Psychiatry, heard
about the attacks by animal rights activists on the home of a fellow
researcher, his first instinct was to circle the wagons.
In October 2007, the home of UCLA neuroscientist Edythe London, Ph.D.,
sustained thousands of dollars in damage when someone from the Animal
Liberation Front ran the garden hose in a window and flooded the house. Four
months later, someone tried to firebomb the house. No one was at home either
When Krystal, a professor of clinical pharmacology and deputy chair for
research in the Department of Psychiatry at Yale, learned of the attacks on
London's home, he began discussing a response with members of the
Biological Psychiatry editorial board. Together, they crafted a
two-page commentary signed by 77 neuroscience and psychiatry researchers from
half a dozen countries.
"The attacks are horribly misguided," the statement said."
It is impossible to reconcile the willingness of these terrorists to
harm humans, particularly people who are working to alleviate human suffering,
with their contention that they value life of all kinds."
London is a professor in the departments of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral
Sciences, and Molecular and Medical Pharmacology, at the UCLA David Geffen
School of Medicine. Some of her research on drug, alcohol, and nicotine
dependence involves nonhuman primates. At least three other UCLA researchers
who work with animals have been harassed, threatened, or attacked in the last
two years. One publicly swore off animal research after his children were
frightened by trespassers one night.
UCLA's chancellor condemned the vandalism, and a judge issued a restraining
order against three organizations and five individuals prohibiting them from
harming or threatening anyone involved in animal research (or their families)
or trespassing or vandalizing property.
"It seemed to me that a line had been crossed, escalating the threat
to a researcher, her family, and her neighbors," said Krystal in an
interview. "The event brought home to me how serious this kind of
intimidation is and how we should have responded earlier."
London, through the UCLA media relations office, declined to be interviewed
for this article.
Others in the scientific community registered their concern, too.
"We should all stand for the humane treatment of animals, and I
respect the right of individuals to express their concerns in nonviolent and
constructive ways," said former APA President Herbert Pardes, M.D., now
president and CEO of New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Healthcare System."
But the use of violence to intimidate people is offensive in the
extreme, and we should be supportive of colleagues faced with that sort of
extreme and uncivil action."
Pardes was director of the National Institute of Mental Health from 1978 to
1984 and has a long-standing interest in the value of animal research in
The Society for Neuroscience released a statement saying that animal
research is an academic-freedom matter and issued recommendations for
protecting researchers and their work "to preempt and react to
anti-research activists.... Ultimately, research institutions must make an
unwavering commitment to ensuring the safety, security, and ability of
researchers to pursue responsible research."
"We are very concerned because use of animals is critical to
biological discovery," said Norka Ruiz Bravo, Ph.D., deputy director for
extramural research at the National Institutes of Health, in an interview."
Without it, we would not have the cures we have now. We want to use
animals ethically where it is scientifically appropriate in studies reviewed
by peer-reviewed panels and animal use committees."
Under federal law, animal care and use committees at universities have to
approve all research protocols governing the number of animals used, how they
are cared for, and what may be done to them.
Answering when, how, and if animals can or should be used in biomedical
research raises practical and moral questions that remain on the table after
decades of argument. People like those behind the UCLA attacks believe that
absolutely no animal research is permissible, and anything, including
violence, is justified to stop it, said John Gluck, Ph.D., an emeritus
professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of New Mexico. He
once ran a nonhuman primate research center and now teaches bioethics.
"They believe they are protecting innocents and that nonviolent means
have failed," said Gluck in an interview. "I think that's
Some other animal rights organizations, like People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals (PETA), also oppose research (including veterinary
research) with animals on ethical and moral grounds, with exceptions such as
in-home nutrition studies on companion animals or observational studies of
animals in their own environment, said Kathy Guillermo, PETA's director of
"We choose to use tactics other than violence, and PETA is a
peaceful, legal organization," she said.
"We understand their frustration," said Guillermo, speaking of
groups like the Animal Liberation Front. "People talk about their fear
of violence [against researchers] but not about the violence committed against
She cited universities around the United States where animals have been
denied adequate veterinary care, researchers have gone beyond study protocols,
and oversight committees have not monitored labs. PETA takes such
reports—often provided by workers disturbed at conditions in their
labs—to the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the National Institutes of
PETA also argues that preclinical animal research isn't very good science
because it doesn't translate well to human beings due to biological
"When we study animals, we find out about animals," she said in
an interview. Some experiments study animals and humans simultaneously, a poor
way to guide tests of effects in humans, she said. Other studies are simply
"These researchers say they're doing essential work for helping human
beings, but they don't know unless they try it in people," said
Darrell Regier, M.D., M.P.H., director of APA's Office of Research and
executive director of the American Psychiatric Institute for Research and
Education, backed the need for research with animals.
"There is no substitute for animal research," he said in an
interview. "Anybody who says so doesn't know about science."
Proponents of animal research list many improvements to human health
developed with the use of laboratory animals and point to legal requirements
for humane animal care they must follow. What animal rights advocates call"
redundant" experiments, researchers call"
Using in vitro methods or computer models may lessen the need for animals
in regulatory testing but are less applicable in research in which the
interaction of genes, cells, and organs throughout the entire body must be
considered, said Regier.
"The opportunities for using alternatives are miniscule," he
said. "There is no substitute for animal research. Biological systems
are complex, and they can't be replicated with computers."
Researchers also claim progress (albeit slow) in the use and treatment of
animals in the lab, much of it stemming from the 1959 publication The
Principles of Humane Experimental Technique, by two British scientists,
William Russell and Rex Burch. Russell and Burch argued that whenever
possible, scientists should replace animals with nonanimal
procedures, reduce the number of animals used, and refine
procedures to lessen animal suffering—an approach dubbed the"
3Rs." However, it took a long time for those principles to enter
the consciousness of laboratory science, much less its practice.
"Even 10 years ago, most scientists had no idea about the 3Rs,"
Alan Goldberg, Ph.D., director of the Center for Alternatives to Animal
Testing at Johns Hopkins, told Psychiatric News. "They met the
letter of the law [the federal Animal Welfare Act], but that was
Treating animals well is not only desirable ethically, but also makes for
better science, since data gleaned from animals mistreated, put in unnecessary
pain, or stressed by inhospitable living conditions have less value, said
Animal-rights proponents say their position is based on morality. Animals,
they believe, especially nonhuman primates, are sentient creatures with moral
rights and should not be used for the convenience of human beings.
But that moral argument doesn't hold water, said Regier.
"Equating humans and animals is wrong," he said. "It's a
philosophical approach that is inimical to science."
Scientists who work with animals believe that the benefits gained for
humanity from animal research outweigh any harm to their subjects, and most
agree that any pain and suffering should be minimized.
"A humane approach to animals is essential," said Regier."
If you don't do that, you denigrate the entire research
Both sides in the argument appear to have little desire to talk more than
perfunctorily with each other.
"There's almost never any meaningful dialogue with experimenters in
the basic research and biomedical research areas," said Guillermo, who
added that many more researchers support PETA's position than signed the
Biological Psychiatry commentary.
Incidents like the ones at UCLA only make scientists who work with animals
dig in their heels, said both Goldberg and Gluck, although Gluck was a little
"Progress may be slow, but a useful discussion is still going
on," he said.
"We recognize the value of an ongoing public dialogue on what could
supplant animal research and on strengthening the ethics governing laboratory
animal use," said Krystal.
"Over the years, I've found that animal protection people come to
meetings less often," said Joanne Zurlo, Ph.D., director of the
Institute for Laboratory Animal Research (ILAR), a part of the National
Academies of Science in Washington, D.C., in an interview.
Can the domains of morality and science ever find any common ground?
A recent review of the issue by Great Britain's Nuffield Council on
Bioethics tried to narrow the debate in that country. The council laid out a
view it said most members of society could live with, a "hybrid moral
position," with some absolute limits on animal research combined with
some balancing of costs and benefits.
Similar discussions may be overdue in the United States but do not appear
on the horizon now, according to Zurlo.
ILAR will soon update its guidelines for the use of lab animals, she said.
Its committee will review all relevant literature since the last edition was
published in 1996, including the scientific study of what constitutes
consciousness in animals.
Among Zurlo's advisors is bioethicist Bernard Rollin, Ph.D., a professor of
philosophy, animal sciences, and biomedical sciences at Colorado State
University in Fort Collins.
In Rollin's view, two 1985 laws governing laboratory animals reflected a
society that now views invasive animal research as a significant moral issue
and implied a need for ethical engagement by scientists.
"They have led to what I call the 'reappropriation of common sense'
with regard to the reality of animal suffering and the need for its
control," he wrote last year in the journal EMBO Reports."
One can be guardedly optimistic that animal research will evolve into
what it should have been all along: a moral science."
"It Is Time to Take a Stand for Medical Research and Against
Terrorism Targeting Medical Scientists" is posted at<www.journals.elsevierhealth.com/periodicals/bps/article/S0006-3223(08)00295-3/fulltext>.
An op-ed article by Edythe London from the Los Angeles Times is
Bernard Rollin's "Animal Research: a Moral Science" is posted at<www.nature.com/embor/journal/v8/n6/full/7400996.html>.▪