Human Exceptionalism

Medical Researchers Under Terrorist Threat

I have noticed lately that the weekly and bi-weekly newspapers are beginning to do the best reporting, particularly in areas which the MSM ignore (such as this assisted suicide story from Oregon) or to which, they give too short shrift. This story about the terrorist harassment of two UCLA medical researchers published in the LA Weekly is another splendid example. It not only details the bombing attempts against two UCLA medical researchers that could have killed the terrorists’ intended targets, but illustrates the necessary cost sometimes paid to animals as we strive to find cures for debilitating human conditions:

ONE THING IS FOR SURE–the situation at UCLA, where doctors care for patients with severe eye disorders at the globally respected Jules Stein center, is getting downright creepy. “There has been an escalation of inflamed rhetoric over the years, and now there’s an escalation of violence,” says Eimiller. “We’re concerned that it’s only a matter of time someone will get hurt or killed.”

UCLA–and major facilities like it–clearly have no intention of ending animal experimentation. Acting Chancellor Norman Abrams declared in a June 28 statement, “UCLA remains steadfast in its commitment to the lawful use of laboratory animals in research for the benefit of society.” Abrams also notes that the university abides by strict federal laws and is subject to federal inspection.

Research at the Jules Stein Eye Institute has led to advances in gene therapies to treat inherited, blindness-causing diseases, and UCLA is credited with a breakthrough for curing visual loss in patients with the eye disease known as Stargardt’s. Rosenbaum and its other leading physicians who do key work on such diseases have plenty of supporters.

But some of the experiments have been gruesome. Most notably, Rosenbaum’s have involved shooting Botox into the eyes of fully conscious rhesus monkeys. In another case, when a vervet monkey was strapped in a metal cage, the terrified animal reacted by biting its tongue, banging its head, and chipping its teeth. The monkey wounded itself so badly that it had to be euthanized. On the less tragic end, mice were given shots of Accutane, a drug used to treat acne, which helped advance gene therapies for blind Stargardt’s patients…Rosenbaum is trying to cure severely crossed eyes in humans–a debilitating condition that can also lead to blindness.

[Jerry] Vlasak [who justifies murder of researchers] insists the experiments with rhesus monkeys and cats are unnecessary–a claim the vice chancellor meets with open disgust. “They’re always using these things in a way to hype it up!” Peccei says.

We wince at the experiments reported in the story and the unfortunate accident with the monkey. But the goal is important and so we shouldn’t judge based on such disclosures alone. We also need to see the purpose. Indeed, this whole matter reminds me of the infamous “Silver Springs Monkey Case,” an early PETA-inspired debacle, in which a researcher’s life was nearly ruined because animal rights activists objected to research that required the severing of the nerves in the limbs of monkeys. Taken alone, that seems cruel. But the result: As I wrote in “A Monkey for Your Grandmother” in NRO, an extremely effective treatment for the debilitation caused by stroke and other disabling conditions.

Animal researchers are not sadists. They are trying to alleviate human suffering. Moreover, there are regulations in place to ensure this is done ethically. When it isn’t, it should be punished. But the goal of the liberationists is to end all use of animals in any research. The animal rights fanatics that would impeded this work, particularly extralegally with threats and terrorism, are not only thugs, they are anti-human.