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Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 44.1 (2001) 62-75

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Personal Reflections on the "Animal-Rights" Phenomenon

Adrian R. Morrison *

Personal Attention

The phone rang on Sunday morning, 15 January 1990, while I was sitting on my living room couch completing a paper on the use of animals in biomedical research. The Associated Press had called to get my reaction to the news that the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) had broken into my laboratory. My heart sank as I thought, "They finally got me." The raid focused on my office, which ALF activists trashed while ransacking my files. I learned later that someone wanted evidence the government was paying me to defend biomedical research. They were wrong.

I was shocked but not surprised--indeed, surprised that I was so shocked. The animal rightists had good reason to be angry with me so I knew I was vulnerable. Nevertheless, nothing prepared me for the media barrage--including a grossly distorted article featuring me in the Village Voice (Rosenberg 1990), which was later sent by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals [End Page 62] (PETA) to all in my community--hate mail, and death threats over the telephone during the following days, weeks, and months.

It had all begun long before, of course. Probably the germ of an idea seeded itself in 1981, when I began to defend a neuroscientist, Dr. Edward Taub of Silver Spring, Maryland, from trumped-up charges he had treated his monkeys with de-afferented limbs cruelly (Morrison and Hand 1982). Taub suffered greatly: he was abandoned by all but a few of us; he used up his personal savings defending himself; he was without a job for five years. Ultimately, he triumphed. Court battles kept the animals alive for several years beyond the purposes of the original experiments. When the court finally released the animals for a four-hour recording session prior to euthanasia, electrical recordings revealed an unexpected degree of cortical reorganization in these adult monkeys (Pons et al. 1991). Taub's studies demonstrated that monkeys could be trained to use an affected arm lacking sensory feedback following section of the dorsal roots. Building on these experiments with monkeys, Taub and his colleagues have gone on to show that by restraining the normal limb and forcing the patient to use the affected limb, stroke victims can be trained to use an arm rendered "useless" by a stroke (Liepert et al. 2000; Taub et al. 1998).

Certainly, PETA had noticed my involvement in the Taub case. For example, in a cleverly edited half-hour video made from 60 hours of tapes the ALF allegedly handed PETA after they raided the Head Injury Research Laboratory of the University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine in 1984, PETA included a newspaper's quote of my rejection of the idea that researchers are sadists. PETA grossly distorted the case for its own purposes. Responsible scientists and veterinarians were in honest disagreement over the actual conditions of the baboons used during the experiments, and even the executive director of the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals observed that in spite of numerous violations of National Institute of Health guidelines, the baboons used did not suffer because of the infractions.

Later, in PETA's newsletter, the person who had stolen several animals from my own school's animal quarters a few weeks after the medical school raid stated, "I had the additional incentive of knowing about two veterinarians at the school, Adrian Morrison and Peter Hand, who had travelled last year to Maryland to appear in court and defend yet another infamous experimenter, Dr. Taub" (PETA n.d.). Clearly, PETA had not forgotten me.

The stakes rose, though, after I agreed to chair the Committee on Animals in Research of the Society for Neuroscience in November 1987. The Society for Neuroscience, then about 13,000 strong and now numbering over 20,000, had taken the lead with the American Physiological Society in countering the animal-rights threat, for it was our members, and especially the brain scientists...


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