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Article: Violence and Animal Rights

By Elaine Cassel

Violence has taken many forms in the 20th century. Violence in the streets, in the schools, and on the highways has become a sad fact of life. Violence at abortion clinics has resulted in the injuries and deaths of clients and health care providers. "Eco-terrorists" protesting development in the Rocky Mountains have set fires to buildings under construction. Now animal rights' activists are terrorizing medical and psychology researchers in England.

Animal welfare has a long history in England, where the first group dedicated to animal rights was founded in 1824. But the passion of organizations like the Animal Liberation Front, Band of Mercy, and Animal Rights Militia, has escalated to the level of terrorism. The Animal Liberation Front has a "top ten hit list" of scientists they promise to kill if one of its members (a 46 year-old man serving a prison term for setting fires in protest of animal experimentation) dies as a result of his hunger strike. At the top of the list is Colin Blakemore, Professor at Oxford's Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. Blakemore, who earned his Ph.D. in neuroscience at the University of California at Berkeley, has performed pioneering research in the neuroscience of vision. His work has won him awards for advances in treating visual problems in infants and young children.

After an explosive device addressed to his daughter was intercepted in Blakemore’s mail five years ago, he fortified his home with high fences, security cameras, hidden intercoms, and shielded doorways. Increased security devices have been installed at Oxford's campus, and Dr. Blakemore is receiving police protection such as that afforded Britons who were threatened by the IRA in the 1980s.

Dr. Blakemore's research includes surgically altering the vision of cats bred for research, in order to track their reactions and examine brain functioning. He maintains that his research is dependent upon use of animals, as is most research that leads to conventional medical treatment.

As a result of laws enacted in 1987, Great Britain has the most stringent laws in the world governing animal research. The new code of conduct set standards for the care and feeding of research animals that exceeds conditions under which many impoverished human beings live. And even though the number of animals used in British research is a third of what it was 25 years ago, animal welfare groups want a cessation of all animal experimentation, including research using insects, frogs, and rodents.

Although he appreciates the groups' general concerns for animal welfare and has offered to meet with them, Blakemore expresses the view held by most researchers--that any further restraints on animal experimentation would jeopardize necessary medical research.

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