Philosophy - Index
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The Hidden World of Animal Research:
A Hidden World Working behind a
self-imposed, legally debatable cloak of secrecy, CU's Health Sciences Center
withholds from the public virtually all information about its animal-research
By Clay Evans, Daily Camera Staff Writer
December 5, 2004
If you had to pick a terrorist out of a police lineup, Rita
Anderson would surely be the least likely candidate. The 58-year-old grandmother
and Gunbarrel resident laughs frequently, is magnanimous and polite even with
adversaries, and if she's prideful about anything, it's her children,
grandchildren and pets.
But because of her tireless, non-violent work as an animal advocate -- including
an effort that helped persuade the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center
to stop performing surgery on live dogs for its physiology courses -- some find
her irritating, perhaps even dangerous.
"Ms. Anderson supports PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), and
PETA supports the legal defense of individuals in the ALF (Animal Liberation
Front) who have committed crimes," says Dr. John Sladek, vice chancellor for
research at the Health Sciences Center. "And we can't assume that (terrorism)
won't happen here."
Anderson, who since last year has focused her efforts on winning the release of
a small colony of bonnet macaque monkeys at the Health Sciences Center, is
amused that she is viewed by anyone as a threat, and notes that she has no
connection to PETA.
"To put me in the category of a terrorist, as somebody who would do something
violent, is absurd," she says. "I want things to be ethical and nonviolent. ...
I have concerns for the lives of the animals."
Anderson may annoy the powers that be at the Health Sciences Center with her
persistent requests for documents and occasional peaceful demonstrations -- but
if she weren't looking out for the welfare of animal research subjects, these
days it's not clear who else would.
Like all other institutions that use animals for research, the Health Sciences
Center is required by the federal Animal Welfare Act to appoint an Institutional
Animal Care and Use Committee, or IACUC, to ensure the ethical treatment of
animal subjects, approve research protocols and inspect animal facilities, among
many other duties. But also like many institutions, the Health Sciences Center
has shrouded its IACUC in secrecy, refusing public attendance at meetings,
withholding even the identities of committee members and censoring virtually all
information about animal research from public documents.
Sladek and others argue that the IACUC is essentially exempt from Colorado
open-records and open-meetings laws, because of alleged threats from activists:
"I would rather resign my position than reveal our IACUC members," Sladek says.
"I'm amazed that the public accepts the secrecy," says Dr. Christopher Kuni, one
of the chairs of the Health Sciences Center's analogous board governing
treatment of human subjects, the Institutional Review Board.
But former IACUC members and staff -- all of whom requested anonymity, because
they still work in biomedical research and fear retaliation -- say that Sladek
and other administrators have used that veil of secrecy to conceal actions in
violation of widely accepted ethics regarding animal use, including: keeping the
macaque colony, even when the animals were not being used for research, and
using public money to maintain it; a plan to breed the monkeys and sell the
embryos to outside institutions, for revenue, not research; firing a
well-respected veterinarian and dumping IACUC members who raised objections to
those plans; and failing to adhere to a U.S. Department of Agriculture timeline
to move the monkeys from a facility deemed to be "in poor condition."
"I can't understand what the hell got into these people," one former IACUC
member said. "They had an exemplary program. Then the whole thing went to hell
in a handbasket."
The story begins with the small colony of macaques, used by researcher Mark
Laudenslager in "maternal separation" experiments since 1986. With
Laudenslager's National Institutes of Health grant slated to expire, his active
monkey research ceased in October 2003.
That's when Anderson began urging the school to release the monkeys to a
sanctuary. During a Denver visit, famed primate researcher Jane Goodall seconded
But Sladek sent Anderson a letter indicating that the Health Sciences Center
would be willing to release the monkeys only if the school received an estimated
$10,000 to $15,000 per monkey (there were 34 at the time) to replace them.
Some think that's outrageous.
The monkeys "were part of federally funded research. ... CU is now holding them
ransom when they have never paid a dime for their upkeep," says a former IACUC
Sladek says the figure he cited has been misunderstood.
"It's been described as a demand on our part, which it never was," he said
during a Sept. 9 interview at the Health Sciences Center's new Fitzsimons
campus. "It was just realistic: If we were to release the colony and replace it
... that is approximately what the (new) animals would cost."
Yet former IACUC members say that an "exit strategy" for the monkeys was an
explicit condition under which Laudenslager's research was approved by the IACUC
in early 2002. IACUC minutes support that contention.
"The primates are not euthanized at the end of these studies. Previously
primates that were no longer used on studies were sold or transferred to other
investigators. At the present time, there is no market for these animals," read
the minutes from the Nov. 12, 2001, IACUC meeting.
The IACUC was primarily concerned that the institution not have to pay to keep
monkeys that were not being used in research. It approved Laudenslager's
protocol on Jan. 14, 2002, only after receiving assurances that the monkeys
would be transferred to a research facility in California when his research
Despite that, the monkeys were kept by the Health Sciences Center -- and even
bred -- between the time Laudenslager's grant ran out, in January, and July, when
he obtained a new one. Laudenslager himself sent a series of increasingly
frantic e-mails to the National Institutes of Health from January to July,
begging for money.
"(A)t the end of the current fiscal year, there will be no finds (sic) to cover
these monkey's (sic) per diems and the university will be forced to put them up
for sale," he wrote on June 14.
Laudenslager also wrote that, "The vice chancellor's office (John Sladek) has
covered the per diem expenses for an extended period of time (over a year)."
Asked if the university had paid to support the monkeys at any time, Sladek said
he thought Laudenslager's "new grant" had been awarded in late winter or early
spring -- in fact, it wasn't until July -- and that there was therefore no "gap"
But records indicate otherwise. And that makes some IACUC members who approved
the Laudenslager protocol angry.
"We didn't want to approve the protocol until it was clear what the ultimate
dispensation of the monkeys was going to be," says one. "At the time, I'd have
rather they been euthanized humanely than allowed to live on forever doing
So why violate your own rules to keep such a relatively small colony of macaques
on hand? Both Sladek and Health Sciences Center spokeswoman Sarah Ellis told the
Daily Camera that the monkeys were a "magnet" for further grant money.
But some former IACUC members argue that Health Sciences Center administrators
have an even more mercenary goal in mind: Breeding the monkeys, not for
research, but so the Health Sciences Center can sell embryos to other
institutions and raise money.
In April, May and June 2003, the IACUC mulled over, and finally rejected
"protocol #67003703" -- also known as the "Sladek protocol," after its principal
investigator -- because the committee was unable to discern a "research element."
Sladek says the research element was there for all to see: "The research
involved the use of embryonic tissue ... used to replace cells lost to
Parkinson's disease" in a colony of older bonnet macaques in at the Chicago
Medical School, on a project where Sladek is listed as a co-investigator.
However, four people involved with rejecting the Sladek protocol say that it
also included a proposal to breed the macaques and sell embryos for stem-cell
research, to financially support the colony.
"I was assigned to review the protocol. It was to create embryos for sale," says
one former IACUC member. "I had some concerns about just creating (embryos) for
sale, so I asked questions: What is the use going to be, how many are we talking
about? Are we just trying to make money for the research program? All we were
looking for was scientific justification."
But neither the IACUC, nor then-staff veterinarian Ron Banks, could tease out
any such justification.
"The Sladek protocol came out of the blue ... and it struck me as kind of
weird," says a former IACUC member. "I thought, 'Oh my God, are we now going
into the monkey embryo business?' Was this something we really wanted to be
doing? I did not think this was a good idea."
A bad idea, if for no other reason than public relations: If the Health Sciences
Center became known as a place where monkeys were kept, caged and bred primarily
for money, not the advancement of science or human health, the school would no
doubt become a target for vigorous protests. But more importantly, IACUC members
felt the benefit -- money for the school -- wasn't worth putting the monkeys
through repeated breeding and what amounts to surgical abortion.
Sladek denies that he intended to turn the Health Sciences Center into an embryo
factory: "Oh, God, no. That's a total misconception."
The Health Sciences Center legal office extensively censored the IACUC minutes
from April, May and June 2003 meetings, at which the Sladek protocol was
discussed. Sladek says he "wouldn't have a problem with the public knowing the
details," but refused to show uncensored copies of the minutes or the protocol
itself to the Daily Camera. He also sent e-mails to Health Sciences Center
employees warning them against cooperating with reporters.
In fact, Chancellor James Shore -- who last month announced that he is resigning
-- told CU Regent Jim Martin that he could not have uncensored minutes, even
though the regents were scheduled to discuss issues surrounding the monkey
colony at their Dec. 8-9 meetings. (Regents' chair Tom Lucero took the item off
the published agenda last week, citing a need to address issues surrounding the
CU-Boulder Athletic Department. He told Anderson that the issue would be placed
back on the agenda in the next month or two.)
"Nothing undermines the confidence in a public institution more than a failure
to produce evidence or documents that are requested by the public," Martin says.
"On issues like (animal research), reasonable people can disagree. But if one
side refuses to provide the information necessary to have a meaningful
discussion, that's not good-faith communication."
So why all the secrecy, if the protocol is as innocent as described, given that
Sladek has been very public about his work with monkey embryos and stem cells?
It's not animal advocates he's worried about, he says, but people opposed to
human abortion and stem-cell research.
Meanwhile, the flaps over the Laudenslager and Sladek protocols allowed Sladek
to retool a previously recalcitrant IACUC. He refused to reappoint a dissenting
member and fired Banks shortly after his protocol was denied (the USDA is
currently investigating alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act surrounding
Banks' firing) which inspired several IACUC members to resign.
"The credibility, independence, and neutrality of the IACUC are critical to the
university's standing among government agencies ..., private citizens, and
investigators both here and at other institutions," wrote former member Ethan
Carter in a Sept. 10, 2003, resignation letter to Sladek. "Your actions have
undermined the very foundation of the committee on all of these fronts."
Laudenslager's new grant money finally arrived in July, paving the way for
research into the way alcohol use may determine aggressive or impulsive behavior
Not everybody considers it vital research.
"Some 60 years of offering alcohol to animals has produced no fundamental
insights into the causes of this self-destructive behavior (in humans), or even
a convincing analogue of pathological drinking," says Vincent P. Dole of the
Laboratory of the Biology of the Addictive Diseases at New York's Rockefeller
As for Sladek's work, he won't say whether the reconstituted IACUC approved a
new version of his once-rejected protocol. But he acknowledges that the macaques
were taken off birth control in January and have been breeding since.
Which presumably means that the Health Sciences Center, having ignored previous
protocols, will keep the macaques at least until Laudenslager's current grant
runs out in May 2009. But just where they will live remains to be seen.
The current primate facility was found to be "in poor condition" and had
problems "maintaining appropriate temperatures" for tropical macaques, according
to a U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
report dated July 29, 2003.
In response, the Health Sciences Center came up with a plan to move the monkeys
to an existing building on the Fitzsimons campus. In a Nov. 21, 2003 letter, R.
Ridenour, DVM of the USDA/APHIS Western Region gave the Health Sciences Center
"until October 1, 2004, to complete your planned renovations of, and relocating
animals into" that building. The letter advised Sladek that, "Should
complications arise that may interfere with your ability to meet this timeline,
please contact us immediately."
Health Sciences Center spokeswoman Sarah Ellis denied a reporter's August
request to tour the new, as-yet-unoccupied facility, because the school didn't
want to tip off animal-rights "terrorists" -- her word -- to its location. (Ellis
says she doesn't "know specifically of threats," but says that Laudenslager and
other researchers had received "death threats" by phone.)
But in a Sept. 9 interview, Sladek and Ellis gave a very different story: There
is no new facility to tour. Sladek pointed at a vacant lot on the Fitzsimons
campus where a primate vivarium is expected to be built by 2008. In the
meantime, the school plans to move rodents out of facilities at Ninth Street and
Colorado Avenue in Denver, and renovate them for primate use. Sladek said "I
hope" the monkeys will be moved by December.
Asked if he had notified the USDA of the change in plans, Sladek said, "We will
advise USDA that the plan has been delayed and modified." He sent a letter dated
Sept. 30 -- one day before a deadline set in 2003 -- indicating that
"Complications have arisen," and asking for an extension to Jan. 1, 2005.
The fate of three dozen research monkeys -- an admittedly small colony -- may not
concern many people. But the extreme secrecy around CU's animal research should.
From within its self-imposed, legally debatable cloak of secrecy, the Health
Sciences Center has cut the public off from virtually all information about its
animal research programs.
Do the people of Colorado want the Health Sciences Center to maintain a
perpetual "boutique" colony of small primates for the sole purpose of keeping a
single researcher in grant money, or as "embryo factories" whose oddly circular
purpose is to provide for the keeping of monkeys?
They may, or they may not. But for now, administrators at Colorado's only
comprehensive medical university aren't even willing to engage them in the
conversation. Instead, they have drawn a curtain around all animal research, rid
themselves of dissenters, and announced that it's nobody's business but their
And Rita Anderson says that's not right. Health Sciences Center officials can
tar her with whatever label they want, she says, but somebody has to look out
for the animals.
"I simply want to obtain the release of the monkeys through legal, ethical
means," she says. "I have been up front with (Health Sciences Center officials),
and I would appreciate their being up front with me."