According to a press release issued December 14 by Dr. Norka Ruiz Bravo of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Dr. Miles Novy suffered property damage at the hands of what the NIH calls “domestic terrorists.” Dr. Novy conducts research on monkeys to investigate possible causes of premature birth in humans.
Animal research has led to numerous medical discoveries, increasing scientists’ understanding of human diseases and conditions and improving treatments. However, organizations such as People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) argue that research on animals is never justifiable, and that data from animal experiments are often misleading when applied to humans. According to PETA, studies using human volunteers, patients, and population groups, human tissue, and computer modeling are not only humane but provide more accurate results which can be used to further medical knowledge.
The National Institutes of Health press release unequivocally supports Dr. Novy’s research and declares that such acts of terrorism “are absolutely intolerable.” The press release does not state or imply that any animal rights activist group has claimed responsibility for the property damage, and it does not describe the nature or extent of the damage.
Dr. Novy has devoted his career to the study of pregnancy. Currently, Dr. Novy’s research is focused on one of the primary causes of premature birth, infections which coincide with labor. The NIH calls premature birth a “serious public health problem” and estimates that about 12 percent of babies are born preterm. Of these, 2 percent, or about 100,000 babies born each year, are very premature and have a 10 percent death rate. If very premature babies survive, many will have serious lifelong disabilities, including cerebral palsy, mental retardation, and severe hearing or vision impairment. Others develop learning disabilities and behavioral difficulties.
The NIH’s Office for Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) oversees researchers’ compliance with Public Health Service rules on Humane Use and Care of Laboratory Animals. Scientists who use animals as research subjects must meet with OLAW’s policies during all stages of research, from planning through completion.
This case illustrates the complex moral, scientific, and social issues at stake in animal research. In his NIH press release, Dr. Bravo insists that animals “are critical to the acceleration of biomedical discovery of medicines, therapies, and cures-threats to research with animals threaten the health of the nation.” By contrast, PETA’s website argues that “because animal experiments frequently give misleading results with regard to human health, we’d probably be better off if we hadn’t relied on animal testing for so long.”
National Institutes of Health, press release:
Office for Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW)
Compliance Oversight Procedures (PDF document):
People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals