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Doris Lin

Harvard Closes Primate Lab; World Week for Animals in Laboratories

By April 25, 2013

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Harvard Medical School announced this week that they will close their primate research laboratory in 2015. Four monkeys died at the Southborough, MA facility between 2010 and 2012, and the lab was cited for animal welfare violations. However, Jeffrey Flier, dean of the medical school, told the Boston Globe that closing the facility was "a strategic long-term decision," based on economics and not the recent animal welfare problems.

According to school officials, nearly 2,000 monkeys will be relocated - possibly to other research facilities - and none will be killed. While this means that these 2,000 primates may continue to be used as research subjects, no additional monkeys will be captured, bred or sold for this laboratory.

And appropriately, April 20-28, 2013 is World Week for Animals in Laboratories. A project of In Defense of Animals, WWAIL began in 1986 to spotlight the use of animals in laboratories and to speak out against animal experimentation.

Rats being used in vivisection
White rats in a laboratory.

While activists often talk about the risks of applying non-human data to humans and the frivolity of testing cosmetics and household products on animals, these are side issues. At the heart of the issue is the question of whether we have the right to use nonhuman animals for our own purposes. From an animal rights viewpoint, even if the research would lead to medical advancements for people, it wold be wrong to use them. This does not mean that medical research would stop. With so many scientific and medical questions unexplored because of limited resources, researchers could instead conduct other types of experiments: cell cultures, tissue cultures, epidemiological studies and experiments on humans with fully informed consent.

IDA is encouraging supporters to set up an information table, hold a protest, or leaflet. You can request leaflets or download a pdf and print your own. While it may be too late to organize an outreach event this week, there is plenty you can do to help animals in laboratories.

What you can do:

  • Learn about cruelty-free products and boycott companies that test on animals.
  • If you donate to health charities, be sure to avoid those that fund animal experiments. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine administers the Humane Charity Seal, including lists of health charities that do and don't fund animal experimentation.
  • Talk to friends and family about these issues. Learn the answers to common questions about vivisection. You don't have to have all the answers. If you don't know the answer to a question, be honest and tell them you'll get back to them later. Then be sure to find some answers and get back to them. Even if they are trying to trip you up.

On a more personal note, the closing of Southborough is especially poignant for me because of an animal rights theater group that I belonged to over twenty years ago. Based in Cambridge, MA, Creature Features used to perform a song called "One Woman's Hands," written by Maxine Klein, that went:

One woman's hands can't close Southborough down.
Two women's hands can't close Southborough down.
But if two and two and fifty make a million,
We'll close Southborough down.
We'll close Southborough down.

China Photos / Getty Images.

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