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Sunday, August 12th 2007

Animal Defenders?

Medical animal research plays out from both sides of the aisle. An LA pediatric ophthalmologist versus a trauma surgeon.

Dr. Rosenbaum, a highly regarded pediatric ophthalmologist who had been regularly harassed by animal-rights activists for his research work with cats and rhesus monkeys at the Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA, noticed a device underneath his luxury sedan. The bomb squad was dispatched to the scene and hauled away a makeshift — but deadly — explosive. A faulty fuse was the only reason it didn’t go off.

For several years now, Rosenbaum and other faculty members at UCLA Medical Center have been targeted by animal-rights activists outraged by their experiments on primates. The researchers have endured crank phone calls, menacing e-mails and intimidating threats screamed over bullhorns in the middle of the night in front of their homes.

But with the attempted bombing of Rosenbaum, and the attempted Molotov cocktail bombing last year of UCLA researcher Lynn Fairbanks in Bel-Air, activists are no longer content with talking a mean game — they now want blood.

One Of Dr. Rosenbaum’s Many Experiments

There’s not really a word for those that would escalate the situation like this other than nutcase. Amongst them you find Dr. Jerry Vlasak.

Vlasak, a tall and lanky man with short salt-and-pepper hair and a faded goatee, settles into a booth and begins speaking excitedly, and somewhat loudly, about his obsession.

“I think the animal-rights movement has been way too slow in taking radical actions,” he says. “And they’ve been way too nice.”

Vlasak understands that his medical background gives the animal-rights movement a certain amount of cachet. Journalists come to him for quotes, and he gives them. In a 2004 interview with the London Observer, he said, “I don’t think you’d have to kill too many [researchers]. I think for five lives, 10 lives, 15 human lives, we could save a million, 2 million, 10 million nonhuman lives.”

The question is, is this the guy you want operating on your splenic laceration? A man with so little respect for human life. Better hope he doesn’t get word of a million cats drowning while in the middle of operating on you; he’d be obligated to race to their rescue and leave you cut open there I imagine.

Research at the Jules Stein Eye Institute has led to advances in gene therapies to treat inherited, blindness-causing diseases, and UCLA is credited with a breakthrough for curing visual loss in patients with the eye disease known as Stargardt’s. Rosenbaum and its other leading physicians who do key work on such diseases have plenty of supporters.

[Chancellor] Abrams recently changed UCLA policy regarding Freedom of Information Act requests. The university will no longer make public its medical research documents, according to UCLA vice chancellor for research Roberto Peccei.

Vlasak insists the experiments with rhesus monkeys and cats are unnecessary — a claim [vice chancellor Roberto Perccei] meets with open disgust. “They’re always using these things in a way to hype it up!” Peccei says. “Let them take us to court for not providing the documents.”

Via e-mail, Vlasak retorts, “They obviously feel like they have to hide not only the details of what’s going on in their research labs, but now they are going to try to hide from the public, at a public institution no less. If they were not ashamed of what they are doing, they should be willing to openly display what is going on there.”

We’re not looking at the future here, where all species will be accepted by the general public as equals. These violent animal rights activists aren’t pioneers. They aren’t revolutionaries. They’re nutcases. They’re prophets only in their own minds.