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Case Study: Environmental Ethics

Animal Liberation in the Science Lab (Boss, 2, p. 447)

The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) is a loose organization of radical animal-rights activists in more than 40 countries, ALF activists target science laboratories, slaughterhouses, and the fur and lumber industries. Since its founding in England in 1976, the ALF engaged in hundreds, if not thousands of reported direct actions. One of the most publicized actions in the United States took place in 1984, when five members of the ALF broke into the Experimental Head Injury Lab at the University of Pennsylvania and stole files and videotapes of experiments. The videotapes showed gruesome scenes of terrified baboons in vises with their heads being smashed by pistons while the researchers joked around. The tapes showed operations being performed on primates without regard for their pain or for standard research procedures. After taking the videotapes, the ALF ransacked the lab.

In the controversy that followed the release of the tapes to the public, Dr. Thomas Gennarelli, the director of the lab, defended the research, claiming that the animals had been properly treated. He also accused the ALF of setting back medical research. Both the university and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which gave the lab a new grant to repair the damage, supported Dr. Gennarelli. The ALF responded to the accusation by comparing the lab experiments to those conducted by Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele on Jews in concentration camps. Protesters supported the ALF by staging demonstrations on campuses and at the NIH offices. In 1985, the secretary of Health and Human Services stopped federal funding for the head injury program, and the university agreed to pay a fine for violating the Animal Welfare Act. The members of the ALF were not prosecuted for their actions.

Although the ALF defines itself as nonviolent, the FBI regards groups such as the ALF and its sister organization the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) as “violent animal rights extremists and eco-terrorists [who] now pose one of the most serious terrorist threats to the nation.” In 2006, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security designated the ALF a “terrorist threat.” The ALF has a policy of nonviolence toward living things, including people engaged in animal experimentation.

Choose one of the following questions:

Question 1: Were stealing the tapes and ransacking the lab morally justified?

Question 2: Is animal experimentation morally justified if the Animal Welfare Act is not violated?

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