How can a man who is not a sadist spend his working day heating an unanesthetized dog to death, or driving a monkey into lifelong depression, and then remove his white coat, wash his hands and go home to dinner with his wife and children?
– Peter Singer, PhD, 'Animal Liberation' (1975)
In 1970, the national debate continued to grow as to whether land, water, and animals are simply resources to be exploited for profit or whether they have intrinsic value. The debate resulted in landmark legislation for the animals when Congress passed the Endangered Species Act in 1971 and the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1973. At the same time, a dramatic change took place in the arguments and tactics of animal protection groups. Activists who had fought for women’s rights and civil rights in the 1960s were now ready to broaden their concept of who was deserving of "rights" to include animals. New animal protection groups burgeoned across the country, fueled by environmental ethics, the concept of "animal rights," non-Western medicine, and new technology. Many in the movement attributed their commitment to animal rights to Australian philosopher Peter Singer’s landmark book, Animal Liberation (1975), in which he describes in graphic detail the suffering of animals in medical research and on factory farms. But as the animal rights groups grew, so did their opposition. In 1979, the National Association of Biomedical Research (NABR) formed in Washington, D. C., to combat the growing animal rights movement.
Marching on Boston Common
The 1970s were a time of transition and turmoil for the Society. Lawyer John O’Neil became president in 1971 and wrote in Reverence for Life: "In assuming the office [of president] last January, I felt more emphasis should be placed upon a positive approach to our cause and that we could attract more members and persuade the general public to be more responsive to our message if we stressed the love we bear toward animals, especially our pets...Your officers and board agree with what is being done." There was widespread dissatisfaction with this announcement and many accused O’Neil of attempting to turn the organization into a humane society. Members and nonmembers picketed the Society’s annual meetings at the Copley Plaza Hotel, expressing their dissatisfaction with President O’Neil for ignoring the vivisection issues. In the spirit of the founding fathers’ ideals, they criticized board members for wearing fur coats and not serving vegetarian fare.
Although President O’Neil maintained the Society was "primarily an educational organization," it did give support to other organizations that were attempting significant changes for animals. In 1971, President O’Neil attended a conference in Switzerland sponsored by the newly formed International Association Against Painful Experiments in Animals (IAAPEA) at which non-animal methods for research such as tissue, cell, and organ cultures were highlighted. In 1979, he urged members to support the Research Modernization Act then before Congress. Under this bill, spearheaded by the United Action for Animals and its founder, Eleanor Seiling, a National Center for Alternative Research would be established within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to promote the use of alternatives to animals in research and to train scientists in non-animal testing methods.
In 1980, the Society joined activist Henry Spira’s "Coalition to Stop the Draize Rabbit Blinding Test." The Draize test routinely used by industry and cosmetic companies caused terrible pain and suffering in rabbits by forcing substances such as mascara, oven cleaner, household detergent, and other poisons into their eyes to determine levels of toxicity.
That same year, hard-hitting advertisements such as "How many rabbits does Revlon blind for beauty’s sake?" appeared in the New York Times and virtually every major newspaper in New England. After receiving tens of thousands of letters from customers complaining about these painful animal experiments, corporations such as Revlon began funding research for non-animal alternatives and government regulatory agencies made their first steps toward reforming required outdated animal tests. As a result, by the end of the decade Revlon and 500 other cosmetic and commercial companies were producing "cruelty-free" products "not tested on animals."
After John O’Neil’s death in 1981, Judge Robert Ford became president and worked closely with an educated and committed group of animal-rights activists eager to energize the Society with new anti-vivisection programs and the rhetoric and tactics of the "rights" movements: protest marches, demonstrations, and boycotts. In 1983, with the help of thousands of animal activists across the state, the Society spearheaded a campaign to repeal the 1957 pound seizure law in Massachusetts. The successful campaign resulted in one of the strongest anti-pound seizure laws in the United States and protected thousands of lost and abandoned dogs and cats each year from being used in painful experiments by the medical establishment.
In 1983, NEAVS celebrated winning a victory against pound seizure
For the first time in its history the Society funded a search for alternatives to animal experiments in an attempt to prove it was not "anti-research" but only "anti-vivisection." It awarded Tufts University Medical School a grant to search for an alternative to the painful and unscientific Draize test. Along with the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) and the American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS), the Society funded a three-year project to find an alternative to the painful and outdated LD50 test that force-fed pesticides, chemicals, and household detergents to animals in an attempt to determine levels of toxicity.
To reach the next generation the Society expanded its educational outreach by creating programs highlighting animal and environmental issues for students in both public and private schools. And in 1982, nationally known activists Henry Spira and Cleveland Amory became board members.
NEAVS (the acronym the Society now used), along with the American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS) and the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS), published three important books in the 1980s documenting some of the most barbaric and useless animal experiments: Maternal Deprivation Studies in Psychology, A Critique of Animal Experiments in Cocaine Abuse, and Alcoholic Rats. To educate the public about these issues, these books were distributed to three thousand colleges and libraries throughout the country, as was Margaret Tuttle’s powerful novel, The Crimson Cage, which poignantly portrayed the use of stolen pets in medical experiments.
Upon the resignation of Judge Ford in 1987, Cleveland Amory, a Boston native and America’s best-known animal protection advocate, became president of NEAVS. Amory had already formed his own dynamic organization in 1967, the Fund for Animals, and was admired internationally as an author, social critic, and humanitarian.
During Amory’s years as president NEAVS established one of the most successful education programs in the country. The "Living Earth Learning Project," with animal protection and environmental programs, reached 20,000 public and private school students each year, promoted "animal rights" organizations on college campuses, and educated a new generation of teachers at its workshops and conferences. To counter the success of the "Living Earth Learning Project," the Massachusetts Society for Medical Research sent its own teachers into the schools. In 1992 the Wall Street Journal reported that the battle was on for the "hearts and minds of the nation’s students."
On the legislative level NEAVS fought for passage of a "choice" policy which would guarantee all students in private and public schools in Massachusetts an alternative to dissecting animals in science classes, since the computer and other new technologies made the use of live or preserved animals unnecessary. By 1993, five states had passed such a law. To educate teachers NEAVS established a scientific affiliate, the "Ethical Science Education Coalition" (ESEC), published Beyond Dissection, a compendium of more than 400 non-animal research methods distributed to teachers and promoted at science conferences.
Because the search for alternatives to animal experimentation was critical, NEAVS and the American Fund for Alternatives to Animals in Research (AFAAR), founded in 1977 by Ethel Thurston, PhD, cosponsored a project to validate more than 200 non-animal tests. Under the direction of Bjorn Ekwall, MD, PhD, the project, an international Multicenter Evaluation of In Vitro Cytotoxicity (MEIC), was conducted by the Cytotoxicology Laboratory in Uppsala, Sweden.
Through public outreach, NEAVS brought the anti-vivisection message to more than half a million public library patrons throughout Massachusetts by creating library exhibits on themes such as "Preventive Medicine" and "Animal Liberation," and by starting a speakers’ bureau and video lending library. In another innovative move NEAVS funded local grassroots organizations throughout the country, recognizing those closest to problems could find the best solutions.
Approaching the 1995 Centennial, dramatic advanced technologies such as computer modeling and in vitro cell and tissue culture research came of age and led to major advances in many areas of medicine, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, helping to prove animal tests were outdated and costly in terms of both animal lives and taxpayer dollars. By 1980 it was estimated a staggering 60 to 100 million animals were used in experiments each year, for which taxpayers were paying $4 to $5 billion annually.
During the 1980s and 1990s, a dramatic change also took place in animal advocacy. Medical, legal, and other animal protection advocates formed new groups to oppose the wastefulness and irrelevance of animal experiments. Among these were the Medical Research Modernization Committee (MRMC), Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PSYETA), the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights (AVAR), Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), and the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF). The establishing of these organizations helped dispel the notion endured by the Society throughout its history that only "irrational, ignorant sentimentalists and fanatics" supported anti-vivisection.
Physician Marjorie Cramer, a member of the Medical Research Modernization Committee and later vice president of NEAVS (1998-2000) and member of its Advisory Board, wrote: "It is unconscionable to use millions of animals in painful experiments when effective preventive measures can often be used instead. Physicians today must respect nonhuman as well as human lives." She cited as an example the world-famous Framingham Heart Study which linked heart disease to "lifestyle" risk factors such as cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, and high levels of blood cholesterol. The study, she emphasized, had not used animals but had been completed by observing segments of the population of Framingham, Massachusetts, for three generations.
Strengthening the "prevention" argument, Dr. John Bailar, former chief administrator of the federal government’s "War on Cancer," announced in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1986 that the "war," which had cost the American taxpayer $20 billion and millions of animal lives since 1971, had been a "qualified failure" and that emphasis in the future should be on prevention.
NEAVS' founders, far ahead of their time, knew almost a century ago that both prevention and a healthy environment promote good health. Part of their difficulty in winning over the public had been beyond their control. For almost a century the public had accepted the biomedical community’s position that cures for diseases could only be found by experimenting on animals and that medical progress would come to a halt without these experiments.
In 1993, the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine published a study showing that one in three Americans used alternative (or complementary) therapies such as chiropractic, homeopathy, acupuncture, and mind/body techniques for serious medical illness, claiming that alternative therapies were more effective, less expensive, free of drugs or surgery, and nontoxic. Earlier in the century Harvard’s Dr. Walter Cannon called doctors who practiced these alternative forms of healing one of the three "greatest enemies of society"
For almost a century medical science had been dominated by the reductionist view of life that attempts to understand the whole organism by analyzing only parts. The mind/body revolution had taken almost a century to achieve, but it vindicated the Society’s long held belief that holistic therapies and a healthy environment, not animal experiments, promote good health.
Activists in the 1990s knew NEAVS' founding fathers were just as committed to ending vivisection they were, but understood they had better tools and techniques in better times. Technology, better knowledge of prevention strategies, non-Western methods of healing, scientific alternatives to animal tests, population studies, and environmental ethics had all strengthened the Society’s arguments to win over the public, as blind faith in and uncritical support of medical science began to wane.