WASHINGTON — Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret M. Heckler today ordered a halt to a University of Pennsylvania research project on head injuries that animal rights activists say amounts to torture of baboons.
Heckler said in a statement that the action was based on a preliminary report delivered to her this morning by a National Institutes of Health investigative team.
The head of the NIH, Dr. James B. Wyngaarden, said the report "indicates material failure to comply with the Public Health Service policy for the care and use of laboratory animals."
He said the conclusion was reached after government and outside experts viewed more than 60 hours of videotapes of the experiments, tapes the protesters say show repeated cruelty to baboons while deliberately inflicting head wounds.
Heads Flipped Forward
The Animal Liberation Front stole the tapes in May, 1984. They show researchers using a device that flips forward the heads of baboons to simulate head injuries, such as those suffered in automobile accidents.
Heckler did not release the report, and an aide said it will not be released until the university has had a chance to respond.
"In the meantime, until all questions about the use of primates in these head injury experiments have been satisfactorily resolved, I have instructed NIH to suspend the use of federal funds for primate research on head injury at the University of Pennsylvania," she said.
The head-trauma center at Penn has received $1 million in annual NIH grants for the last 12 years.
Wants Research Stopped
Campbell Gardett, an HHS spokesman, said that while the formal action was limited to halting the flow of money, Heckler wants the research stopped until questions are answered.
"It is her desire that during this period of finalizing the investigation, the university should cease this research," he said.
At NIH headquarters in nearby Bethesda, Md., protestors said they would end their sit-in, which began Monday.
"This is a tremendous victory for which we thank Secretary Heckler," said a statement by Alex Pacheo, a protest leader. "It is the first of many steps that must be taken to stop the hideous abuses of feeling animals that go on in federally funded laboratories."