Some people say it's torturous and unproductive to kill animals in the name of medical research, but Sandra Chapman supports the practice. She claims that it saved her life.
Chapman, who suffered two crippling heart attacks before she was given a new heart, is a member of a group formed to battle animal rights activists: "Incurably Ill for Animal Research."
"If they put a stop to animal research, where will we be? They're not going to find a cure for AIDS. Cancer research will come screeching to a halt," the 42-year-old Lakewood mother said.
Research on Heart Implants
"If it wasn't for animal research, I wouldn't be here today. Doctors had given me a year to live without a transplant," said Chapman, noting that heart transplants had been performed on dogs long before they were performed on people.
Recently, Chapman joined a young mother whose infant barely survived a bout of botulism and a multiple sclerosis victim who regained control of his bladder with drugs first tested on animals in announcing the formation of an IIFAR chapter in Los Angeles.
The group has 2,000 members across the United States who support the continued use of animals in medical research, said IIFAR national President Rick Simpson.
"The incurably ill are in this for selfish reasons, but we believe we are fighting for the rest of humanity," Simpson said.
Javier Burgos, head of an anti-vivisectionist group that believes experiments on animals are wasteful and useless, denounced Simpson's group as "a front for the biomedical research industry."
"The meager advances that we have made have nothing to do with medicine, but with improvements in nutrition, hygiene, sanitation and life styles," said Burgos, head of Students United Protesting Research Experiments on Sentient Subjects, or SUPRESS.
"Human medicine is not the same as veterinary medicine. You cannot study human anatomy and physiology by looking at a four-legged animal," Burgos said.
Simpson describes IIFAR as a grass-roots organization without financial links to researchers. A multiple sclerosis victim, he formed the group in 1985 after participating in a University of Arizona Medical Center study of the experimental drug cyclosporine.
"The first thing I asked was, 'Has (cyclosporine) been tested on animals?' Of course it had," said Simpson in a telephone interview from Arivaca, Ariz.
"I went ahead and entered the program. My vision straightened up. I regained control of my bladder within three days and now I can walk with the aid of a cane.
"I don't walk very well, but I walk. I don't wear a diaper anymore. This animal research has made my life worth living," said Simpson, 49.
Then Simpson saw a group of animal rights activists picketing and chaining themselves to the doors of the medical center, attempting to halt experiments on animals.
"I was incensed. Their wishes are just contrary to human needs," Simpson said. "Their philosophy sure doesn't belong around us who are incurably ill."
Fervent anti-vivisectionists have broken into research facilities, set research animals free and deliberately vandalized experiments in their quest to abolish animal experimentation.
Simpson estimates that 35 cents of every dollar donated for medical research goes to pay for security and repairing the costs of such attacks.
"The money that should be going for research is going to security or for millions of dollars of repairs because of senseless vandalism," he said.
Burgos, 42, rejects the label of animals rights activist. "It trivializes the whole matter. It shifts the attention from a health issue to the never-never land of morality."
Spending money to experiment on animals is like throwing resources into a bottomless pit, Burgos said. Researchers should concentrate on studying preventive medicine rather than more intrusive and costly forms of medical intervention, he said.
"All the billions of dollars and the billions of animals used in research have not cured these people," said Burgos, pointing to IIFAR's board of directors, all of whom are incurably ill.
Simpson, however, says animal research has been an integral part of developing antibiotics and treatments for polio, diabetes, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, arthritis and burns.
While admitting some research causes great pain to animals, Simpson said strict standards protect most animals from needless misery--a point anti-vivisectionists disagree with.
But to IIFAR members who suffer the pain of illness or watch loved ones struggle to overcome disease, their agony dwarfs all.
Tracy Cunningham, 22, of Irvine joined IIFAR after her 14-month son Frazier almost died from infantile botulism, a rare disease she said struck 40 California children last year.
"I was so grateful that they had a cure for what he caught. That was due to the testing of mice," Cunningham said. "I have no doubts that the research that was done helped to save his life."