Supreme Court to hear appeal on behalf of research monkeys

November 27, 1990|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Animal-rights activists got new hope yesterday that the Supreme Court may help them in a yearslong effort to protect the "Silver Spring monkeys" -- animals used in government-funded research that left them maimed.

The monkeys -- 17 at the beginning, now down to nine after the others died or were put to death in a further experiment -- have been at the center of a continuing controversy between sympathizers and the government's National Institutes of Health, based in Bethesda.

In a brief order yesterday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal in which the monkeys' legal defenders are seeking to keep intact a lawsuit aimed at gaining custody of four of the monkeys to assure they are kept alive.

A lower federal court dismissed the case last March.

The original experiments on the macaque monkeys were performed, under an NIH grant, at the Institute of Behavioral Research in Silver Spring. The monkeys had nerves in their limbs severed to test whether they subsequently could learn to use the maimed limbs.

The monkeys ultimately were put in NIH's custody until being transferred either to a branch of Tulane University in New Orleans or to the San Diego Zoo.

Animal-rights sympathizers sued NIH and others involved with the monkeys' fate in a Louisiana court after NIH announced plans to have most of the the remaining monkeys euthanized so that autopsies could be conducted to test the results of the earlier experiment.

However, NIH had that case shifted to federal court, where it was ordered dismissed.

The Supreme Court said yesterday it would decide whether NIH had any right to shift the case away from state court. If not, then the case would return to the Louisiana court, which had ruled previously that the monkeys should not be put to death.

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