Justices send back to La. rights case on monkey custody

May 21, 1991|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The 10-year effort by animal rights groups to save the "Silver Spring monkeys" gained new time and opportunity from the Supreme Court yesterday.

In an 8-0 ruling, the justices ordered federal courts to send back to a Louisiana court the case in which animal welfare organizations are seeking custody of the two remaining macaque monkeys still being held for federally financed medical research.

That case had been transferred to federal court, which then threw it out. But the Supreme Court said that the National Institutes of Health, which now has formal custody of two of the monkeys at Tulane University in Louisiana, had no legal right to move the case out of state court.

The decision means that a state court is now free to consider pleas, based only on Louisiana law, that the two monkeys should be handed over for care to the animal welfare groups, which have been seeking them since 1981.

Originally, there were 17 macaque monkeys being used for NIH-financed research at a Silver Spring laboratory, the Institutes for Behavior Resources. That lab was studying how monkeys learned to use their limbs after key nerves had been severed -- a project designed to provide data to help humans cope with neurological damage.

State police raided the lab in 1981 after getting complaints of cruelty to the animals. The monkeys were then transferred to NIH custody. Ultimately, five of the monkeys were transferred to the San Diego Zoo, others died or were put to death, and still others were sent to a Tulane University research center in Covington, La.

Since 1981, a total of 10 monkeys in NIH custody have been killed as part of federal research or have died, including two whose destruction the Supreme Court allowed just last month. That has left two monkeys involved in the continuing lawsuit.

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