Last month, PETA called attention to KU Med's track record with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates animal research. Between August 2008 and June 2009, the agency cited KU Med for more than 160 violations of federal animal protections laws. PETA blasted the institution for subjecting monkeys to painful surgeries and allowing them to suffer "extreme weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, and neurological disorders that caused them to tremble constantly and lose control of their hands."
Activists from Bite Club of KC already had KU Med in their crosshairs. In October, they held a sidewalk protest outside the institution during National Primate Liberation Week. With the revelation about the USDA violations, they're protesting again. But this time, they want to get inside, too.
The October protest set off an e-mail dialogue between animal rights activists and a KUMC official. On November 3, Ricky Setticase, a Gardner resident and Bite Club activist, fired off a letter to Marcia Nielsen, KU Med's vice chancellor for public affairs. He described research at KU Med as the "enslavement of sentient monkeys" and "torture porn."
Nielsen wasn't amused with Setticase's metaphors and took issue with the protestors' allegations. "They promoted false, misleading and inflammatory statements," Nielsen wrote back to Setticase. "They impugned the integrity of our researchers, who we know to be trained professionals committed to finding cures and discovering medical treatments that relieve suffering."
Setticase wasn't satisfied. He wants proof. "Can Bite Club, on behalf of the animals, witness this valuable research in action?" he asked Nielsen. "Will KU Medical open its doors to dispell [sic] the so called myths promoted by animal activists?
"We received your request for access to the University of Kansas Medical Center animal facilities," Nielsen responded curtly. "We are unable to fulfill your request since Kansas statute and KUMC policy prohibits unauthorized personnel from entering animal facilities."
A month later, Jason Miller, founder of Bite Club of KC, got after Nielsen. He asked for access to the labs and was denied. He railed against the "empathy-deficient, malevolent researchers" and promised further protests. "I wanted to remind you that while Bite Club and our members engage in aggressive activism, we act in above-ground and legal ways," he wrote to Nielsen earlier this week. "However, some of those in the animal rights movement, whom we don't know nor know how to contact, aren't so patient or nonviolent. While I have no knowledge of their identities, whereabouts, plans, or activities, I would be quite surprised if the militant direct activists of our movement didn't have KU Med on their radar screen."
Miller and Bite Club will take their "above-ground" protest to KU Med tomorrow, demonstrating at the corner of 39th Street and State Line Road at 2 p.m. Nielsen told me yesterday that KU Med respects the activists' right to rally: "But we remain committed to developing cures and treatments for disease and are greatly appreciative of the role animal research plays in that process."