PETA Planning to Target March of Dimes in April and May

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent out a letter in early February seeking to find activists willing to participate in a walk to protest the March of Dimes WalkAmerica. According to its press release,

We need you to help us convince the March of Dimes to stop funding cruel, worthless experiments on animals. . .

. . .

The March of Dimes relies on donations from individuals who are unaware that their contributions are being used to torture animals instead of helping babies. Their single largest fundraiser is WalkAmerica, walk-a-thons held in major U.S. city throughout April and May.

Your presence at the WalkAmerica event in your area is vital to educating the March of Dimes supporters about the charity’s choices when it comes to what to fund. It is critical that caring activists encourage WalkAmerica participants to designate their contributions to be used for only the best tests, i.e. for non-animal projects, like a Birth Defects Registry that could save countless babies’ lives.

I hate to break it to PETA, but a birth defects registry is not a “test.” All states currently have birth defect registries, though some of them are substandard and the March of Dimes has done excellent legislative work on improving the quality of the data they produce.

The PETA letter, by the way, was posted to AR-NEWS by Friends of Animals activist Phyllis Bedford who is organizing a protest March for Centennial Park. Bedford is recruiting for people because, “Some of us can’t go to Centennial Park due to a past CD.”


Letter. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, February 2003.

In Defense of Animals Activist Sues March of Dimes

The San Francisco Examiner reported this week that Alfred Kuba, who runs a chapter of In Defense of Animals, has filed a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court against the March of Dimes.

The lawsuit claims that March of Dimes’ “Be a Hero” “campaign is unfair, fraudulent and misleading in that it does not advise potential supporters that they will be supporting invasive animal research.”

According to Kuba, “They’ve [March of Dimes] been doing it [animal research] for decades, and it’s a money-maker for them. They’re not concerned about the health of the babies, they are worried about the cash.”

Of course the reality is that animal research funded by the March of Dimes has been instrumental in advancing the health of children and infants around the world.


Lawsuit rips into March of Dimes. Dan Evans, The San Francisco Examiner, April 8, 2002.

Lies, Damned Lies, and PCRM Claims

Steve Milloy wrote an excellent opinion piece for Fox News today (Animal Rights, Research Wrongs) attacking People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other animal rights groups. One of the groups Milloy defends is the March of Dimes. Since animal rights groups claim animal research into birth defects has done nothing but waste money, lets take a look at the lies of an animal rights group, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and compare it to the reality of what the research community has accomplished.

Milloy notes that the March of Dimes 2001 National Ambassador is a six year old boy who is alive today because of lung surfactant therapy. Lung surfactant therapy was developed thanks to animal research that the March of Dimes helped sponsor. Briefly, when you breathe your lungs contract. Lung surfactant is the substance that makes them expand again. Many infants born prematurely do not produce enough lung surfactant, and as a result their lungs tend to collapse which leads to increased mortality.

PCRM has a different take on the role of animal research and the March of Dimes in finding an effective treatment for lung surfactant deficiency. On the CharitiesInfo.Org web site, PCRM claims,

8. Did surfactant therapy for premature infants depend on animal experiments as the March of Dimes claims?

No. Surfactant is a natural compound that allows the lungs to operate normally. It was discovered in experiments using animal and human lung specimens in the late 1950s. Although some animal lung specimens were used, human lung specimens could have been used alone. Three years after its discovery, researchers demonstrated that premature infants have no surfactant in their lungs, but that the substance is present in the lungs of more mature infants, children, and adults. Within a few years, trials had begun administering this substance to infants with lung problems. Human studies continue today to improve surfactant therapy for infants.

As with most animal rights lies there is a grain of truth to this account, but if human studies were all that was needed to create lung surfactant therapy, it is a bit odd that the most effective such therapy is made from the lungs of calves. Here’s the reality.

In the mid-1950s a Boston-area physiologist, John Clements, discovered lung surfactant. He soon figured out that the substance’s function was to prevent lung collapse. A few years later in 1959, Mary Ellen Avery, a Boston-area pediatrician, discovered that premature infants born with a disorder called Hyaline Membrane Disease lacked lung surfactant which was the reason their lungs were collapsing.

Now if you take the PCRM account at face value, that settles it. Lung surfactant was discovered, and researchers knew that surfactant deficiency was the major cause of lung collapse in premature infants. So it was just a simple matter of developing a treatment and applying it to babies, right? Not by a long shot.

PCRM notes that “within a few years, trials had begun administering this substance to infants with lung problems” (emphasis added). What they forget to tell the reader is that a surfactant treatment wasn’t actually approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration until 1989(!) Finding a way to treat surfactant deficiency wasn’t quite as easy as PCRM pretends it was.

The first major treatment available was due to extensive research in sheep, not human beings. Researchers in New Zealand and the United States demonstrated that giving pregnant sheep steroids increased the rate at which fetal lungs developed, which in turn led to the development of surfactant in the lungs more quickly. Clinical trials in humans bore out the usefulness of delaying premature labor 24-48 hours and administering steroids to promote lung growth.

The introduction of ventilators in the early 1970s specifically designed to prevent lung collapse was also an important boon for the survival rates of premature infants.

Research into finding a safe, reliable surfactant replacement therapy continued through the 1970s and 1980s, much of it highly dependent on animal research. In fact when the U.S. FDA finally approved two surfactant replacement therapies, animal byproducts were the major component of one of the therapies. The natural surfactant replacement therapy is most commonly made from the extracts of calf lungs, though pig lungs and human lungs are occasionally used as a source as well. There is a synthetic surfactant available, but studies in both human beings and animals have tended to indicate that it is not as effective as that derived from bovine sources. On reason offered by the differing efficacy is the presence of proteins in the natural surfactant replacement which are absent in the synthetic replacement.

Far from animal studies being irrelevant, they played a fundamental role in developing a viable surfactant replacement therapy. So PCRM, take a deep breath and relax. Thanks to animal research, premature infants can have the same luxury.


Why animal experiments fail in birth defects research. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, undated.

Surfactant Replacement Therapy. Victor Chernick, Canadians for Health Research.

Hyaline membrane disease. Discovery.Com.

New Studies Of A Liquid Of Life — Lung Surfactant. Science Daily, August 23, 1999.

Natural surfactant extract versus synthetic surfactant for neonatal respiratory distress syndrome. Roger F. Soll, National Institutes of Health, February 1999.

Animal Rights, Research Wrongs. Steve Milloy, Fox News, June 29, 2001.

PETA to Protest March of Dimes With Dolls and Bloody Dimes

Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals maintains that animal research has played no role in understanding or treating birth defects, and the group regularly protests the March of Dimes.

PETA recently announced a protest against the March of Dimes. Here’s how PETA described its actions in a June 20 press release,

Armed with bloody dimes and a clothesline of stuffed “babies” to show how the March of Dimes “hangs babies out to dry while animals die,” PETA members will protest outside the charity’s regional office to let potential donors know that it funds cruel animal experiments…

For the moment, PETA has a Flash image on its March of Crimes web site showing something similar to what they’re planning.


PETA Gives March Of Dimes Its 2 Cents’ Worth. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Press Release, June 20, 2001.

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine mobilizes against March of Dimes

Sometime this year,
the March of Dimes’ Walk America event will reach an incredible milestone
— it will have raised over $1 billion since its inception in 1970. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine could not pass up this opportunity and
is seeking activists to leaflet at upcoming Walk America events to “shine
a spotlight on the dark side of the March of Dimes” (has Neal Barnard
seen Star Wars once too often?)

According to PCRM,
not only has March of Dimes-funded research produced no progress in preventing
birth defects, but in fact the charity has intentionally ignored the
best solutions to solving birth defects (which, of course, do not require
using animals).

This is just the
sort of ridiculous distortion that led the American Medical Association to condemn PCRM in 1991 for “misrepresenting the critical role animals play in research.” Apparently Barnard and company still haven’t figured
it out.


PCRM needs volunteers. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Press Release, January 1999.

March of Dimes celebrates 60th anniversary

One of the groups which Linda and Paul McCartney and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protested and attacked, the March of Dimes, celebrated its 60th
anniversary in April. Started in 1938 as the National Foundation for Infantile
Paralysis, the March of Dimes led the effort to find a cure for polio.
The group’s efforts culminated with Dr. Jonas Salk’s discovery of a vaccine
for the crippling disease in 1955. With the conquering of polio in the
United States, the March of Dimes turned its focus to the prevention of
birth defects.

As part of that effort, the March
of Dimes sponsors animal research into birth defects and regularly recognizes
outstanding researchers who contribute to humanity’s understanding of
their cause and prevention.

Every year, for example, the March
of Dimes gives a $100,000 Developmental Biology prize to scientists
who advance understanding of embryo development. In 1997 Walter J. Gehring,
Ph.D., professor at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel, Switzerland,
and David S. Hogness, Ph.D., Munzer Professor of Developmental Biology
and Biochemistry at Stanford University School of Medicine, California,
won the prize for their discovery of homeobox genes. Homeobox genes are
the so-called “master architect genes” that regulate and control
fetal development.

Hogness discovered the genes in
1979 and Gehring later isolated the DNA segments of the genes, which exist
in almost identical forms throughout the animal kingdom.

As Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president
of the March of Dimes puts it, “The basic research by Dr. Gehring
and Dr. Hogness provides insight into how living creatures develop and
how development can sometimes go awry. It gives us hope that some day
we may be able to prevent or treat many disabling and fatal disorders.”

Numerous scientists around the
world are now conducting experiments on animals to see how such genes
control specific parts of development, and recently Gehring reported the
isolation of what is believed to be the gene which controls development
of the eye. This is the sort of important knowledge that animal rights
activists would have us forego.


Sue Ann Wood
“March of Dimes celebrates 60th anniversary” St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Scripps Howard
April 22, 1998

“March of Dimes Prize in developmental biology
awarded to two scientists who revealed mystery of how living things are built” March of Dimes, Press Release, April 1998.