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Medical drama

6 July 2009

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Category: Communications & media

medical–drama.jpgA TV dramatisation of Edwardian antivivisection protest on Sunday night in Casualty 1909 shows there's little new in the public debate over animal research and testing. The debate is well over 100 years old, but only now are there signs that it is becoming less polarised. For instance, the public will no longer accept the patently absurd antivivisection claims that animal research and testing doesn't work.

The Casualty 1909 (international title London Hospital) story mirrors events described in the book Animal Research in Medicine: 100 years of Politics, Protest and Progress. The book covers the bitter battle between the medical profession and antivivisectionists in the early 1900s. One long-running skirmish became known as the Brown Dog Affair, which started with antivivisectionists infiltrating a London hospital demonstration of surgery on a dog, moved through riots on the streets of London, and ended with the erection of a statue to the 'brown dog' in Battersea Park. It continues:

'There was another running battle involving the Battersea General Hospital, also known as the anti vivisection hospital, and funding for all London hospitals and medical schools. The key players were Sydney Holland, founding chairman of RDS (later elevated to the peerage as Lord Knutsford, and chairman until 1932) and Stephen Coleridge, his counterpart at the National Anti Vivisection Society (then called the Victoria Street Society). 

Sydney Holland was also chairman of the London Hospital, where he became known as the 'Prince of Beggars' for his hospital fund-raising efforts. He clashed with Sir Henry Burdett, unsung pioneer of modern hospital management and the main mover behind the foundation of the King's Fund, which was the leading charitable institution for the support of the voluntary hospitals of London before the creation of the National Health Service. Holland thought that Burdett was trying to keep the London Hospital out of the Fund.

A bitter argument developed with Stephen Coleridge, who argued that Fund money should not be used for medical schools which undertook animal research, but solely for relief of the sick. A committee under Sir Edward Fry was set up to examine the issue, and as a result, medical schools attached to London hospitals suffered financially.

Sydney Holland continued to defend medical research in private, in public and later in the House of Lords. For years he fought a bitter battle with Stephen Coleridge, although in private they were good friends respecting each other’s point of view. A flashpoint was the Battersea anti vivisection hospital, which included on its governing body Louise Lind af Hageby, the infiltrator of the UCL laboratories.'

Moving on 100 years, a House of Lords committee is currently scrutinising the revision of the EU Directive on animal research.

* Published by a forerunner of Understanding Animal Research, RDS, to mark its centenary in 2008. Available from Amazon.