In Remembrance: Dr. F. Barbara Orlans

On June 18, our good friend and colleague, Dr. F. Barbara Orlans, passed away. Barbara was a bright, compassionate woman and a steadfast defender of animals. I first met her about thirty years ago, early in my animal protection career. What a pleasure and an honor to have worked with her and learned from her over all of this time.

Barbara held a bachelor of science from Birmingham University (UK) and a master of science and doctorate in physiology from the University of London. She conducted research at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and at the National Institutes of Health, publishing numerous papers in both British and American journals of physiology, pharmacology, and experimental therapeutics. From 1989 until her death, she worked as a senior research fellow and then a research assistant professor at the Georgetown University Kennedy Institute of Ethics.

Barbara sought to alleviate the suffering of animals used for research via numerous avenues. In 1964, she became a member of AWI’s scientific committee. At about the same time, in a letter to the editor published in Science, she supported passage of the federal Laboratory Animal Welfare Act (later renamed the Animal Welfare Act), stating in part, “...Unfortunately, many scientists seem to regard a college degree as a certificate not only of professional standing but of moral integrity, the holder of which is henceforth beholden to no man for his actions. The infliction of pain on animals, like the infliction of pain on humans, involves moral and social standards which cannot be left solely to individual judgment but should, in a civilized society, also be governed by law.”

The reform of science fairs, where abject animal cruelty was rife, was another of Barbara’s goals. In one instance, a young man won a prize after drilling holes, attempting to implant electrodes, and applying skull screws to the heads of 25 squirrel monkeys in his home; in another, a teenager centrifuged mice until they were paralyzed. Still other animal projects involved cancer, thalidomide, LSD and organ transplants. Barbara sought to replace painful animal experiments at the fairs with humane projects that would have equal or greater teaching value.

In 1984, she founded the Scientists Center for Animal Welfare to promote humane treatment of animals used in research from the scientific perspective. She ably served the organization for many years until her untimely unseating by those wishing to pursue a more conservative agenda. She repeatedly spoke at scientific forums, testified on behalf of animals before Congress, and wrote a plethora of books on animal issues including: Animal Care from Protozoa to Small Mammals, In the Name of Science: Issues In Responsible Animal Experimentation, Applied Ethics in Animal Research (with John Gluck and Tony Dipasquale), and The Human Use of Animals: Case Studies in Ethical Choice (with Tom Beauchamp, Rebecca Dresser and David Morton).

It is extremely rare to find a scientist in the US willing to defend the rights of animals used for research purposes. To do so, one has to withstand ridicule and persecution by those seeking to maintain the status quo. Barbara was one of the few, following a moral imperative throughout her life to alleviate inhumane, needless animal suffering.

—Cathy Liss