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Unnecessary Fuss

Cover of the 1984 PETA film based on footage removed from the University of Pennsylvania by the Animal Liberation Front.
Produced by Ingrid Newkirk and Alex Pacheco (PETA)
Running time 26 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Unnecessary Fuss is a film produced by Ingrid Newkirk and Alex Pacheco of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), showing footage shot inside the University of Pennsylvania's Head Injury Clinic in Philadelphia.

The footage was shot in 1983-4 by the researchers themselves as they inflicted brain damage on baboons with a hydraulic device[1] (video). The experiments were conducted as part of a research project into head injuries caused by vehicle and sports accidents. The footage shows the researchers laughing at the baboons as the brain damage is inflicted.[2]

Sixty hours of audio- and video-tape were removed from the laboratory during a raid in May 1984 by the Animal Liberation Front, who handed it over to PETA. It was subsequently edited down to 26 minutes with a voice-over commentary by Newkirk, before being distributed to the media and to Congress. As a result of the publicity, the lab was closed down, the chief veterinarian fired, and the university placed on probation.

The title of the film, Unnecessary Fuss, comes from a statement made to The Globe and Mail by the head of the clinic, neurosurgeon Dr. Thomas Gennarelli, in 1983, before the raid.[3] He declined to describe his research to the newspaper because it had "the potential to stir up all sorts of unnecessary fuss ..."[4]



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Deborah Blum writes that "it is difficult to put into words just how ugly [this] brief movie is."[5] The film shows at least one sedated but not anesthetized baboon with his wrists and ankles tied, strapped to an operating table, his shaved head secured with dental cement inside a helmet. A hydraulic device known as Penn 2 slams the baboon's head from behind, pushing it forward at a 60-degree angle with a force of what the researchers said was up to 1000 g, apparently intended to simulate whiplash. [6][7]

After the injury is sustained, the baboon's head is dislodged from the helmet using a hammer and screwdriver. One sequence shows part of the baboon's ear being torn off along with the helmet. After pulling the baboon's head from the helmet, the researcher is heard to laugh, saying: "It's a boy," then, "Looks like I left a little ear behind."[8]

The footage shows the researchers laughing at injured baboons, performing electrocautery on an apparently conscious baboon, smoking cigarettes and pipes during surgery, and playing loud music as the animals are injured. A researcher is seen holding a seriously injured baboon up to the camera, while others speak to the animal: "Don't be shy now, sir, nothing to be afraid of," followed by laughter, and "He says, 'you're gonna rescue me from this, aren't you? Aren't you?'," followed by more laughter.[8][5]

While one baboon was being injured on the operating table by the hydraulic device, the camera panned to a brain-damaged, drooling monkey strapped into a high chair in a corner of the room, with the words "Cheerleading in the corner, we have B-10. B-10 wishes his counterpart well. As you can see, B-10 is still alive. B-10 is hoping for a good result," followed by laughter. In another sequence, one researcher is heard to say: "You better hope the ... anti-vivisection people don't get a hold of this film." [9]


The university responded that the film was a "caricature" of what had taken place in the laboratory. Shortly after the ALF raid and before PETA had released the footage, Dr. Thomas Langfitt, chief investigator at the Head Injury Clinic and chair of the University of Pennsylvania Hospital's department of neurosurgery, denied there had been abuse in the laboratory, telling the Philadelphia Daily News that the animals had been treated humanely and that "[r]esearchers would never laugh at the apes. We treat the baboons the way we treat human beings."[10]

A subsequent investigation by eighteen veterinarians from the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine, commissioned by the Office for Protection from Research Risks (OPRR), agreed that the PETA film had "grossly overstated" the deficiencies in the Head Injury Clinic, but after a three-day sit-in by animal-rights activists at the National Institutes of Health, and the personal intervention of Margaret Heckler, then Health and Human Services secretary, the government concluded that the "extraordinarily serious violations"[11] seen on the footage were sufficient to justify the clinic's closure.

The violations included that the depth of anesthetic coma was "questionable," that most of the animals were not seen by a veterinarian either before or after surgery, survival surgical techniques were not carried out in the required aseptic manner, that the operating theater was not properly cleaned, and that smoking was allowed in the operating theater despite the presence of oxygen tanks. The OPRR also found deficiencies in many other laboratories operated by the university. The university's chief veterinarian was fired, new training programs were initiated, and the university was placed on probation, with quarterly progress reports to OPRR required.[11][7]



When PETA made its 26-minute film available, the OPRR initially refused to investigate because the film had been edited from 60 hours of videotape. For over a year PETA refused to release the original footage. When they eventually handed over the unedited material, the OPRR discovered that the footage of the brain damage being inflicted involved just one baboon out of the 150 who had received the Penn 2 injuries. The film gave the impression that the brain-damage scenes involved several animals.[12]

The OPRR identified 25 errors in Newkirk's voice-over commentary. One example was where an accidental water spill over a conscious baboon during a surgical procedure was identified, incorrectly, by one of the Head Injury Clinic's researchers, and subsequently by Newkirk, as "perhaps acid."[13][7]

Charles R. McCarthy, director of the OPRR at the time, wrote that "[d]espite the fact that Unnecessary Fuss grossly overstated the deficiencies in the Head Injury Clinic, OPRR found many extraordinarily serious violations of the Guide for Care and Use of Laboratory Animals ... Furthermore, OPRR found deficiencies in the procedures for care of animals in many other laboratories operated under the auspices of the university."[12]

See also


  1. ^ The video footage released by PETA can be viewed at:
  2. ^ Carbone, Larry. What Animals Want: Expertise and Advocacy in Laboratory Animal Welfare Policy. Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 90.
  3. ^ "Neurosurgery chair, Thomas Gennarelli M.D., University of Wisconsin.
  4. ^ Palango, Paul. Globe and Mail, March 6, 1983.
  5. ^ a b Blum, Deborah. Monkey Wars, Oxford University Press, paperback edition 1995, p. 118.
  6. ^ Newkirk, Ingrid. Free the Animals. Lantern Books, 2000, p. 193.
  7. ^ a b c Sideris, Lisa, McCarthy, Charles, & Smith, David H. "Roots of Concern with Nonhuman Animals in Biomedical Ethics", Institute for Laboratory Animal Research Journal, V40(1) 1999.
  8. ^ a b Newkirk, Ingrid. Free the Animals. Lantern Books, 2000, pp. 194-195.
  9. ^ Newkirk, Ingrid. Free the Animals. Lantern Books, 2000, p. 196.
  10. ^ Newkirk, Ingrid. Free the Animals. Lantern Books, 2000.
  11. ^ a b McCarthy, Charles. R. "Reflections on the Organizational Locus of the Office for Protection from Research Risks", The Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Science at Case Western Reserve University, undated, retrieved February 26, 2006.
  12. ^ a b Ethical and Policy Issues in Research Involving Human Participants (Internet Archive copy)
  13. ^ *Newkirk, Ingrid & Pacheco, Alex. Unnecessary Fuss, video, 26 minutes, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. 1984.


Further reading


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