In the past quarter-century, the public in Britain has become increasingly concerned about eliminating the need to use animals in laboratory experiments. One who did much to help bring about that change was Dorothy Hegarty, the co-founder of Frame (the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments).
In the 1960s, then a housewife living in Wimbledon, south London, Hegarty recognised that the bitter conflict between those who accepted and those who totally opposed the use of laboratory animals was not advancing either cause, and that the way forward must lie in the replacement of animals by scientifically valid alternative methods. The fact that, during the past 20 years, the number of scientific procedures carried out on living animals in Britain has been reduced from 5.75 million per year to less than 3 million - and is now decreasing by an average 100,000 procedures per year - is the product of a number of factors, but the agitation started by Dorothy Hegarty has played an important part. Frame today is a leading registered charity, with an international reputation, rightly respected by Government, industry and academia.
Dorothy Roberts was born in Shanghai in 1910, and spent a privileged youth enjoying the social round of the British colony. She admitted to a childhood of indulgence and being accustomed to having her own way. She married Jack Hegarty, a representative of Pinchin Johnson Associates in 1934, and in 1937 the whole family moved to Hong Kong, to escape the Japanese invasion and inevitable internment. The following year the Hegartys came to England and set up home in Wimbledon, raising two sons.
When the boys left home, Dorothy had time on her hands. A vegetarian and devoted lover of animals, she became increasingly upset at the thought of animal experimentation and factory farming, which she saw as related. A woman of great determination and singlemindedness, she found the arguments of the anti-vivisection societies too simplistic and unlikely to achieve their purpose, so she initiated her own campaign to encourage the replacement of laboratory animals with the alternative non-animal methods, including tissue culture and computer simulation studies.
In 1959, Frame was founded as a registered charity, with Dorothy Hegarty, her son Terry, a scientist, Diana Gardner, a writer, and Charles Foister, as founder trustees. The acquisition of Foister as a trustee was invaluable. He had recently retired from the Scottish Office, where he had been Director of Agricultural Scientific Services.
The initial years were spent in drumming up support, writing to influential people in government, Parliament, industry and the Church. A regular bulletin of abstracts from scientific journals was also published. An office was rented in Raynes Park and a staff, headed by a scientist, installed. Through Dorothy Hegarty's drive, progress was made, although life at Raynes Park was not always calm. Woe betide any staff member who made an error. Letters were often re-drafted a dozen times, so the turnover of secretaries was well above average.
In 1979, Dorothy and Jack Hegarty retired and Michael Balls, of Nottingham University, became chairman of the trustees, moving the Frame headquarters to Nottingham and instituting the Frame Alternatives Laboratory at the Queen's Medical Centre, at Nottingham.