While I have the greatest respect for Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis Sullivan, I was disappointed by his wholesale condemnation of the animal rights movement {"Sullivan Assails Animal Rights Movement," news story, June 8}. Indeed, his unqualified remarks make it sound as if he had not given the matter any serious thought. No one who has struggled with ethical issues concerning animal welfare -- who has become acquainted with the strongest arguments on both sides and reflected on the issues carefully -- can in good faith deny that there is some point to what animal rights activists are saying.

Current physiological and behavioral evidence, as well as evolutionary arguments, establish the thesis that vertebrate animals can suffer. We have become conscientious enough as people not to discount entirely the moral importance of that suffering. That at least establishes a substantial burden of proof for any research protocol that involves significant animal suffering. The truth is, much research conducted today with government funding fails to meet that burden of proof.

Because animals cannot speak for themselves, certain individuals (many radical and, yes, destructive; many moderate) have taken it upon themselves to speak for them. The animal rights (or animal welfare) movement is an extremely broad and diverse social current. In light of its diversity it should not be uncritically associated with lab-smashers and dismissed; it should be thought about open-mindedly and discussed.

DAVID DEGRAZIA Washington

Secretary Louis W. Sullivan called those who protest the way animals are used in research "terrorists," while stating that without animal research, "a cure for polio would not have been found."

As a law-abiding citizen, I resent being labeled a terrorist. As a physician, I also know that there is no cure for polio, only a vaccine.

Animal research has actually impeded the search for a cure to polio. According to Dr. Albert Sabin, father of the oral polio vaccine, "the problem with paralytic polio could be dealt with only by preventing the irreversible destruction of the large number of motor nerve cells, and the work on prevention was delayed by an erroneous conception of the nature of the human disease based on misleading experimental models of the disease in monkeys" (hearing before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, April 26, 1984).

Our nation's chief health care professional should be promoting quality and humane biomedical research, not slandering those who speak out against the waste of tax dollars and abuse of animals in medical research. KENNETH P. STOLLER, M.D. Los Angeles Director, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine South Pasadena, Calif.

According to Secretary Louis Sullivan, the animal-rights movement is wrong to disrupt medical research because "lives hang in the balance." Then why has he bowed to anti-abortion zealots by banning federal research on fetal tissue transplants?

Preliminary research on fetal tissue transplants finds that they could be critical in treating certain diseases, including Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, diabetes and Huntington's -- diseases in which lives also hang in the balance. But in the name of "pro-life," the administration has been undermining this life-saving medical research.

Secretary Sullivan seems deeply concerned about ideological interference with scientific research. If so, he should first take on the anti-abortion ideologues within the administration who are standing in the way of a key medical advance.

LEONARD STEINHORN Washington