OHSU ordered to release videos of experiments on monkeys
A state judge on April 20 ordered Oregon Health and Science University to release video of experiments conducted on monkeys in Hillsboro.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, filed suit in Multnomah County Circuit Court to force OHSU to disclose the footage from the Oregon National Primate Research Center, located in in Hillsboro.
In March 2019, PETA filed the lawsuit against OHSU after the research center denied PETA's request to view videos of research on macaque monkeys under Oregon's public records law.
PETA argued that, because taxpayers funded the research, videos researchers made of the experiments should be made public.
Elinor Sullivan, an associate professor at OHSU and a faculty member at the research center, and her colleagues created the videos at issue in the lawsuit using both private and public funds, including grants from the National Institutes of Health.
The videos showed behavioral research into the anxiety and stress responses of 11-month-old Japanese macaques, including experiments called a "novel object test" and a "human intruder test," according to Judge David Rees' order.
Other videos showed behavioral research on young monkeys whose mothers were fed high-fat diets, court records show.
OHSU denied PETA's request for the videos and cited the "Faculty Research Exemption" in Oregon's public records law. OHSU argued that research ideas could be stolen if the videos of unpublished research were released to the public.
"These kinds of videos are highly controversial because they inflict pain and suffering on baby monkeys," said Martina Bernstein, PETA's senior litigation counsel.
Ruling in favor of PETA, Rees ordered OHSU to release 74 videos with limited redactions, in part because OHSU is a public institution and the research was funded through public grants. He added there is a public interest in knowing how OHSU uses its grant funding and whether the experiments are "worthy of public funds."
Rees said although the videos were not published, they were written about in published articles.
OHSU's history of violating regulations regarding animal harm was a factor in Ree's decision, court records show.
OHSU's Primate Research Center has received a dozen violations related to the welfare of its animals since 2017. Several animals at the facility died recently after they became entangled in equipment or trapped behind wall-hung cages. Another died after it was injected with the incorrect amount of insulin, according to PETA's lawsuit.
Rees denied PETA's request for more than 3,000 other videos, however, stating that they were exempt from public records law because no published research or information has been released about them.
"OHSU and other premier biomedical research centers around the world strongly believe that faculty should have the right to perform research — and to keep confidential such research and related research data — at a minimum, until published in peer-reviewed publications," OHSU said in a statement.
Sullivan's research examines the behavior and physiology of non-human primates in a way that would be impossible in a human population, OHSU said.
"Sullivan's findings suggest that factors during early development such as maternal nutrition are at least as important as genetic predisposition in determining the risk of developing neurodevelopmental disorders, such attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as well as the risk of developing mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression," OHSU said. "Sullivan and colleagues believe that these findings provide evidence that mobilizing public resources to provide healthy food and pre- and post-natal care to families of all socioeconomic classes could reduce mental health disorders in future generations."
Bernstein, of PETA, said the ruling showed the judge agreed the public has the right to decide whether such research is worth it.
"OHSU was happy to take millions of tax dollars to impregnate monkeys, feed them 'junk food,' and then separate the baby monkeys from their mothers in order to deliberately frighten them — but it fought tooth and nail against releasing the videos of this horror," Bernstein said in a statement.
OHSU has not decided whether it will appeal the ruling, said Tamara Hargens-Bradley, a spokeswoman for OHSU.
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