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Animal rights group PETA alleges free speech violations over destruction of drunken prairie vole videos

PHOTO COURTESY OF OHSU - An aerial view of OHSUs South Waterfront campus. The research university hospital is involved in an ongoing lawsuit with animal activism group PETA over research experiment records.An animal rights and welfare group is widening its lawsuit against Oregon Health & Science University over claims the research hospital performed tests on prairie voles and then destroyed evidence of the tests to avoid scrutiny.

A legal complaint filed in April by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals alleging violations of Oregon's public records laws was expanded in October to include free speech violations.

PETA alleges video evidence showing alcohol experiments on prairie voles—small mammals resembling mice—was intentionally destroyed by OHSU to avoid the videos "falling into the wrong hands."

The organization obtained internal emails from OHSU during the discovery process of the litigation that revealed experimenters deleted videos showing 150 drunken prairie voles given alcohol during a study of male fidelity. OHSU then misled the animal rights group about whether the videos existed, the lawsuit claims. PETA says OHSU intentionally destroyed evidence to avoid the animal rights group, or anyone else who disagrees with OHSU's animal testing, from being able to legally request it via Oregon's public records laws. Doing so was a violation of the First Amendment, the lawsuit argues.

Courts in the past have deemed OHSU is a public body and must follow state public records laws.

"At its core, the First Amendment forbids public entities such as OHSU from restricting speech in ways that favor some viewpoints over others," said Kathy Guillermo, senior vice president of PETA. "OHSU cannot pick and choose who gets access to its public records based on whether it agrees with the opinion of the requester."

OHSU declined to comment on the litigation, but said the healthcare organization is "committed to humane, respectful treatment and the best possible veterinary care for every animal at the university."

"Animal research at OHSU and other world-class universities and institutions around the world has led to countless life-saving medical discoveries, including: vaccines for polio, smallpox, mumps and measles; a vaccine platform for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and West Nile virus; new treatments for infertility, heart disease and diabetes; breakthroughs in Parkinson's disease, blindness, stroke and depression," Tamara Hargens-Bradley, a communications director for OHSU, stated. Hargens-Bradley added that "any serious issues or incidents involving research animals are immediately and proactively reported to OHSU's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, Office of Labratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) and the USDA, and appropriate measures are taken to ensure they don't recur."

The lawsuit comes after a court ordered OHSU to release 74 videos of junk food experiments on monkeys, after a request for the records was denied to PETA. In August, OHSU reported two monkeys died at its primate research center when a lab employee loaded large cages into a washing machine and started it, without noticing two primates still inside. The fatalities were called a "tragic accident" by the research university hospital.

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that "animals are not ours to experiment on"—opposes speciesism, which is the human-supremacist worldview that other animals are inferior, making it acceptable to exploit them.

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