The University of Washington’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee won the preliminary round in a battle with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which seeks to unmask the anonymous members of the committee’s board.
Although the fight is between PETA and UW’s IACUC, the committee is not suing the animal rights organization; Instead, it sued the university for failing to comply with requests for public records that would reveal the names of its members.
By law, universities that receive federal funding to conduct animal research must have an institutional animal care and use committee. Membership is often confidential, but specific positions – such as committee chairs – can be named publicly.
Now a judge in Washington State has issued a preliminary injunction barring IACUC members from revealing their names. PETA is appealing the decision, arguing that the public has a right to know who is in charge of a facility that says research has a horrific history of animal abuse. PETA also questions whether the IACUC includes members who are inconsistent with the University of Washington as required by law, and hopes that public records will reveal the answer.
PETA has long been at odds with the Washington National Primate Research Center, arguing that the center has failed to protect the animals in its care from unnecessary injury and death. Research against PETA UW is working with reckless neglect of animals and accusing primates of being isolated without food, water or social contact.
PETA’s case recently received a boost when it found a former UW IACUC member as its own: Lisa Jones-Engel, UW’s longtime primatologist and biomedical researcher who has become a senior PETA science adviser. He served at IACUC from 2017 to 2019, an experience that he says changed his outlook and led to his resignation from the UW in 2019.
Jones-Angel complains that IACUC’s voice is out of balance. It consists primarily of institutional employees and members of the outside community who have close ties to animal testing, he said, and those who are moralists or deprived of others may offer alternative perspectives. This imbalance has nurtured a committee that rubber-stamps everything that comes before it and fails to hold the primate center responsible for harming the animals in its care, Jones-Engel said.
“At Washington University you can do whatever you want with any animal,” says Jones-Engel. Inside higher ed.
His experience as an IACUC member eventually led Jones-Engel to leave UW.
“Once you start peeling onions at this primate center, anything can go wrong,” Jones-Engel said. “The way the animals are kept, involuntary transmission, leadership failure, financial collapse, lack of adequate staff and the NIH has even taken drastic steps to limit their funding. Of the other seven primate centers, this is really the poster child for everything that goes wrong when using primates in biomedical research. “
Jones-Engel was referring to the controversy and criticism faced by the Primate Center, including UW, a secret reproductive facility operated in Arizona, which is the subject of an investigation by a National Institutes of Health following reports of widespread disease.
UW researchers countered that most of PETA’s claims were unfounded and that the US Department of Agriculture’s inspection report was publicly available online for anyone to view. UW has described reports of reproductive benefits as “incomplete, unqualified or misleading”.
On its website, UW describes her research as “accelerating the translation of fundamental discoveries in advanced therapy and medical care”. Its work covers a wide spectrum of fields, such as AIDS-related research, reproductive and developmental sciences, and international promotion and conservation, to name just a few. Recent contributions include the development of the GPB510 coronavirus vaccine, which includes vaccinating two adult pigtail macaques as part of a research effort, according to the website.
Jane Sullivan, the current chairman of UW’s IACUC, sued the university in February; As chair, Sullivan is a notable member of the committee.
In the court filing, Sullivan said the IACUC was “currently operating anonymously because of threats of harassment by members of the public who oppose the use of animals in medical research.”
Unmasking the committee would put members at risk, Sullivan argued.
“When we learned that the university would reveal our names, IACUC members told me that they were afraid not only for themselves, but for their family members and pets. I want to do my best to support and protect our dedicated committee members because they do their important work, “Sullivan wrote in response to an emailed question. Inside higher ed.
And the threat is not just from PETA; When the names of the members were revealed, Sullivan was concerned about the warning.
“Kyle Retainhouse, Pizza Gate, January 6th. If we are forced to reveal our names, it will not be in PETA only. Anyone who would publish our name for them, “Sullivan wrote.” People who have just heard of PETA have falsely accused us of torturing animals. “
A judge found Sullivan’s argument credible enough to impose a preliminary injunction barring the release of his name in late April. Now Peta is appealing against that decision. Members of the organization argue that Sullivan’s claims – which include that opponents of animal research have tried to intimidate researchers and kidnap their pets – are not easily substantiated and do not guarantee protection from disclosure.
“We’ve investigated every instance they’ve cited in support of the argument that they’ve been flooded with harassment and intimidation, and what we’ve found is that in each instance, they’ve all been separated by a little bit of scrutiny,” said Asher Smith, director of litigation at PETA. .
The problem, Smith said, is not harassment but accountability for the UW IACUC.
“It simply came to our notice then. There seems to be no real threat or intimidation or harassment that they can point to, “said Smith.
But lawyers representing Sullivan and anonymous IACUC members involved in the case argued that the court had clearly considered the threat of harassment to be real.
“In issuing the initial injunction, the U.S. District Court found that IACUC members indicated that they could be harassed if their names were disclosed, and that they may have First Amendment protection against disclosure under the Washington Public Records Act,” said Darwin Roberts, Sullivan and IAC. Attorney for other anonymous plaintiffs in “We hope the court will permanently bar this disclosure and that this case will help protect anyone who has been subjected to inappropriate harassment as a result of a request for public records.”
The UW, for its part, said it would “continue to adhere to the legal guidelines set by the court.”
Ripple effects for animal research
Organizations outside the world of biomedical research have rallied to defend UW’s IACUC members, supporting the decision to block their anonymity, and arguing that the work they consider important is under threat.
Matthew R. Bailey, president of the National Association for Biomedical Research, praised the court’s decision to keep the names of IACUC members secret.
“Animal extremist groups have a reprehensible history of intimidating and harassing those involved in biomedical research with animals. Members of the science community don’t have to go to work every day with the goal painted on their backs, and the court’s decision is a positive step in the right direction, “Bailey said in a statement late April.
“The threat to health researchers across this country and around the world is growing very real and unfortunate,” said Paula Clifford, executive director of biomedical research advocacy group Americans for Medical Progress, in a statement following the initial order.
Clifford added that “scientists conducting necessary and useful research on animals have long been the target of harassment, threatening remarks and even threats. Now, COVID-19 researchers and public health officials who want to control the epidemic are facing the same problem.” There are threats of bodily harm, harassment at home or at work and even death threats and death threats. “
While PETA is appealing for a preliminary injunction that protects UW’s IACUC members from disclosure, a legal loss would be likened to a different court battle with another college. In January, the University of California, Davis, won a public-record lawsuit, bringing PETA California to access unpublished research data from the National Primate Research Center. In particular, PETA wanted video recordings of behavioral research in animals.
The lawsuit was settled out of court in February 2019.
Despite that push, PETA continues to fight for UW’s IACUC name. The war is part of a larger war against animal research, and for Jones-Engel, a personal mission to shut down all U.S. primate research centers.
He described the “use of animals as biomedical models” as “an ancient science”, arguing that there are better research methods, such as organs in 3-D-printed human tissues and chips that are better and more ethical options for testing on primates. Provides. And other animals.
After working with the primates, Jones-Engel said it was the abuse he saw as part of the IACUC that eventually led him to PETA. Now, no matter what happens in court with his former employer, Jones-Engel has his eye on a bigger fight: he wants to see off all such primate research facilities.
“It wasn’t until I was so deeply embedded in the Washington National Primate Research Center, and working with other primate centers, that I realized that the failures of science are so critical, so fundamental, that nothing can be done. To redeem the system,” Jones said. Said Engel.