OHSU continues to face scrutiny from animal welfare organizations

By Meerah Powell (OPB)
Oct. 7, 2020 9:31 p.m.

Oregon Health and Science University is continuing to face scrutiny from animal welfare organizations, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! (SAEN).

Both organizations have recently filed or amended complaints against the university regarding its animal research.


People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Wednesday amended a lawsuit in Multnomah County Circuit Court, claiming that OHSU has violated the First Amendment and the right to equal protection by deleting videos of animal experiments after PETA had requested them.

PETA originally filed a civil lawsuit against OHSU this past April requesting that the university release videos of experiments on voles, a type of small rodent, after OHSU denied the animal rights organization’s public records request in 2018.

The experiments were grant funded by the National Institute of Health, according to PETA, and investigated how alcohol influences pair bonding, or fidelity, in male prairie voles.

OHSU said it could not hand over the videos to PETA because they were in possession of the federal Veterans Administration hospital, where the Portland VAMC Veterinary Medical Unit is located, according to the original lawsuit.

“Yet when PETA requested the videos from the Veterans Administration, that agency informed PETA that OHSU’s lead researcher had reportedly destroyed the videos,” the lawsuit states.

OHSU did not indicate that the videos no longer existed before directing PETA to the VA Hospital, according to court documents.

PETA said that it obtained internal emails from OHSU after it had spoken out against the vole experiments, in a blog post on the organization’s website. Those emails stated that researchers deleted the videos to ensure they would not “fall into the wrong hands,” PETA said.

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

A Multnomah County Circuit Court judge earlier this year ruled that OHSU release some requested animal research videos to PETA after the university denied the organization’s records request.

In a statement, OHSU said it is “committed to humane, respectful treatment and the best possible veterinary care for every animal at the university.”

The university said, “anti-animal research activists routinely submit public records requests to the USDA and the biomedical research centers it oversees, including OHSU.”

After receiving the documents or information, the groups then issue press releases to local media, call for fines and often describe incidents “that previously occurred and have been mitigated months, and in some cases many years ago,” OHSU said.

OHSU did not comment on the specific lawsuit recently amended by PETA.


The national watchdog organization, Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! (SAEN), also filed a complaint against OHSU Tuesday.

SAEN filed the federal complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, stating that OHSU had violated the Animal Welfare Act and urging the department to fine the university due to deaths in its Oregon National Primate Research Center.

SAEN said in the complaint that it had obtained meeting minutes from a February meeting of OHSU’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, or IACUC — a committee which oversees “all aspects of animal care and use,” according to the university.

The meeting minutes note discussion of a cranial abscess on a marmoset — a type of primate.

“This text clearly indicates that veterinary care for a non-human primate, a marmoset, has been neglected to the point where the monkey developed a cranial abscess, a very serious bacterial infection in the area of the brain,” SAEN wrote in its complaint to the USDA.

“Abscesses do not develop instantaneously,” the watchdog group wrote.

After the IACUC discussed the potential source of the marmoset’s abscess and methods for improving surgical procedures, the laboratory voluntarily delayed future surgeries until standard operating procedures were reviewed and revised, according to the meeting minutes.

“Regarding the nonhuman primate that underwent surgery, this was a clinical case of an infection that was being treated but did not resolve. Opening the skin to conduct surgery introduces the risk of infection, even with use of rigorous aseptic techniques,” OHSU said in a statement. “The response to this known risk was a pause in the research while techniques were further refined to minimize the risk and improve the outcomes. The animal was being attended regularly by the veterinary staff, but the case was not resolving satisfactorily, and the animal was humanely euthanized.”

The university said all of that information was shared in detail with the USDA.

SAEN said in a news release that it had also filed a federal complaint against OHSU regarding “an August admission by OHSU that two monkeys died as a result of being placed in a cage washing machine by negligent lab staff.”

The monkeys were essentially “boiled alive,” SAEN said.

OHSU said it reported that particular incident to the university’s IACUC as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Office for Laboratory Animal Welfare, and an internal investigation was launched and is ongoing.

“In the last four years, OHSU has amassed 19 USDA citations,” SAEN said.

The group said those two latest “negligent monkey deaths” bring OHSU’s total fatalities to 15. SAEN is requesting the Department of Agriculture enact the maximum penalty of $10,000 per violation and per animal.

“Even if OHSU is eventually only fined for the animal deaths, the resulting six-figure fine would be one of the largest ever issued by the USDA,” SAEN said in a statement.

SAEN is also calling on OHSU to make all animal care and federal non-compliance documents publicly available, by posting them on the university’s website. Currently, many of those documents are only available through public records requests, SAEN said.

OHSU said it voluntarily posts its inspection reports online as soon as they are available. The university said the USDA has halted inspections of animal facilities across the country due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“No additional inspections have occurred since late January 2020,” OHSU said in a statement. “All other reporting mechanisms in the program are active and strictly followed.”