Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are in hot water again for cruel experiments on animals. This time they are facing potential legal charges over decompression experiments on sheep.
Animal advocacy groups have filed complaints against the University for specific US Navy-funded experiments involving decompression sickness — sometimes called “the bends” — and sheep.
Decompression sickness is a painful and sometimes fatal condition that afflicts deep-sea divers. The University of Wisconsin has been putting sheep into hyperbaric chambers to simulate the effects of decompression sickness. Twenty-six sheep have died as a result of the experiments.
Killing an animal by means of decompression is illegal in Wisconsin. The state statute says unequivocally “Decompression prohibited: No person may kill an animal by means of decompression.”
The slow-moving legal process has been a frustrating one for animal advocates. A year and a half ago a Wisconsin district attorney concluded that the testing done at UWM was illegal but that prosecuting the university “would not be a wise use of the resources of [his] office.” Less than a year ago a judge assigned another DA to look into the experiments. He has yet to file any charges; the statute of limitations for the killing of the sheep expires in June.
The latest legal development is an affidavit from former UWM senior veterinarian Richard “Jim” Brown who claims that in the UWM Veterinary School it was common knowledge that the sheep experiments were illegal but that they were conducted anyway.
Brown’s claim that the university was aware of the illegality of the experiments seems to be backed up by emails between UWM’s attorneys and the Navy in which UWM’s attorneys advised the Navy to remove the word “decompression” from a letter in support of the experiments.
Researchers at the university have predictably denied all wrongdoing.
The animal testing program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is no stranger to criticism. The USDA has cited UWM over twenty times in the past two years for violating the Animal Welfare Act. Debate and controversy over animal testing at UWM led to the university holding public forums on the programs as a damage-control strategy.
Jim Brown knows all about the conditions of animals that live in the laboratories of UWM. He spoke out against the awful conditions in the labs as a senior vet for UWM and was bullied into leaving his job.
It should come as no surprise that the same university that can’t even keep up with the lax animal welfare standards imposed by the federal government would knowingly violate Wisconsin law and try to obfuscate the details.
The experiments are currently stalled while the legal issues are pending.
Photo: Rainer Ebert