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UW responds to Dane County DA on sheep decompression experiments

The UW-Madison has responded to Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard's request for more information on allegations that it is violating state law by using sheep in sometimes fatal decompression experiments.

As Isthmus reported ("The Decompression of the Sheep," 8/28/09), state law 951.025 states, "No person may kill an animal by means of decompression." After hearing from local animal-rights activists, Blanchard asked the UW to explain. His initial review suggested a statutory exemption for scientific research "would not apply to a violation of 951.025."

But the UW's Sept. 14 reply (PDF), from senior legal counsel Ben Griffiths, argues that the experiments are in fact exempt, because the legislative intent of 951.025, enacted in 1985, was to "prohibit the use of decompression as a method of euthanizing animals, which has not occurred in the research studies at issue." It ties the Wisconsin law change to ones in Delaware and California.

Griffiths says the study protocols "do not anticipate the death of animals used in the studies other than by euthanasia," which is done by other means. And while some animals have died "from symptoms commonly associated with decompression sickness experienced by deep sea divers," these deaths are "unanticipated."

Adds Griffiths, "There certainly has been no intent by persons conducting or approving the research to evade any laws or regulations, and no reason to believe there was any debate regarding the legitimacy or legality of this research until this particular complaint was lodged."

Local attorney Leslie Hamilton, the lodger of this particular complaint, says the UW's response "obfuscates the law in Wisconsin with two pages of irrelevant history from other states, and it attempts to draw the reader's attention away from the most significant fact in this case - i.e., the UW's admission that its researchers kill animals by means of decompression."

There are other problems with the UW's response. The experiment protocol does anticipate "fatal outcomes" and notes that these are used to gather data. And the minutes of the UW Animal Care and Use Committee's April 13 meeting on these experiments refer to "rapid decompression for purposes of euthanasia" - precisely what the UW says is 1) illegal and 2) not occurring.

Blanchard says he's still reviewing the UW's response.

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