Special prosecutor to probe University of Wisconsin use of decompression

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2010:
MADISON–Dane County Circuit Court Judge Amy Smith on June 2,
2010 found probable cause to believe that nine University of
Wisconsin at Madison researchers and faculty members have for more
than 20 years violated state law by killing sheep in a hyperbaric
chamber, also known as a decompression chamber.
Judge Smith appointed attorney David A. Geier to serve as
special prosecutor in determining whether the scientists and their
supervisors should face criminal charges.
Of 303 sheep exposed to decompression since 2000 in
experiments performed at the university’s diving physiology
laboratory, funded by the U.S. Navy, three sheep have died while
still in the hyperbaric chamber. Another 23 sheep have died within
24 hours of being removed from the chamber.

Judge Smith ruled in a 24-page decision that only the four
most recent sheep deaths, in 2007 and 2008, occurred within the
three-year statute of limitations. Judge Smith ruled in response to
a petition from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the
Alliance for Animals, explained Associated Press writer Ryan J.
Foley, “seeking criminal charges against 14 university employees.
Under the law,” said Ryna, “any citizen can petition for charges if
a district attorney declines to prosecute a case. Dane County
District Attorney Brian Blanchard concluded last year that the
experiments were likely illegal, but said filing charges would not
be a wise use of limited resources.”
The researchers contended that scientific research is
exempted from the Wisconsin humane law. Judge Smith found that the
law includes no exemptions. Chapter 951.025 of the Wisconsin state
code says only, “No person may kill an animal by means of
decompression.” The University of Wisconsin claimed to have
suspended the decompression experiments as result of District
Attorney Blanchard’s opinion that they were illegal. But the
researchers’ position that the experiments were legal suggests,
Judge Smith wrote, “that because the university interprets the
statute in its favor, it may well continue to decompress animals to
death contrary to law, unless I take action.”
Commonly used for about 40 years to kill shelter animals who
were not reclaimed or adopted, decompression was eventually
recognized as unacceptably cruel. The city of Berkeley, California,
in 1972 became the first in the U.S. to ablish decompression; the
cities of Houston and Austin, Texas, in 1985 were the last. The
Wisconsin Humane Society stopped using decompression in March 1976,
and as the agency which then had primary responsibility for enforcing
the state humane law, held decompression to constitute illegal
cruelty. Several shelters in smaller Wisconsin cities continued to
use decompression for another several months, but all quit before
the end of 1977. Language specifically prohibiting decompression was
added to the state humane law in 1985, and was amended into present
form in 1987.
University of Wisconsin animal care and use program director
Eric Sandgren, School of Veterinary Medicine surgical sciences
chair Dale Bjorling, and Foundation for Biomedical Research
president Frankie Trull denounced Judge Smith’s ruling in terms
hinting that they may seek to amend the law.
“You can assume that this catastrophe is likely,” Alliance
for Animals director Rick Bogle told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “It is
impossible to overstate the university’s influence with the state
legislature and local politics. They just tried to get an exemption
for adequate food and water tacked on to Windchill’s law,” an
attempt to reinforce the state humane law named for a nine-month-old
colt who died in 2008 from lingering effects of starvation and
hypothermia. “Had the law passed,” Bogle said, “they would have
been successful. It is simply a matter of time,” Bogle predicted,
“before they seek exceptions to every section of the Crimes Against
Animals chapter of the state’s laws.”
Decompression experiments similar to those done at the
University of Wisconsin at Madison are done by at least two other
U.S. universities, PETA believes.

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.