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Court Rules OHSU Must Release Research Videos In Records Request

<p>Rhesus macaques at Oregon Health and Science University's Oregon National Primate Research Center.</p>

Dave Miller

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Rhesus macaques at Oregon Health and Science University's Oregon National Primate Research Center.

A Multnomah County Circuit Court judge late Monday ruled that Oregon Health & Science University must disclose some animal research videos that were requested by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.  

PETA filed a legal complaint with the court in March 2019 after OHSU denied a public records request for videos related to research on macaque monkeys.

The requested footage is connected to the laboratory of Elinor Sullivan, an associate professor at OHSU and a faculty member at the school’s Oregon National Primate Research Center.  

Some of the videos document research on whether a high-fat diet affects monkeys’ offspring. Other videos document anxiety responses in young monkeys, court documents state.  

PETA officials have said, based on the published research papers, they expect to see lab employees in the videos conducting "human intruder tests" on young monkeys — approaching a lone monkey in a cage with a threatening stance to test fear responses.

OHSU had denied the records request for the videos using a “Faculty Research Exemption,” stating that videos of unpublished research ideas could be stolen if released to the public, court documents state. 

Although the videos had not been published or publicly released, they were written about in detail in published articles, Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge David Rees said in his ruling. 

Rees ruled that 74 research videos be released to PETA, with some limited redactions, including the faces of lab employees.

PETA had also requested more than 3,000 other research videos that Rees stated are, in fact, exempt from public records law because no research or other information has been released referencing them.  

There is a public interest in knowing how OHSU’s “grant funding is being spend and whether the experiments at issue are a worthy use of public funds,” Rees said in the ruling.  

Most of the primate research center’s funding comes from study grants, Rees stated.

The National Institutes of Health awarded OHSU’s primate center more than $23 million in grants last year.    

"OHSU and other premier biomedical research centers around the world strongly believe that faculty should have the right to perform research — and to keep confidential such research and related research data — at a minimum, until published in peer-reviewed publications," OHSU said in a statement. 

OHSU said the research videos to be released, regarding high-fat diets and monkeys' offspring, suggest "that factors during early development such as maternal nutrition are at least as important as genetic predisposition in determining the risk of development neurodevelopmental disorders."

OHSU continued: "Sullivan and colleagues believe that these findings provide evidence that mobilizing public resources to provide health food and pre- and post-natal care to families of all socioeconomic classes could reduce mental health disorders in future generations."

PETA calls the court's ruling on the lawsuit a win.

"OHSU was happy to take millions of tax dollars to impregnate monkeys, feed them 'junk food,' and then separate the baby monkeys from their mothers in order to deliberately frighten them—but it fought tooth and nail against releasing the videos of this horror," PETA Senior Litigation Counsel Martina Bernstein said in a statement. "The university has lost, but the public has won."  

OHSU has been cited with 12 violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act since 2017.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Meerah Powell