PETA Files Groundbreaking Lawsuit Against NIH, HHS Over Sepsis Animal Experiments

For Immediate Release:
September 21, 2021

Tasgola Bruner 202-483-7382

Washington – PETA has filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit against the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NIH Director Francis Collins, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. The lawsuit alleges that funding sepsis experiments on animals—despite decades of failures, wasted taxpayer dollars, and NIH’s own acknowledgment that mice are not good models for humans—abuses the agencies’ discretion and violates their obligation to fund research to improve human health and minimize the number of animals used in experiments.

Sepsis is the body’s extreme response to infection, affecting one in three patients who die in the hospital and killing nearly 270,000 Americans in a typical year. Studies on animals have failed to lead to effective treatments. A 2013 landmark study revealed that sepsis doesn’t affect humans as it does mice, and Collins lamented the “loss of decades of research and billions of dollars” in the development of 150 drugs that successfully treated sepsis in mice but failed in humans. At least 15 peer-reviewed publications over the past 18 years have described how sepsis in humans fundamentally differs from sepsis in other animals.

Despite this, NIH still directs tens of millions of taxpayer dollars annually to sepsis experiments in which animals are injected with toxins or feces, cut open in invasive surgeries, force-fed harmful bacteria, and/or made to inhale a bacterial “slurry.” The animals endure fever, chills, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, lethargy, disorientation, shock, multiple organ failure, and, eventually, death.

“As long as NIH continues to study sepsis in mice, the human death toll will continue to rise,” says PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo. “PETA’s lawsuit challenges the agency’s bizarre allegiance to these ineffective, cruel experiments rather than to the health of the public it serves.”

PETA also wants the agencies to focus on funding human-relevant sepsis research that actually may help afflicted humans. Examples include in vitro experiments using human cells, sophisticated analyses of human genome data, mathematical and computer modeling of human biology, and experiments using donated human tissue.

Prior to taking legal action, PETA compiled a comprehensive scientific and legal report outlining exactly why NIH’s funding of sepsis experiments on animals is potentially unlawful as well as scientifically unsound and sent it to NIH.

PETA filed the lawsuit under the federal Administrative Procedure Act, whic permits challenges to a final agency action as arbitrary or capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law. PETA is represented by Billy B. Ruhling and Jonathan R. Mook of DiMuroGinsberg, P.C.

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to experiment on”—opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview. For more information on PETA’s newsgathering and reporting, please visit or follow the group on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind