PETA Opposes Feds’ Move in Animal Sepsis Tests Lawsuit

For Immediate Release:
July 21, 2022

Amanda Hays 202-483-7382

Bethesda, Md.

Last night, PETA Foundation lawyers filed a brief in a U.S. district court opposing the federal government’s motion to dismiss the group’s first-of-its-kind lawsuit against the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NIH Acting Director Lawrence Tabak, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. The lawsuit alleges that funding sepsis experiments on animals—despite NIH’s own acknowledgment that mice and humans don’t experience the same condition—abuses the agencies’ discretion and violates their obligation to fund research to improve human health and minimize the use of animals in experiments.

Sepsis is the body’s extreme response to infection, affecting one in three patients who die in the hospital and at least 1.7 million 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 then–NIH Director Dr. Francis 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, subjected to 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.

“Humans are dying of sepsis while NIH funds irrelevant studies outside the scope of its mandate for human health,” says PETA Foundation General Counsel for Litigation Caitlin Hawks. “PETA’s lawsuit raises important issues, and our lawyers are eager to explain to the court the validity of PETA’s complaint so that the lawsuit may move forward.”

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

PETA scientists have also urged the agencies to adopt its Research Modernization Deal, which offers a strategy for funding human-relevant research that may actually 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.

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

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