Steve Lash//March 24, 2023
//March 24, 2023
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals can pursue its legal challenge to the National Institutes of Health’s funding of experiments on mice to find a cure for sepsis, a federal judge ruled Tuesday in concluding that PETA has “organizational standing” to sue the Bethesda-based facility.
But U.S. District Judge Paula Xinis also denied PETA’s broad effort to block future NIH grants for animal-based sepsis research through the current lawsuit, saying the group may challenge only those grants already awarded.
PETA claims NIH awarded the experimentation grants in violation of federal Public Health Service Act regulations and the Administrative Procedure Act because NIH has known for a decade that the experiments are futile because rodents do not experience sepsis.
NIH has denied PETA’s allegations, saying funding decisions are based on sound science and in accordance with federal law.
In permitting PETA’s challenge to proceed, Xinis rejected NIH’s argument that PETA lacks standing because it suffers no injury from the experimentation beyond the group’s animus toward this use of animals.
Xinis said PETA suffers harm to its organizational mission of saving animals because it must divert financial resources to challenge what it believes to be NIH’s unlawful and injurious funding.
“When an organization sues on its own behalf, as PETA does here, it may establish an injury in fact by showing that defendants’ actions caused concrete and demonstrable injury to the organization’s activities, with a consequent drain on the organization’s resources,” Xinis wrote.
“Contrary to the defendants’ assertions, PETA has made plausible (allegations) that defendants’ funding of animal-involved sepsis research without regard to the applicable PHSA regulations frustrates PETA’s overall mission by subjecting more animals to needless pain and suffering,” Xinis added. “PETA has necessarily expended resources in an effort to convince the agency to cease funding such studies and adhere to the applicable regulatory criteria.”
Xinis, however, said PETA’s lawsuit must be limited to the five grants NIH has awarded for the sepsis research, saying the Administrative Procedure Act challenge is restricted to what NIH has done and not what it might do.
“To the extent that PETA intends … to pursue a ‘catch all’ claim for any possible animal-involved sepsis research grants apart from the five specific grants, the claim fails as a matter of law,” Xinis wrote.
“These averments, devoid of particularity, would impermissibly invite this court to sit in review on all grant decisions for sepsis-related research involving animals,” Xinis added. “Accordingly, the claims challenging grantmaking generally, without more, will be dismissed for failure to plausibly identify a sufficiently circumscribed and discrete final agency action.”
Kathy Guillermo, PETA’s senior vice president, hailed Xinis’ ruling.
“The court’s decision confirms that PETA will have its day in court and a fighting chance to prove that NIH’s funding of animal experiments to treat human sepsis is illegal, arbitrary and capricious,” Guillermo said in a statement Thursday. “Sepsis experiments on animals don’t work, and NIH knows this – but continues to pour money into these ineffective, cruel studies.”
NIH declined to comment on Xinis’ ruling.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has defined sepsis as “the body’s extreme response to infection.” Each year, the disease afflicts 1.7 million Americans, including one in three patients who die in a hospital, according to the CDC.
PETA, in its lawsuit, stated that NIH has funded animal research to combat sepsis since at least 1985.
In 2013, then-NIH Director Francis Collins stated that the inability to find a cure was not because “wonder drugs designed for the mice failed in humans” but because the drugs “were, in fact, treating different conditions,” a statement PETA has interpreted as NIH’s acknowledgment that animal research for a sepsis cure is futile.
“For NIH to acknowledge this in 2013 yet continue to award grants for animal-sepsis experiments that it knows are inherently ill-suited to develop a treatment for sepsis in humans is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, not in accordance with law, and in excess of statutory jurisdiction, authority, or limitations within the meaning of the Administrative Procedure Act,” Norfolk, Virginia-based PETA stated in its lawsuit filed in September 2021.
The case is docketed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Inc. v. Lawrence A. Tabak, acting director of the National Institutes of Health, et al., No. 8:21-cv-02413-PX.P