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Navy Decompression Experiments at UW-Madison Come To an End

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by Isiah Holmes, Wisconsin Examiner
February 2, 2023

U.S. Navy experiments on animals have been canceled at UW-Madison following pressure from animal rights activists. The canceled experiments subjected sheep to conditions meant to induce  decompression sickness. Two years before their scheduled completion, the experiments exposed test subjects to pressure in hyperbaric chambers, according to a letter sent by the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to the secretary of the Navy last June. After that letter was sent, the college terminated the decompression studies.

On Feb. 1, a new letter from PETA was sent to the Navy secretary urging the Navy to fully deactivate the experiments. The letter states the experiments should be terminated “given the extreme cruelty of these tests and their irrelevance to human physiology.” Live animals including sheep and rodents were used in the experiments at UW-Madison. In one of the experiments, which was set to run from Aug. 11, 2020 until Aug. 10, 2023, two sheep were placed in a hyperbaric chamber which researchers realized wasn’t working properly. According to a meeting minutes from a UW-Madison committee, the sheep showed “signs of discomfort” after being removed from the chamber, and were euthanized.

The letter sent by PETA in June 2022 also highlighted other experiments that involved decapitating rats and exposing their brain tissue to high oxygen pressure and injecting mice with substances and placing them in hyperbaric chambers for hours before they were killed and dissected. Radio transmitter modules were also placed in the brains of lab rodents before they were exposed to five atmospheres of pressure leading to  the onset of seizures.

Funding for similar tests was pulled from UW by the Navy in 2010. This followed the launching of a criminal probe, triggered by a petition filed in court by PETA and the Alliance for Animals on the grounds that state law barred the killing of animals by decompression. After the law was later revised to allow such testing, Navy-funded sheep experiments at UW-Madison resumed.

Although it has grander ambitions of fully abolishing the experiments across the Navy, PETA was pleased by the news. “That sheep will no longer have the life literally squeezed out of them in crude archaic decompression tests at UW-Madison is cause for celebration,” said PETA Vice President Shalin Gala. “PETA is now calling on the Navy to prohibit such tests on all animals in favor of superior, human-relevant research.”

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