UT Medical Branch at odds with PETA

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UT Medical Branch at Galveston may appeal last week’s decision by the Texas Attorney General that requires it to release a portion of the documents an animal rights group requested under the Freedom of Information Act in January.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals submitted an open records request to UTMB in January in response to reports of abuse from within the medical school, said Alka Chandna, a senior researcher for PETA. The organization requested records from January 2010 through January 2011.

PETA also filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture with claims including improper administration of anesthetics during experiments, inadequate health care during and after the administration of experimental drugs and inadequate care following experimental surgery.

She said in the school’s initial response to the request for six sets of documents, including medical care and acquisition records and adverse event reports for animals under UTMB’s care, the University promised to send two sets and submit the rest to the Attorney General for ruling. Chandna said the two sets included almost 1,800 pages of records and PETA has not yet received them.

Under Texas’ public information laws, the Attorney General determines whether constitutional or statutory law or legal precedent exempts public documents from FOIA requests.

In its request to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, UTMB claimed a portion of the documents were exempt from disclosure because they were generated by a medical committee or consist of research information the University could commercialize. Texas law exempts both of these types of information from FOIA requests.

In its comments to Abbott before his ruling, PETA claimed because the medical committee only functions to improve animal and not human health care systems, it was not exempt from the request.
PETA and UTMB received the decision last week. Abbott ruled UTMB must disclose all the documents requested except those created by UTMB medical committees. He wrote that Texas law makes no distinction between human and non-human medical committees for public information purposes. He also wrote that the remaining documents consist of routine medical research records and must be given to PETA.

UTMB has 30 days to appeal to the decision.

UTMB spokesman Raul Reyes said the school’s counsel is considering whether or not to appeal.
“We received the Attorney General’s decision last week and we are reviewing it,” Reyes said.
Reyes and a UT System spokesman declined to comment further.

Education freshman and vice president of University Vegetarians said the vegetarian student social group hasn’t pursued the issue. She said as information becomes available, the group could respond if serious animal abuse occurred.

“We aren’t really an activist group, but if it were a really critical issue we would address it,” Hartmann said. “It just depends on how big the situation is. If there were a bunch of animals dying, we would definitely do something.”