Michigan required to create, enforce humane animal experimentation rules, Nessel said

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

The state health department should develop rules for humane animal experimentation and require facilities using experimentation to register with the state and comply with those rules, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a formal opinion released Monday

"Ultimately, the most appropriate manner in which to develop the required standards and implement the required registration is a matter left to DHHS," Nessel wrote.

The Department of Health and Human Services said it was reviewing Nessel's opinion. 

State Rep. Matt Koleszar, D-Plymouth, had requested the opinion in late March on the argument that the state had neglected a law regulating animal experimentation for about 40 years. The request was prompted in part by controversial cardiovascular research on dogs at the Louis M. Elliman Clinical Research Building at Wayne State University. 

The state health department should develop rules for humane animal experimentation and require facilities using experimentation to register with the state and comply with those rules, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a formal opinion released Monday.

"Despite having authority to regulate the use of animals in experiments for more than 40 years, the state has ignored its statutory mandate to oversee animal research facilities," Koleszar said in the letter.

He and state Sen. Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia, also asked the National Institutes of Health to cut off funding for the facility.

Koleszar said Nessel's Monday opinion encouraged him. 

"This is going to lead to better oversight and treatment of animals," Koleszar said. "And at the end of the day, that is exactly what we were hoping for.”

Attorneys for Animals celebrated Nessel's opinion in a Monday statement as "carefully worded but decisive" in the group's fight against dog experimentation at Wayne State. 

“We call upon DHHS to promptly establish a registration process so that the public policy established by the legislature and the values of Michigan citizens who care about the humane treatment of animals can be finally realized," said Bee Friedlander, board president for Attorneys for Animals.

The state public health code prohibits animal experimentation unless a facility is registered with the department, and requires facilities to be in compliance with "board standards" to maintain registration, according to Nessel's opinion.

The Legislature created a nine-member Animal Research Advisory Board in 1978 to set up standards for humane treatment that the Department of Health and Human Services would administer. But through a series of reorganizations in 1997 and 2015, the board was abolished and its duties were transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services director, Nessel's opinion said.

"It is my opinion, therefore, that DHHS is obligated to register entities that keep or use animals for experimental purposes and must restrict registration to only those entities that conduct animal research in a humane manner as reflected in the 'standards' that DHHS must establish," the attorney general wrote.

Nessel clarified in her opinion that the Department of Health and Human Services should create rules for the humane treatment of animals that are in line with federal standards. She also said her opinion does not mean that those animal experimentation operations currently operating must stop operations until those rules and registration processes are complete. 

Opponents of the Wayne State research say roughly 136 dogs have died through the lab's work since 2009. 

The procedure at issue, Nessel noted in her opinion, seeks to find new therapies for hypertension and heart disease by inserting devices into and around a dog's blood vessels, heart, skin and shoulder blades. If the dogs survive the surgery, their heart rates are raised from a normal rate of between 70 and 120 beats per minute to as high as 250 beats per minute. 

The experiments continue until they die, Nessel said.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com