Animal rights activists are outraged over a study in which researchers sedated five pigs and then shot them in the head to examine the blood spatter patterns.
Three of the pigs were shot at a distance of about four feet while two were shot with the muzzle of the gun pressed against the head. The results of the tests were published in July in the International Journal of Legal Medicine.
The researchers claim the data can be used in court cases.
"It goes to the ability to provide reliable, and the most informative, evidence in a court case," Keith Bedford, who is responsible for forensic science at New Zealand's government-funded Institute of Environmental Science and Research, told The Associated Press. "It may be critical in protecting someone's liberty."
Critics called the experiments cruel and unnecessary, and questioned the reliability of any data that emerged from it.
"Pigs' and humans' anatomy differ drastically in the shape of their heads, arrangement of their skull bones and the thickness of their skulls and skin," Justin Goodman, director of the laboratory investigations department at the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals said. "Additionally, bloodstains from a likely struggling, stressed human who is trying to avoid being killed is going to differ dramatically from that of a sedated pig."
PETA reached out to the institute and the two universities involved in the experiments, urging them to cease the study. Although the institute said it had no plans to repeat the experiments, neither the University of Otago nor the University of Auckland responded.
The Humane Society said it was unfamiliar with the specifics of the study, but encouraged researchers to use non-animal options during testing.
"Overall, there are concerns of validity of results from animal studies and we have a responsibility to invest in development and use of alternatives that are more relevant to human health," Humane Society spokesperson Samantha Miller said.
Kevin Corbett, a spokesperson for the Institute of Environmental Science and Research, admitted to shortcomings in the animal data; however, he said the results would still prove useful to investigators at crime scenes.
"It was the best solution," Corbett told Radio New Zealand News. "Probably not a perfect solution, but the best solution available to us."
PETA said a much better solution would've been to utilize human models with lifelike bone, tissue and skin as well as computer models.
Others agree that while the data is important, there are probably different ways to obtain it.
"I see the value of getting blood patterns but there has to be a better way to do it using models, simulators and computer programs," said Arthur Caplan, medical ethicist at the NYU Langone Medical Center.
But Caplan noted pigs are often killed for other reasons, too.
"I am well aware that a huge number of pigs die every day for bacon and pork chops. I eat them," Caplan said. "But, this study scores high on what I call the ‘yuk’ factor and since it is likely there are other options for obtaining this gruesome information it makes me ethically uncomfortable."
(The Huffington Post's David Freeman and Eliza Sankar-Gorton contributed to this report.)
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