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Des Moines University Clings to Archaic 'Dog Labs'


At Des Moines University-Osteopathic Medical Center (DMU), second-year medical students participate in a lab that involves a variety of surgical procedures including cutting off and reattaching the nipples of healthy dogs, who are later killed. In response, a Des Moines lawyer has stepped in and attempted to halt the unnecessary ritual.

PCRM doctors Michael Metzler, M.D., and Ray Greek, M.D., spoke at a press conference held by the law firm in support of the case. They explained how alternatives to live animal laboratories—such as computer models, clinical exercises, and other humane teaching methods used by the majority of U.S. medical schools—offer superior training without the ethical questions posed by labs using animals.

Michael Metzler, M.D.

Ray Greek, M.D.

Michael Metzler, M.D.

Ray Greek, M.D.

Most medical centers do not use animals for surgical training. Students learn the skills they need to perform surgical procedures on humans, first by observing and then assisting in human surgeries under close supervision. At the beginning of their training, students learn basic skills like tying knots by using practice boards. Later, they sew up lacerations in non-cosmetically important areas. Eventually, trained surgeons check their precision as they sew up after surgery, practice making initial incisions, and learn how to tie off bleeding blood vessels. Finally, after repeated practice of all these steps, they perform entire operations with experienced surgeons guiding them along.

Kendall Reed, chairman of DMU's surgery department, continues to insist that the dog lab is a vital part of students' education, and he remains committed to the laboratory despite student objections.

Last January, students seeking better alternatives to the dog lab gathered 175 student signatures in a petition to the school's board of directors, who ignored the appeal. Course evaluations also indicated students' objections to the lab. Students revealed their uneasiness about the lab with comments such as, "I was appalled to find that the dogs do not receive any pain meds" and "[t]he poor dog had to suffer a week with the botched job that most of us performed." Ultimately, students failed to see any value in keeping dog labs in their medical school curricula.

In order to avoid the exercise, some students even designed their own alternative curricula, including a lab using human cadavers funded by a $4,000 grant. Despite students' enthusiasm following this lab, Reed labeled it a failure and discontinued it. Fortunately, the majority of U.S. medical schools now use humane alternatives to "dog labs," and DMU will soon find itself one of the last remaining schools to cling to the archaic practice.


Spring 2001 (Volume X, Number 2)
Spring 2001
Volume X
Number 2

Good Medicine

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