PCRM Confronts the Military’s Deadly Use of Animals for Medical Training
For the soldiers of the 25th Infantry Division, it must have been a gruesome experience. Earlier this year, instructors with the division’s 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team shot a group of pigs at Hawaii’s Schofield Barracks. They then instructed soldiers to practice treating the animals’ wounds. In other combat trauma training courses, pigs are set on fire while still alive. The trainees’ task is to keep the wounded pigs alive for as long as possible.
PCRM is working hard to end the use of animals in these training courses. Nonanimal methods can handle every aspect of military medical training. These methods range from high-tech simulators to commonsense approaches, like the use of military and civilian trauma centers to gain experience.
The Department of Defense’s (DOD) animal use violates the agency’s own animal welfare regulation, which requires nonanimal alternatives to be used if they produce equivalent results.
In the civilian world, surgeons, emergency physicians, nurses, and physician assistants learn by mentoring with experienced clinicians in hospitals, clinics, and trauma centers, as PCRM president Neal Barnard, M.D., pointed out in an opinion piece published in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. “Training on a pig is no substitute for proper medical experience,” Dr. Barnard wrote.
Experiments on Monkeys and Goats
The military’s use of animals goes beyond pig shooting. The DOD also uses vervet monkeys to train medical personnel to treat people who have been exposed to nerve agents. To mimic the administration of chemical warfare agents, the monkeys are given an overdose of physostigmine, which causes severe diarrhea, vomiting, a very low heart rate, and sometimes death. Again, the trainees desperately attempt to resuscitate the monkeys. If the monkeys live through this extremely painful procedure, they will be subjected to it as many as four times per year until they die.
Live goats are subjected to amputation and hemorrhaging in a simulated battlefield. During these exercises, the goats are commonly given ketamine, a drug that disrupts mental processes but does not induce full anesthesia. The animals may feel intense pain and confusion as the trainees struggle to keep them alive. Because a goat is not a good model for venous access, many trainees are not able to secure intravenous lines, causing the goats to suffer from fatal hypovolemic shock and hypothermia.
Battling for Nonanimal Alternatives
Unlike animals, realistic human-based simulators duplicate human anatomy and allow trainees to repeatedly practice critical procedures. Management of hemorrhage, the most common cause of battlefield death, can be taught using SimMan from Laerdal and the SimQuest Limb Hemorrhage Simulator, which was developed specifically for the U.S. Army. Trauma exposure can be provided by high-volume trauma centers, which expose military caregivers to traumatic injuries similar to what they may encounter on the battlefield.
The DOD currently uses live animals in combat trauma and chemical casualty management courses conducted by the Army and Navy, as well as private contractors such as the Virginia-based company Advanced Training and Solutions (ATS). Between July 2005 and September 2007, DOD agencies had 64 contracts with ATS, totaling more than $4 million. In 2007, the DOD used and killed more than 3,500 pigs and more than 5,000 goats in combat trauma courses. PCRM’s Research Advocacy Department has filed requests through the federal Freedom of Information Act to obtain documents to learn more about the DOD’s use of animals in medical training.
In a campaign led by director of research policy Hope Ferdowsian, M.D., M.P.H., PCRM will continue to investigate these courses and insist that the DOD replace the use of live animals with nonanimal methods. To get the latest news on PCRM’s campaign to end the DOD’s use of live animals in trauma training, please visit PCRM.org.
Every day, thousands of animals are experimented on and killed to create and test drugs, many of which will never help a sick human being. That’s why PCRM and an international coalition of scientists, doctors, and animal-protection organizations filed the Mandatory Alternatives Petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Nov. 14, 2007. The petition asks the FDA to mandate the use of validated nonanimal testing methods, when those alternatives exist, to create safer drugs for American consumers.
The FDA is currently reviewing the initiative. During this time, we need you to contact the FDA and urge the agency to mandate the use of validated alternatives to animal tests. Please write to:
Frank Torti, M.D., M.P.H., Commissioner
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, MD 20857
More than 60,000 PCRM members have already signed petitions that have been sent to the FDA.
To learn more about the Mandatory Alternatives Petition, visit Alternatives-Petition.org. To sign PCRM’s online petition to the FDA, go to Support.PCRM.org/FDA_Petition.