Invasive Animal Use at University of Washington Violates State Law, Doctors Say

The Physicians Committee
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NEWS RELEASE July 14, 2011
Invasive Animal Use at University of Washington Violates State Law, Doctors Say
John Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C.

Legal Complaint Filed As Incoming UW President Asked to Halt Invasive Ferret Use; More Than 90 Percent of Pediatrics Residency Programs Use Nonanimal Methods

SEATTLE—Invasive ferret use in the University of Washington’s pediatrics residency program violates state law, says the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) in a legal complaint filed July 14. PCRM’s complaint calls on the King County prosecuting attorney to halt the school’s live animal use because it violates Washington’s animal cruelty law. The legal complaint comes after PCRM recently petitioned incoming University of Washington (UW) president Michael Young to replace ferret use with simulators.

Nonanimal education methods are used by more than 90 percent of U.S. pediatrics programs surveyed by PCRM, including Oregon Health & Science University, Yale-New Haven Medical Center, and Stanford University. Since January 2011, eight U.S. pediatrics residency programs have confirmed an end to their animal use; these programs include the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, the University of Arizona, and the University of California at San Diego.

“The University of Washington’s use of ferrets is inhumane and violates Washington’s anticruelty statute,” says John Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C., PCRM director of academic affairs. “UW residents deserve the best possible educational experience to prepare them to care for newborns. A ferret’s anatomy is different from a human baby’s, and residents can get a better education using state-of-the-art, human-centered technology.”

Pediatrics training at the University of Washington involves using live ferrets for endotracheal intubation. This involves repeatedly forcing a plastic tube into the mouth and windpipe (trachea) of a live ferret. Animals used in this training procedure often suffer tracheal bruising, bleeding, scarring, severe pain, and sometimes death.

UW could replace the use of animals with high-fidelity medical simulators specifically designed to mimic the anatomy of a very low birth weight premature newborn, including a tongue, vocal cords, and trachea. UW’s state-of-the-art Institute for Simulation and Interprofessional Studies (ISIS) provides an optimal location for this training. The facility already owns the SimNewB newborn infant simulator, which was developed in partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics. If the institute were fully utilized, the university could immediately replace its use of animals.

PCRM’s complaint against UW states, “We believe that the University of Washington should be held criminally liable for its cruelty to animals and request that you investigate the live animal component of its pediatrics residency curriculum as soon as possible.” Washington’s animal cruelty statute criminalizes conduct that “intentionally inflicts substantial pain on or causes physical injury” to an animal. 

For a copy of the criminal complaint against UW or an interview with Dr. Pippin, please contact Tara Failey at 202-527-7319 or tfailey@pcrm.org.

Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.

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