SAN DIEGO—A Marine unit based at Camp Pendleton failed to get approval for the use of live animals in at least two medical training exercises, during which an animal prematurely died while aboard an aircraft en route to the USS Somerset, according to a request for investigation submitted to two regional Navy Inspector General offices by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a national nonprofit of more than 12,000 physicians, on Jan. 11, 2018.
Documents recently obtained via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reveal 2016 communications between high-ranking Marine Corps medical officers that detail at least two incidents in which live pigs were used for medical training exercises—often referred to as “live tissue training”—without required approval from the Navy. One exercise, in which two pigs were used, began at an off-base site approved by the Marine Corps, but was then moved to the Somerset. During that exercise, one of the pigs is thought to have died en route to the ship, but the other animal arrived alive and was used for training. In such training courses, the animals are typically stabbed, shot with firearms, and have their limbs amputated before being killed.
According to an Oct. 16, 2016, e-mail from someone identified as the Force Surgeon with the office of the Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, “[The Expeditionary Strike Group] facilitated [live tissue training] on at least two of our ships without my knowledge and without…approval.” The Force Surgeon continued: “I do not know if [the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery] would approve…exercises such as this given that alternatives…are available.”
Also among records obtained by the Physicians Committee are a memo and an e-mail explaining the intention of the I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) Surgeon to replace animal use with medical simulators, which are modeled on human anatomy. Minutes from an undated 2016 I MEF Monthly Surgeon’s Meeting state, “The I MEF Plan is to slowly transition from [using animals] to Simulation over the next year.”
“It is encouraging that Marine Corps leaders recognize that the use of animals for medical training is substandard, and I hope other services will take note,” says John Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C., director of academic affairs for the Physicians Committee. “Whether properly approved or not, the incidents in our request should not have occurred. Human-relevant, nonanimal methods are the best way to train Marines how to respond to combat wounds.”
The Physicians Committee is urging the Department of Defense to end all animal use for combat trauma training.
For a copy of the request for investigation or to speak with Dr. Pippin, please contact Reina Pohl at 202-527-7326 or RPohl@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 and medical training.