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New York Bar Association Challenges Use of Animal Labs in Med Schools

muttNow that more than 85 percent of U.S. medical schools have adopted nonanimal alternatives to live animal laboratories, many organizations have begun raising new questions about the educational and ethical value of those labs. In June, the Association of the Bar of the City of New York wrote letters to two medical schools in the state urging them to discontinue the use of live animals in their physiology and surgery laboratories “on legal, scientific, and ethical grounds.”

The association's letters highlight an important fact: The two New York schools—New York Medical College and Stony Brook University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine—are in a group of only 13 medical schools out of 125 in the country that still use animals as teaching tools in physiology, pharmacology, and surgery classes. In fact, in 2006 alone, eight additional schools, including two in New York, adopted non-animal alternatives: Duke University School of Medicine, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, University of Rochester School of Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, Georgetown University School of Medicine, Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans, and East Tennessee State University Quillen College of Medicine.

The association's letters point out that the use of animals in these labs violates the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The AWA requires the minimization of pain and distress to animals and the use where possible of non-animal alternatives. “In light of the availability of superior, non-animal alternative technologies in medical school education, the use of animals would violate the spirit and letter of the AWA,” the association's letters state.

The Association of the Bar of the City of New York isn’t the only group that has taken a position against live animal use in medical education. This spring, the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) passed a resolution that amended its official position regarding those alternatives from a statement that the organization “urges that alternative educational materials, such as films, videotapes and computer simulations be provided for students who do not choose to attend these classes and labs (1986)” to “AMSA strongly encourages the replacement of animal laboratories with non-animal alternatives in undergraduate medical education.”

In spring 2006, the American College of Surgeons (ACS) established the Accredited Education Institutes to implement broad curriculum reforms in surgery training programs, including the replacement of animals for surgery training. The ACS initiative to replace animal use was endorsed by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education in August 2006.

Twenty years ago, live animals were commonly used in physiology, pharmacology, and surgery courses at medical schools. A standard laboratory exercise involved anesthetizing an animal, followed by injecting pharmaceuticals or practicing surgical techniques. The animals were killed after the lab exercises were over.

“These animal laboratories were cruel and unnecessary then, and are now archaic and substandard educational tools,” says John J. Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C., PCRM medical and research adviser and former medical school educator. “Medical students learn more effectively using lifelike simulators, interactive computer models, virtual reality programs, case reviews, and apprenticeships in clinics and hospitals.”

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PCRM Online, August 2007

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