Victory for Animals at Medical College of Wisconsin

The Physicians Committee

Victory for Animals at Medical College of Wisconsin

First, do no harm: Stop the Medical College of Wisconsin live animal lab

Hundreds of demonstrators braving frigid Wisconsin winters. Tens of thousands of e-mails, letters, and phone calls from PCRM members and supporters. Billboards on busy Wisconsin highways. After years of efforts like these by PCRM and its members, the Medical College of Wisconsin finally announced it has stopped using pigs in its first-year physiology course and likely stopped using frogs, rats, and rabbits.

Last week, a Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) representative announced that the college has permanently ended the use of pigs in a cardiovascular lab that once used dogs. Instead, students will observe human patients and use computer simulation in the first-year physiology course. The college first piloted this human- and computer-based program after a February 2009 PCRM demonstration at MCW.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Inside Higher Ed both covered PCRM’s role in MCW’s recent decision. The campaign has also received extensive media coverage over the past several years.

MCW used rabbits, frogs, and rats in other physiology labs as recently as January. But a school spokesperson says these small animal labs are under review and may not be offered next year.

“We're delighted they have come as far as they have,” said PCRM senior medical and research adviser John J. Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C. “What we don't understand is why they don't get rid of their other animal labs, which are equally useless.”

Following are a few of the milestones that led to this recent victory:

  • February 2006: PCRM sends letters to MCW’s leadership explaining the benefits of replacing animal use for physiology teaching and asking MCW to incorporate this change into its curriculum.
  • March 2006: PCRM sends a letter to MCW’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) chair requesting that the oversight body deny the use of animals to teach physiology due to the availability of equivalent or superior nonanimal alternatives, as required by the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA).
  • April 2006: PCRM files a complaint with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, requesting an inspection to determine if the MCW IACUC was noncompliant with the AWA in its approval of this animal use.
  • May 2006: APHIS performs the inspection and finds the MCW IACUC in violation of its responsibility to require adequate justification for animal use in the physiology course.
  • October 2006: PCRM releases its report entitled “Behind the Curve of Medical Education: The Use of Animals for Physiology Instruction at the Medical College of Wisconsin.”
  • January 2007: “Don’t put man’s best friend under the knife. Stop the Medical College of Wisconsin’s dog lab,” urge PCRM billboards in Milwaukee.
  • February 2007: PCRM and members demonstrate at MCW to save 60 dogs and urge students not to participate in the live animal lab.
  • Fall 2007: MCW discloses that live pigs will replace live dogs for the first-year physiology course.
  • January 2008: “First, do no harm. Stop the Medical College of Wisconsin live animal lab,” urge PCRM billboards in Milwaukee that call for an end to MCW’s use of live pigs.
  • February 2008: One hundred people attend a PCRM-led educational demonstration outside MCW on the first day of the live animal laboratory.
  • January 2009: PCRM billboards in Milwaukee again call for an end to MCW’s use of live pigs.
  • February 2009: PCRM leads a demonstration urging MCW’s new dean to explore nonanimal alternatives. At the demonstration’s conclusion, MCW announces that it has started a pilot program in which medical students observe human patients as an alternative to animal use.
  • February 2010: MCW announces a permanent end to the use of live pigs in its first-year physiology course.

PCRM will continue to urge MCW to end animal use in all of its physiology labs in favor of superior human-based alternatives. Ninety-five percent of medical schools in the United States have eliminated live animal laboratories from their curricula.

To learn about alternatives to the use of animals in medical school curricula, visit