Frequently Asked Questions: Implementing Nonanimal Training Methods in U.S. Military Medical Courses

The Physicians Committee

Improving Military Medicine

Frequently Asked Questions: Implementing Nonanimal Training Methods in U.S. Military Medical Courses

Q: What does this medical training entail?

A: In U.S. military combat trauma training courses, instructors attempt to replicate combat trauma injuries on live pigs and goats. The animals are subjected to severe injuries, including stab wounds, gunshot wounds, burns, and amputations, before being killed.

Q: Who receives this training?

A: Much of the U.S. military’s combat trauma training is for medics and corpsmen, with a significant amount of training also for physicians, physician assistants, other military medical personnel, and nonmedical service members deployed to combat zones.

Q: Where does this training take place?

A: Combat trauma training courses using animals occur on at least 15 U.S. military facilities, including Fort Bragg and Fort Sam Houston, as well as facilities run by private contractors such as Assessment and Training Solutions, Deployment Medicine International, and Tier 1 Group.

Q: Don’t military medical personnel need to train with living tissue in order to best prepare for battlefield injuries?

A: The use of goats and pigs for combat trauma training is suboptimal due to, among other issues, the animals’ anatomical differences from humans. Compared with humans, goats and pigs have smaller torsos and limbs, thicker skin, and important differences in anatomy of the head and neck, internal organs, rib cage, blood vessels, and airway. While some will claim that live tissue is the only way to simulate the emotional stress of working on a living being, new medical simulators can recreate that stressful situation while providing human anatomy.

Q: What training methods should replace the current use of animals?

A: The most important elements of combat trauma training are realism, human-specific injuries and treatments, volume of trauma exposure, and team building. The ideal training paradigm combines medical simulators and immersive simulated combat environments. Simulators like those seen here could replace the use of live animals and provide a better training experience for our troops.

Q: Aren’t medical simulators expensive?

A: From a financial standpoint it makes sense to replace live animal use with training methods such as medical simulators. Many military spending figures are not available to PCRM, but civilian institutions that have replaced animal labs report a cost savings. This is in large part because human-based training methods do not come with the numerous costs associated with using animals, such as purchasing animals, paying veterinary staff, buying anesthetics, and disposing of carcasses.

Q: How many animals are used each year for this type of training?

A: The U.S. military’s combat trauma training courses use and kill more than 6,000 goats and pigs each year.

Q: Aren’t the animals fully anesthetized during these procedures?

A: While animals are given anesthesia, pigs are known to develop hyperthermia and a variety of abnormal physiological responses when given anesthesia and also are susceptible to fatal ventricular fibrillation. In addition, animals are subjected to the trauma of continued confinement, shipping, preparation, and experimentation.

Q: Aren’t there animal welfare regulations in place?

A: Unfortunately the Department of Defense and its components are in violation of DoD Instruction 3216.01, Use of Animals in DoD Programs. The instruction mandates that “methods other than animal use and alternatives to animal use (i.e., methods to refine, reduce, or replace the use of animals) shall be considered and used whenever possible to attain the objectives of . . . training if such alternative methods produce scientifically or educationally valid or equivalent results.”

Q: Hasn’t the use of live animals for this training reduced battlefield fatalities?

A: In 2009, the Department of Defense’s own medical experts reported that animal use in military trauma training has never been comprehensively evaluated and was merely a long-standing routine. Any improved outcomes on the battlefield are much more likely a result of improved body armor and widespread use of tourniquets than of the use of pigs and goats in training.
Further, in a March 29, 2009, Baltimore Sun article, Ronald F. Bellamy, M.D., one of the Army’s leading authorities on combat casualty statistics, claimed that the overall death rate for wounded soldiers has not improved over historical measures. More wounded are surviving to reach hospitals (attributed to the use of body armor, not field medical care as claimed by the military). But a higher percentage are dying after reaching hospitals (attributed to the severity of injuries). Dr. Bellamy states that combat casualty statistics reveal “almost nothing about the quality of medical care,” and further states that “[t]he notion of a quantum improvement in medically related survival is a myth.”