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  1. News Release

  2. Jan 28, 2021

Doctors Group Denounces University of Arizona Tucson Live Animal Use for Surgeon Training

Physicians File Federal Complaint, Urge Medical Center to Modernize

University of Arizona
University of Arizona
Photo: Getty Images

TUCSON, Ariz.–The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine—a national nonprofit of more than 12,000 doctors—is urging an immediate stop to the use of live animals for training doctors in the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson (UA Tucson) general surgery residency program. The group filed a federal complaint against the university today, claiming the use of live animals is a violation of the Animal Welfare Act. The group recommends that UA Tucson instead use the educationally superior, nonanimal training methods employed by three-quarters of surveyed surgery residencies in the U.S.—including the UA Phoenix program.

UA Tucson instructs residents to perform surgical procedures on live pigs despite considerable anatomical differences: Compared to humans, pigs have smaller torsos, lighter limbs, and thicker skin. There are also important differences in the anatomy of the head and neck, internal organs, rib cage, blood vessels, and the airway. At UA Tucson, trainees are instructed to make incisions into an animal’s abdomen and remove or perform procedures on internal organs and to insert surgical tools and lighted cameras in order to practice laparoscopic techniques. These procedures must later be relearned on human patients.

According to the group, 76% of all general surgery residency programs (198 of 259) in the U.S., including the Mayo Clinic and University of Arizona residencies in Phoenix, Midwestern University at Mountain Vista Medical Center, and UA’s other general surgery residency program at the Phoenix campus, use only nonanimal training methods to train residents. Instead of animals, human-patient simulators, laparoscopic simulators, virtual reality simulators, task trainers, and human cadavers, which can be used to teach all surgical procedures, are widely used. Medical simulators replicate human anatomy and can include layers of lifelike skin, fat, and muscle. UA Tucson already has access to a state-of-the-art facility— the Arizona Simulation Technology and Education Center—which offers a range of training options that could replace the use of animals in these residency programs.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, many institutions are rethinking the way they train,” said Physicians Committee director of academic affairs, John Pippin, MD, FACC. “This is an excellent time for the University of Arizona to stop killing pigs and transition to modern training options.” 

The Animal Welfare Act’s implementing regulations require that a principal investigator—including course instructors—consider alternatives to the use of animals. The Physicians Committee’s complaint, which is filed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, cites violations of the Animal Welfare Act and inadequate oversight of the training protocol by the school’s animal care and use committee.  

For a copy of the complaint or to speak with Dr. Pippin, please contact Reina Pohl at 202-527-7326 or rpohl [at] pcrm.org

Media Contact

Reina Pohl, MPH

202-527-7326

rpohl[at]pcrm.org

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

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