WASHINGTON—As time goes on, the number of people favoring an end to the use of animals in laboratories continues to grow. New survey results published in Alternatives to Laboratory Animals offer new insight into public perceptions in the United States of laboratory animal use, specifically for the purposes of medical training.
When asked if, where available, nonanimal methods should be used over live animals to train medical students and physicians, emergency physicians and paramedics, and pediatricians, 82 to 83 percent of 1011 survey participants agreed. Most respondents (84 percent) agreed that they would want their own doctor to be trained using methods that replicate human anatomy instead of using live animals. More than 66 percent of respondents even agreed that it is “morally wrong or unethical” to use live animals if effective nonanimal methods are available.
With effective nonanimal training methods already widely available, these findings suggest that a considerable majority of the public would like to see an end to the use of animals in medical training.
“Experts have known for decades that animal use is a poor substitute for human-specific methods when learning about treating humans, but it can take time for the public to learn about and come to trust new ways of doing things,” says one of the report authors, John Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C., director of academic affairs at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, D.C., “Having the public’s encouragement to move forward and strive for progress benefits the sciences, which often rely on public support or approval.”
In 1994, the majority of medical school curricula in the United States included live animal laboratory exercises. But the practice steadily declined, and after 2005 that decline accelerated with the Physicians Committee's efforts. In 2016, the University of Tennessee College of Medicine in Chattanooga, the last medical school to use animals to train medical students, ended its animal use and switched to human-relevant methods.
Animals are still used in a small minority of advanced medical training programs, such as emergency medicine residencies or advanced trauma life support (ATLS) courses, but as programs adopt new technologies, animal use continues to fall by the wayside. In 2017, the last pediatrics residency program in the United States or Canada known to use live animals discontinued its use of piglets. That was at Laval University in Québec City.
Reina Pohl, MPH
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.