At the Physicians Committee, our efforts to end the use of animals in medical training are a big part of who we are. Currently, we are working to ensure that areas of advanced medical training—including emergency medicine residencies, Advanced Trauma Life Support courses, pediatrics residencies, and paramedic training programs—exclusively use human-relevant methods like simulators.
You often see—and participate in—our demonstrations and letter-writing campaigns to get institutions to stop using animals. But there’s also a lot of activity going on behind the scenes of each campaign. We survey institutions to determine which are using animals and which are not, file requests using state and federal public records laws, review and summarize the stacks of documents we obtain from those requests, and diligently amass information regarding human-relevant training methods.
Before we ever launch a public campaign, we write to faculty members and administrators at the medical center that is using animals. Sometimes they review this information and replace animals, and we commend them.
But it’s usually not that easy. In those cases, we share the institutions’ practices with the public and media. Without fail, we have seen this approach succeed. But sometimes success comes slowly.
Consider Johns Hopkins University (JHU) in Baltimore, Md. In 2004, we learned that the university was once again using live pigs to teach surgical skills to medical students. After urging JHU to halt the practice, we learned in 2012 that it had reduced the number of animals used each year.
We kept the pressure on, holding physician-led demonstrations, posting local advertisements, and eventually delivering over 80,000 petitions from concerned citizens across the nation.
The beginning of the end came in January 2016, when Maryland Delegate Shane Robinson introduced a bill that would outlaw the use of animals for medical student training in the state. Four months later, Johns Hopkins announced it was ending its animal lab. But our work continues outside of medical student training.
Laval University in Quebec, Canada, is the only pediatrics residency program in Canada and the United States known to use animals—220 other facilities use only human-relevant training methods.
When the Physicians Committee launched its public campaign against Laval in 2012, we revealed to the public that residents practice procedures on live piglets, which included making an incision between the animal’s ribs and inserting tubes and needles into the chest cavity, abdominal cavity, and under the breastbone to drain fluid from the sac surrounding the heart. The piglets are then killed before a surgical airway is performed.
Recently, we obtained public records which revealed that Laval had made some changes to its animal use protocol, removing certain procedures because “animals are irrelevant…and considered to be non-representative of the human model.” In addition, the university’s Animal Care Committee only approved the protocol for two years—as opposed to three—“given the possible advances in artificial simulators.”
Based on these new findings, we filed a petition with the Quebec Ministers of Higher Education and Health and Social Services in April 2017, asking them to ensure that public funds are no longer wasted by Laval. We’re awaiting the outcome of the complaint.
In Minneapolis, our effort to end Hennepin County Medical Center’s (HCMC) animal use is also making progress. At HCMC, emergency medicine residents and other participants are instructed to practice over 20 procedures on live sheep and rabbits.
In April 2016, we launched our public campaign against HCMC. Shortly thereafter, HCMC reduced the number of animals it uses by 100 each year. Just last month, the Star Tribune reported that “hospital officials said in a statement that they plan to eliminate the use of animals in its medical education program … HCMC said it is developing and testing new simulation technology that would replace the use of animals.”
We await further developments from Laval and Hennepin. In the meantime, we’ll keep the pressure on them—and similar programs—by demanding that they provide the most educationally and ethically sound training available for future doctors and their patients.
If you would like to help us make certain that medical training is humane and exclusively human-relevant, please take action to support our active campaigns.