Medical Group Readies Complaint Over Use of Live Pigs for Training Instead of Simulators

live animal training instead of simulators for healthcare

Last week the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine announced they will file a federal complaint against the University of Missouri School of Medicine, questioning the legality of the school’s use of live animals for emergency medicine residency training — as reported by the Columbia Tribune.

Consider that if enough healthcare groups complained about the abuse of animals for medical training, that simulators would grow in adoption and utilization, as this article clearly points out! Does your healthcare program have an animal rights group? Perhaps as a simulation center representative you should connect with them to explore collaborative options of mutually beneficial support!

In the complaint, which the committee emailed to the Tribune on Friday, the national not-for-profit organization of 12,000 physicians asserts that the training program does not meet the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act of 1966. Emergency residents practice several medical procedures on live pigs, and “this animal use is at odds with the current standards of practice in emergency medicine training,” the committee said in the complaint.

The committee conducted a survey of 168 emergency medicine programs nationwide and found that 150 of them, or 89 percent, did not use animals to train residents. Four of those 150 programs are in Missouri, including the University of Missouri-Kansas City, which is part of the UM System along with the Columbia campus. In the complaint, the committee said these 150 programs use only human-based simulation to practice the procedures that MU’s residents practice on pigs. 

Because the MU School of Medicine uses live animals despite the existence of alternative methods and has not provided “objective evidence to support” doing so, the school is breaking the law, the organization said in the complaint. However, Foundation for Biomedical Research President Matthew Bailey said in an email that nationwide, doctors do not have a general consensus that simulation can replace the use of animals in physician training.


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“While simulators have become increasingly advanced in recent years, and make good adjuncts to training, many doctors do not agree that they provide an adequate level of training before operating on live people,” Bailey said. “They simply aren’t a full replacement in every case, yet.”

Human-based simulators “are not yet capable of replicating the human condition” in the case of some injuries, Bailey said. He gave the example of traumatic injuries that members of the military might suffer in combat. The Association of American Medical Colleges on its website says that the role of live animals in research is “irreplaceable” and that animals are “vital in the medical education continuum.”

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine attributes its information about MU’s emergency medicine training program from a protocol document the committee obtained. According to the document, trainees cut into and open the throats and chests of the live pigs in order to insert needles and tubes and repair an injury to the pericardium, a sac surrounding the heart. The trainees continue the procedures even if the pig dies in the process, but if it survives, they kill it before they perform the final procedure.

The committee will send the complaint to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s Animal Care Unit, which is the division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act. The complaint asks APHIS to investigate MU’s medical school and enforce penalties for what the committee sees as breaches of federal law.


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