The Department of Defense has ordered an end to the controversial practice of using live animals in a variety of U.S. military medical training programs - a move which will likely save the lives of thousands of animals every year.
In an order set to go into effect in 2015, the Pentagon's top health official, Jonathan Woodson, instructed all branches of the military to stop using live animal subjects in a variety of laboratory settings and programs used to train medics. As the Boston Globe reports, such training had included exposing monkeys to chemicals, and "forcing tubes down live cats' and ferrets' throats" - though other reported examples of the military's use of animals have been much more violent.
With the decision to change its policy, the U.S. joins 22 of 28 other NATO member nations who have already abolished the use of animals for training.
"The Military Health System (MHS) uses animals to meet education and training standards to prepare medical personnel to care for those in harms way," writes Woodson. "However, we must make progress towards the standardization, refinement, replacement, and reduction of our use of the live-animal model."
In lieu of animals, military medical training will employ lifelike mannequins that simulate a living human body. Sophisticated dummies are in widespread use across civilian medical training programs.
The order will not end all animal deaths for military training, however. Animals will continue to be used in weapons testing to "replicate battlefield trauma."
Still, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), calls the decision a "monumental step forward," adding that they continue to push for more humane military training techniques.
"This is the first time that a major shift away from animal use has been dictated across the entire Department of Defense," says PETA director Justin Goodman. "Now we have a situation where animal use will be completely prohibited in a number of key medical training areas."