Medical Training On Animals Doesn't Help Treat Humans

As a physician and a former animal experimenter, I know that even in the most compassionate hands, medical training involving animals is cruel, sad and deadly. The only ethical argument those supporting this practice can make is that it is a "necessary evil" for the advancement of medicine, and therefore worth the misery it inflicts.

But for the purposes of this article, I won't be going into the ethical arguments -- not because they aren't important, but because I believe that the science of using animals in medical training is more than sufficient to discredit the practice. If this is true -- and as a medical educator and former vivisectionist, I fervently believe it is -- then the medical community must face the reality that when the "necessity" is not there, then only the "evil" remains. Last month, students at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) began a physiology course in which they will be asked to cut into live pigs to perform cardiovascular physiology procedures. They will place catheters in the pigs' veins and arteries and inject them with drugs. They'll open the animals' chest cavities and manipulate their hearts. Some of the animals will die during the procedures; the ones who survive will ultimately be killed.

Some would argue that this course is necessary to teach students valuable information about physiology. But what use is pig physiology to future doctors who will be treating human patients? No use at all, according to the vast majority of medical schools. Of all 187 accredited U.S. and Canadian medical schools, only UMMC and one other school, Oregon Health and Science University, still teach students physiology by having them perform procedures on animals. The rest of the medical schools -- including the very top medical institutions -- use high-tech simulators and other human-relevant methods. Of the 32 U.S. medical schools opened since 1979, not one has ever used animals for medical student education.

UMMC already has the resources to switch to a curriculum in step with these schools. Simply by making full use of its already operational Medical Advanced Skill and Simulation Education Center, the university could immediately end its use of animals. Do most medical schools use simulators and other human-relevant educational tools because they are more ethical, more humane? Perhaps. Do they use these tools because human models are more scientifically accurate and effective? Definitely.

I know that forward-thinking medical school faculty and administrators would not have made the transition away from using animals if they did not see a valid scientific reason -- a necessity, in fact -- to do so. Ethics aside, the science is enough to warrant a switch to simulation. Please to learn more.