Friday, March 28, 2008


Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine says twenty years ago, live animals were commonly used in physiology, pharmacology, and surgery classes at medical schools. A standard lab involved anesthetizing the animal, followed by injecting pharmaceuticals or practicing surgical techniques. After the class, the animal was killed.

Today, Johns Hopkins still offers this cruel and unnecessary exercise. Johns Hopkins is the only top-20 ranked U.S. medical school to use live animals in its medical student curriculum. The school uses pigs in its third-year surgery rotation lab multiple times throughout the school year. Pigs are highly intelligent, social animals who have been shown to be more intelligent than dogs. Animal behavior experts agree, and scientific evidence suggests, that pigs are very smart and sensitive animals.

The American College of Surgeons no longer uses live animals in any of its training programs, and it promotes the use of non-animal surgical training tools. And in 2007, the American Medical Student Association passed a resolution strongly encouraging the replacement of live animal laboratories with non-animal alternatives.

Over the past two years, more than a dozen medical schools have ended their live animal programs, and all nine medical schools opening between 2007 and 2009 do not include animals in their curricula.

So why is the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine the last of the top 20-ranked medical schools in America still using live animals to train its students?

That's what a group of physicians asked as they protested outside the School of Medicine this week.

"We're asking Johns Hopkins to join its medical school colleagues around the country and end this practice," Dr. John Pippin (pictured here) told Baltimore WJZ. "Live pigs are used and then killed to introduce students to surgery techniques."

Barbara Wasserman, a retired Hopkins educated doctor said, "There is no reason to use live animals to teach medical students principals that can be taught using alternative non-animal techniques."

University of Maryland medical student Kevin Caldwell agrees."I don't see any reason why you should have to subject any animal to surgery if you don't have to." His university uses simulators.

Meanwhile, an editorial in the weekly student publication at Hopkins called urges the school to "stop killing animals needlessly." Part of the editorial reads:

"It certainly isn't worth the needless deaths that this practice requires. The pigs are purchased and delivered for the express purpose of surgical training, anaesthetized, operated on and discarded when they are no longer useful. The surgery is not beneficial to the pigs in anyway and, to put it bluntly, pointless."

It is also ethically indefensible, and perhaps that's why the School of Medicine has chosen not to actively defend it. Their obstinate refusal to consider the objections raised by professional organizations such as PCRM, and to explain the perceived necessity of their actions to media organizations such as the News-Letter, says more about the damning ethical implications of their policy than words ever could."

The following is from the Johns Hopkins News Letter.

Physicians protest use of live pigs for practice
By: Marie Cushing

A small group of physicians staged a protest in front of the School of Medicine Wednesday, decrying its use of live animals for surgical training - a practice abandoned by all but 10 of the country's medical schools - as outdated, unnecessary and cruel.

Motivated by press reports, members of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine lobbied the school to end the practice in front of members of local media.

Most medical schools are "well past the point of seeing the use of animals in live surgeries as an acceptable standard," said John Pippin, a Dallas cardiologist affiliated with the Committee.

"The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine engages in very limited use of animals in situations for which there is no adequate training substitute," said a statement released from the School of Medicine in an e-mail from Communication and Public Affairs Associate Director Kim Hoppe to the News-Letter. None of the protesting doctors were Hopkins employees.

Pippin's requests to discuss the surgeries with Hopkins went unanswered.

Protestors argued that the University should better utilize its surgery simulation devices.

Simulators "are just as good if not better as pig surgeries, or else they wouldn't be used in 90 percent of American medical schools," said Barbara Wasserman, a Hopkins medical school graduate who now practices medicine in Montgomery County.

"With human simulators, students can practice techniques more than once. Surgery on animals is not efficient and certainly not humane," she said.

Pippin saw the reluctance of Hopkins and other institutions to stop the use of live pigs in surgeries as opposition to change.

"I think people learned that way, they know that way and they think it's valuable ... There is a reluctance to change things when you feel they were successful in the past," he said.

"It's a waste of time, a waste of resources and a waste of life," protestor and Hopkins alumnus Nick Kulkarni ('96) said.

He participated in a pig surgery while a medical student at George Washington University, which has since then phased out the practice.

Now an anesthesiologist in Virginia, Kulkarni preferred using mannequins where students practice inserting central lines or intubation.

"That's more accurate. I'm not a veterinarian," he said.

While in her junior year at the Hopkins medical school, Wasserman performed surgery on a live, anesthetized dog.

"What I learned in the dog lab had no applicability to taking care of humans," she said.

It was the experience of performing surgery on a live dog - which no longer occurs at Hopkins or any other medical campus - that served as a wake-up call for Pippin.

"In the middle of surgery the dog woke up while its chest was still open ... The course instructor could not put the dog back under, so it had to be killed on the table," he said.

Pippin was comforted in his belief that the medical school will inevitably end the use of live pigs in surgeries.

"We're confident that Hopkins will change. At some point they will have to, because they will be the last school in the country [doing the surgeries]," Pippin said.

Protestors held a sign urging medical school students to contact an anonymous tip hotline with information on the pig surgeries.

Hopkins medical students have already provided information to Pippin, including reports that students can request to not participate in the surgeries.

While she has not heard responses from medical students, Wasserman said she received "very positive, supportive responses" to an opinions piece she wrote in the Baltimore Sun.

Both she and Pippin cited a recent editorial by the News-Letter condemning the use of live pigs in surgeries as a motivating factor behind the protest.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Unnecessary, perhaps. Cruel? You'll have to make that argument. You assert it without evidence.