Animal Laboratories banned from Medical Student Education

A 30-year campaign waged by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine against the use of live animal laboratories in medical student training throughout the United States and Canada has finally ended. With support from the Michelson Medical Research Foundation, this cruel and ineffectual method of training has become a thing of the past.

Animal Laboratories now banned from medical student education.

Animal Laboratories now banned from medical student education.

Animal Laboratories now banned from medical student education.

Animal Laboratories now banned from medical student education.

Physicians Committee president Neal Barnard, M.D., began working toward a day without animal laboratories in medical education even before he founded the Physicians Committee in 1985. “When I was in medical school at The George Washington University our instructor announced that the next week would include ‘dog lab,’” says Dr. Barnard. “That meant that we were to experiment on and kill a perfectly healthy dog. At the time, it was a ritual at most medical schools. Although it was a course requirement, I refused to participate. And I also made a vow that I was going to stop it, not just at my medical school, but at every medical school.”

In 1985, 87 percent of medical schools used dogs and other animals to teach physiology, pharmacology, and surgical skills. Students were instructed to inject the animals with various drugs and monitor their responses or to practice surgical procedures. After the training, the animals were killed.

“We worked hard to stop these labs for two reasons: First, because of the obvious cruelty to the animals,” says Dr. Barnard. “And second, when medical students are trained like this, they come to believe that killing animals is somehow essential to medicine and science. That had to stop.”

Animal Laboratories - 31 Years of Progress: April 16, 1985 — The Beginning: Neal Barnard, M.D., founds the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

April 16, 1985: Neal Barnard, M.D. founds the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Since its inception, the Committee has made great strides in modernizing medicine by eliminating unethical experiments and research and promoting nutrition’s critical role in preventive medicine.

During his third year in medical school at Hahnemann Medical College (now Drexel University), MMRF founder and president Gary K. Michelson, M.D. faced the same challenge. “I was told that I would have to take out an organ of a perfectly healthy dog every week for 14 weeks,” says Michelson. “I refused and was told I would flunk the course.” But while the dean was making preparations to remove him, Dr. Michelson invented a surgery through which he was able to transplant a rib bone into a 10-year-old girl’s deformed leg, averting the need to amputate.

“Two of the most famous orthopedic surgeons in the world wrote long, glowing letters to my medical school about this brilliant, young orthopedic [student] who had come up with a solution to a problem that doctors had been struggling with for 50 years,” Dr. Michelson said. “They said they would hold a spot for me in their residency program. So my medical school decided they weren’t going to throw me out after all — that’s the only reason I got out of dog lab.” Without ever participating in a dog lab, he went on to become an orthopedic surgeon, prolific medical inventor, and renowned philanthropist.

Animal Laboratories - 31 Years of Progress: 1992 — Cat Shooting Experiments Halted

1992: Physicians testify before Congress on the military shooting restrained cats in the head to “model” human injuries. An investigation results in ending the cat-shooting experiments.

Long, Hard Struggle.

Long, Hard Struggle.

Long, Hard Struggle.

Long, Hard Struggle.

Today, interactive and programmable simulators and other methods are considered superior to animal-based education because they are modeled after the human body and allow for repeated practice. In fact, none of the 44 surveyed medical schools that have opened in the United States since 1979 have used animals to train students. “It’s taken a long time,” recalls Dr. Barnard. “We had negotiations at Harvard. We protested at Yale. We were involved in litigation. And yet at some schools, the instructors made the switch quite easily.”

In 1995, the Physicians Committee persuaded Harvard Medical School to eliminate its physiology dog laboratory course in favor of a human operating room training module. Columbia University’s medical school dropped the last animal laboratory from its curriculum the same year.

Animal Laboratories - 31 Years of Progress: 1993 — Dog Laboratories Stopped

1993: The University of Nevada drops its required dog laboratory after a successful public education and media campaign which paves the way for a national shift in medical training. In the ensuing years, nearly every medical school would halt the use of animals in medical education.

Animal Laboratories - 31 Years of Progress: 2010 — Army Stops Poisoning Monkeys

2010: After a protracted effort by the Physicians Committee, the U.S. Army finally stops poisoning monkeys in chemical weapons exercises. The same year, the federal government phases out the use of chimpanzees in invasive research; releases the more than 500 federally owned chimpanzees to sanctuaries; and prohibits future breeding of chimpanzees for research.

The Physicians Committee’s campaign also led to the end of animal labs at prestigious medical schools across the country, including Duke University, Case Western Reserve University, the Medical College of Wisconsin, Oregon Health & Science University, New York Medical College, Rush Medical College, Stanford University, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (the U.S. military’s medical school), the University of Mississippi School of Medicine, the University of Virginia, the University of Michigan, the University of California medical school system, and the Washington University in St. Louis, among many others.

In 2010, the last medical school in Canada using animals, the Memorial University of Newfoundland, ended the practice.

The Final Two.

The Final Two.

The Final Two.

The Final Two.

By May 2015, just two U.S. medical schools continued to use live animals: Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD., and the University of Tennessee College of Medicine in Chattanooga. Following an aggressive Physicians Committee campaign that included letters, advertisements, petitions, demonstrations, and proposed legislation—Johns Hopkins announced it had ended animal use: “Given that almost all medical schools have stopped using live animals in medical student education and that the experience is not essential, the School of Medicine has decided that the use of live animals in the surgical clerkship should stop.”

Chattanooga quickly followed. On June 24, 2016, in an e-mail forwarded to Physicians Committee director of academic affairs John Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C., the interim dean for the University of Tennessee College of Medicine in Chattanooga wrote that “effective immediately” the school will no longer use live pigs to teach surgical skills to students.

“With that decision, we entered the post-animal era in medical student education,” says Dr. John Pippin, Physicians Committee Director of Academic Affairs. “Like every other medical school in the United States and Canada, the University of Tennessee acknowledged that simulation and other nonanimal teaching methods have supplanted the unnecessary use of live animals in physician training.”

The Fight Continues.

The Fight Continues.

The Fight Continues.

The Fight Continues.

“The Physicians Committee’s successes have saved animals and improved medical training,” says Dr. Barnard. “But animals are still used in more advanced training, and there is an enormous amount of animal use in basic research. We are continuing to work in those areas and are steadily winning those battles as well.”

31 Years of Progress — How the Physicians Committee Replaced Animals in Medical Training

Reference

MMRF Initiative