Banning Animal Use in Medical Training: Universities

Banning Animal Use in Medical Training: Universities

In Universities, the use of animal testing in medical training has been the norm for decades. With the advent of new anatomical simulation technologies and a fair share of political activism, this era is about to pass. So how did banning animal use in medical training take hold?

North American and British Opinions on Animal Testing in Medical Training

One of the pioneers of animal rights, Tom Regan, wrote “If abandoning animal research means that there are some things we cannot learn, then so be it”. His statement maybe foresaw the limitations of learning via non-sacrificed animals, but most Americans and Canadians have a different opinion from Regan.

In 2017, a Gallup poll was conducted, finding that 51% of Americans agree that animal testing in medicine is morally acceptable. Another Gallup poll showed there was a lower percentage, 32%, of Americans who believed that animals should be free from harm and exploitation. Also, 36% of Canadians supported the notion that medical testing is wrong. In addition, in a recent survey, 82 to 83% of Americans preferred that non-animal methods should be used in medical training.

So, there were greater percentages of Americans and Canadians who agreed that animal testing in medicine is not morally wrong, which may crystallize the attitudes of the general population towards this issue. But, 82 to 83% of Americans believe that non-animal methods are more important than animal testing in medical training. Furthermore, it is essential to establish that these percentages did not affect the banning of animal testing in medical training at all.

Banning Animal Use, Animal Testing; United States, Canada, Great Britain: (left) Morality of Medical Testing on Animals, (right) Opinion on Medical Testing on Animals, by Age. (Credit: Americans, Britons at Odds on Animal Testing [2003-09-02. Heather Mason Kiefer. Gallup News]
Earlier 2003 Animal Testing Poll Done in the United States, Canada and Great Britain: (left) Morality of Medical Testing on Animals, (right) Opinion on Medical Testing on Animals, by Age. (Credit: Gallup)

Victories in Banning Animal Use in the United States and Canada

The use of animals in medical training has been designed for two different purposes: for medical education and biomedical research. This practice has recently been widely re-evaluated and criticized in terms of its usefulness and clinical validity towards humans’ needs. More specifically, it is questionable if animal testing can mirror human health or disease, in terms of the methodological gaps in animal research. Apart from that, campaigns fight against animal testing in medical schools, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has created a long-term plan to replace animal testing. Thus, the use of animals in medical training tends to falter in its value.

The dynamic campaigns of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) have won the banning of animal testing in medical training. In a more detailed manner, 95% of medical residency programmes in the United States of America (USA) has forbidden the action, and practitioners use human-relevant training methods. For instance, on May 16 2018, the Western Michigan University Homer Stryker MD School of Medicine reorganized animal testing methods to human-relevant methods.

Banning Animal Use, Animal Testing; The TraumaMan system and its extensions is yearly used by over 35,000 clinicians in 38 countries to train on advanced surgical skills. (Credit: SIMULab: Almost Human)The TraumaMan system and its extensions is yearly used by over 35,000 clinicians in 38 countries to train on advanced surgical skills. (Credit: SIMULab: Almost Human)

Similarly, at the Laval University in Québec City, live-animal training in pediatric residencies has been stopped. There, doctors and residents used to anesthetize piglets for pediatric, emergency medicine and anesthesiology training. After that, the piglets were euthanized. However, this practice was under siege for more than six years by PCRM, leading to the ban of animal use in medicine training. Laval University, Western Michigan University, and other universities have started non-animal testing or training for medicine, emphasizing human-relevant methods (e.g., simulators). These actions engender better educational techniques for doctors, focusing only on human therapy, anatomy and biology.

Coalescing these victories, the sacrifices of animals for medical training have almost vanished. No more animal suffering exists in medical training. Nevertheless, this has not happened in all medical schools. Some of these schools tend to educate their medical practitioners, confronting them with animal exploitation and harm.

In 2016, the Physician Committee for Responsible Medicine called for an end to Animal Testing at Minneapolis’ Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) [2016-09-29. Kate Raddatz. CBS Minnesota WCCO 4 News]

Unresolved Issues

In 2010, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) complained to University of Michigan about using animals in practice. “We have nothing to be ashamed of,” replied Dr Howard Rush to PETA, a director of the unit for laboratory animal medicine. But now, Michigan belongs in the PCRM list of U.S. and Canadian Medical Schools Free of Live Animal Use. Although this university has adopted non-animal use medical training today, other universities have failed to follow this pathway.

To illustrate that, the University of Missouri School of Medicine has refused to accept the ideology of these campaigns. The university did not act on PCRM’s recommendation to stop animal testing; as a result, pigs’ throats are still being slashed. In another situation, PCRM lodged a federal complaint for animal testing against Mayo Clinic in Rochester, stating that “a principal investigator—including course instructors—consider alternatives to procedures that may cause more than momentary or slight pain or distress to any animal used for research purposes.” The clinic’s attitudes to harm did not represent the federal rules, and its response to the complaint stated that the pigs in emergency training are crucial for “lifesaving care to pediatric patients.” However, 95% of medical schools have a different stance on medical training, in not using animals.

Banning Animal Use, Animal Testing; One common chemical safety test involves placing compounds in a rabbit’s eye. (Credit: Jose Luis Mendez Fernandez/Science)One common chemical safety test involves placing compounds in a rabbit’s eye. (Credit: Jose Luis Mendez Fernandez/Science)
Banning Animal Use, Animal Testing; One of two PCRM billboards stands on the side of Interstate 70 near Columbia in a campaign against the MU School of Medicine’s use of live pigs. (Credit: Jay Bury/Missourian)One of two PCRM billboards stands on the side of Interstate 70 near Columbia in a campaign against the MU School of Medicine’s use of live pigs. (Credit: Jay Bury/Missourian)

95% and Counting…

In the long run, 95% of medical schools have disapproved of the use of animals in medical training, though the University of Missouri School of Medicine and the Mayo Clinic do not show any eagerness to change animal testing to non-animal methods. The PCRM has ameliorated this issue with success in the USA and Canada, but there are still medical schools which use animal exploitation or abuse to achieve better medical education.

Federal complaint filed against Mayo Clinic over animal testing [2019-02-20. Mike Bunge. KIMT3 News]

Constantine Papoutsis has received a BSc (Hons) degree in Psychology from Canterbury Christ Church University in England. He is working as a research and neurology assistant in the area of sleep-wake disorders and epilepsy. Furthermore, in the past, Constantine has taken part in a lab where he investigated the effect of dissociation on eyewitness testimony. Constantine has more than two years’ research and writing experience in the neurological and psychological area.

Constantine Papoutsis has received a BSc (Hons) degree in Psychology from Canterbury Christ Church University in England. He is working as a research and neurology assistant in the area of sleep-wake disorders and epilepsy. Furthermore, in the past, Constantine has taken part in a lab where he investigated the effect of dissociation on eyewitness testimony. Constantine has more than two years’ research and writing experience in the neurological and psychological area.

Constantine Papoutsis has received a BSc (Hons) degree in Psychology from Canterbury Christ Church University in England. He is working as a research and neurology assistant in the area of sleep-wake disorders and epilepsy. Furthermore, in the past, Constantine has taken part in a lab where he investigated the effect of dissociation on eyewitness testimony. Constantine has more than two years’ research and writing experience in the neurological and psychological area.

Constantine Papoutsis has received a BSc (Hons) degree in Psychology from Canterbury Christ Church University in England. He is working as a research and neurology assistant in the area of sleep-wake disorders and epilepsy. Furthermore, in the past, Constantine has taken part in a lab where he investigated the effect of dissociation on eyewitness testimony. Constantine has more than two years’ research and writing experience in the neurological and psychological area.