The British Ministry of Defence is defending itself in the face of fierce criticism from animal rights groups after it emerged it is allowing army surgeons to take part in the practice of operating on live pigs that have been shot for the express purpose of providing medics battle-zone like injuries to work on.
The most recent round of this training exercise, carried out earlier this month at a NATO training facility in Jaegerspris, Denmark, is said to have involved 18 pigs.
The pigs were marked with circles on their underbellies and were then shot by a three-man sniper team. The pigs were injured in ways designed to simulate the wounds medics might encounter on the battle-field. Surgeons then operated on the pigs, using life saving medical techniques to keep the sedated pigs alive for a number of hours before they were eventually killed ”humanely.”
The practice has been called “invaluable” training experience by the MoD which says there is a need to give battle-zone experience to medics that cannot, in their opinion, be simulated without live casualties. Pigs are used because of their anatomical similarities to humans.
An MoD spokesperson is quoted by the Independent as saying, ”This training provides invaluable experience, exposing our surgical teams to the specific challenges posed by the injuries of modern armed conflict.
“This training has helped save lives on operations and by participating in the Danish exercises we minimise the overall number of animals used.”
British participation in the process, once known as Operation Danish Bacon, was suspended after an outcry in 1998. However, after the MoD claimed there was no viable alternative, the training practice was once again opened to British trainees.
The move has been decried by animal rights groups who say it is ethically unjustifiable and ultimately unnecessary.
Animal rights groups have pointed out that while British law may not technically ban the practice, the MoD would have been required to sort case-by-case permission. In shipping out trainee surgeons to Denmark it has effectively sidestepped Britain’s animal welfare laws.
Animal rights groups have claimed that lifelike human dolls that can mimic battle-zone casualties are already available and that, contrary to the MoD’s assertions, they would be a viable alternative.
“The practice of shooting and injuring pigs for army surgeons to practice their skills on is abhorrent and shocking,” said RSPCA spokeswoman Klare Kennett. ”Pigs are intelligent animals and most people would be appalled by this, especially as there is an alternative available which does not involve harming any animals.”
PETA UK is calling on the MoD to follow the example of the vast majority of its NATO allies, saying they do not find it necessary to “shoot, stab and dismember animals for their military training exercises.”
“The Ministry of Defence’s decision to ship out members of the armed forces for deadly and cruel exercises in Denmark – which would be illegal if conducted in the UK – is impossible to justify medically, ethically and educationally,” Mimi Bekhechi, associate director for Peta UK is quoted as saying.
The MoD has so far resisted calls to end participation in the training exercise.
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