Animal advocates have been continuously protesting Washington University’s use of cats in its Pediatrics Advanced Life Support (PALS) program to teach students how to perform tracheal intubation, but the university refuses to budge.
For students at Washington University, the procedure involves placing a hard plastic tube down cats’ throats, which can cause them to suffer from a number of issues from bruising, bleeding, swelling and scarring to broken teeth, collapsed lungs, chronic pain and death.
“As a top-ranked medical school, Washington University should be a point of pride for our city. But Bo Kennedy’s continued use of animals for a cruel and outdated training method has become a major point of shame. For the administration, the school, and St. Louis. The vast majority of people we talk to here are shocked and outraged that the prestigious Wash U is doing something as crude as stuffing tubes down the throats of kittens under the guise of medicine,” said Alexandria Faye of the St. Louis Alliance for Medical Progress.
“This city and the whole country are watching and waiting for Wash U to step into the 21st Century already–and to give up the animals so we can take them to the sanctuary that’s already lined up for them,” she added.
Washington University is the only school using live animals locally – St. Louis University School of Medicine, Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and St. Louis Community College have all switched to simulators – it’s believed to be the only one left using them at all for PALS training.
The Alliance for Medical Progress has been working on this issue since last August and holds weekly demos, getting occasional support from the St. Louis Animal Rights Team, Kinship Circle and PETA.
A recent undercover investigation conducted by PETA found that cats may be forced to endure up to 15 intubations during one session, and noted that studies have shown that intubating an animal more than five times in one session can cause pain and trauma. Several students also said that the cats they were working on woke up during the procedure. PETA has since called for a USDA investigation into violations of the Animal Welfare Act, which include using animals where alternatives are available and failing to minimize cats’ pain and distress.
Following the investigation, Missouri-native Bob Barker wrote an open letter to the university urging it to stop using cats and offered $75,000 to cover the cost of two state-of-the-art simulators to help transition the PALS program away from the use of cats – outdoing himself only with an added offer to provide homes for the nine cats currently being used in the program.
The university, which works in conjunction with the St. Louis Children’s Hospital, already has access to simulators, but continues to defend the practice under the argument that the cats are only used a few times a year, are under anesthesia during the procedure and that after three years of “service” they are then adopted out. However, according to Faye, there are no records to verify this claim.
Becoming proficient at clearing an airway is obviously a lifesaving technique that students should become proficient at, but there is no need to use live animals when effective alternatives are available.
The American Heart Association (AHA), which sponsors and creates the curriculum for PALS training programs, “does not require or endorse the use of animals” in PALS courses because of the advances in simulators and recommends that infant simulators be used instead for hands-on training.
Cindy Tait, one of the original course developers, spoke out against using live animals at Washington University and elsewhere in St. Louis Today last year arguing that the practice is inhumane, ineffective, gives students a false sense of security and is distracting to students who worry about harming animals. She also said that studies have shown that people trained on simulators that mimic human anatomy are better at intubating babies than those who are trained using animals.
Despite the AHA’s stance, the undercover footage also exposed a veterinarian misleading students by telling them that the AHA opposes the use of cats because it would be too expensive for all of the programs running PALS courses to keep them.
The majority of schools and pediatrics programs in the U.S. have stopped using animals in their curricula and have switched to human patient simulators that are anatomically correct, can be used repeatedly, do not cause harm to any living being and have been approved by the American College of Surgeons. Washington University’s continued use of cats to train students is not only cruel, but is an outdated practice that cannot be justified when there are effective alternatives available.
Please sign and share the petition urging Washington University to stop using live animals in its PALS program.
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