In June we celebrated a victory following the announcement that Washington University would be ending the controversial practice of using cats to teach students how to perform tracheal intubation in its Pediatrics Advanced Life Support (PALS) course. Unfortunately, it turns out we celebrated prematurely.
Animal advocates heavily campaigned against this practice, arguing that it wasn’t just cruel, but also completely unnecessary. Local animal advocates protested, PETA got involved, Bob Barker wrote the school a letter offering to donate $75,000 to buy state-of-the-art infant simulators, offers came in to adopt the cats and a Care2 petition asking the school to stop using them gathered nearly 18,000 signatures.
It looked like the pressure paid off when a spokesman for the St. Louis Children’s hospital, which works in conjunction with Washington University, confirmed to the Riverfront Times that the PALS course “does not include live-animal training,” and that this “is a permanent change to the course.”
As it turns out, the joke’s on us. Unfortunately, while we all believed that ending the cat lab meant ending the use of cats for good, the move was nothing more than a sleight of hand trick by the university. While it will no longer be using cats in its PALS course, it will now be using cats and ferrets to teach students in its pediatric residency program.
Same cats. Same procedure. Different courses.
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.
School officials wrote a letter to the editor in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch defending the practice and stated that the school’s “decision to stop using animals does not extend to all training.” It continues, “So, in some pediatric intubation courses separate from PALS, we will continue to involve animals until more advanced simulators or other more effective teaching tools are developed.”
While the university continues to claim this is a superior teaching method, it’s one of only two schools left that continue using live animals to teach pediatric residents. The school might have an argument of people were giving birth to kittens or babies with flip-top heads and fangs, otherwise they seem to be behind everyone else.
While the university is waiting around in the dark for advanced alternatives, 207 other institutions have already discovered infant simulators and have made the switch to models that anatomically correct, don’t cause harm to any living being and have been approved by the American College of Surgeons to teach pediatric residents, according to a survey conducted by the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine that was updated this month.
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, especially not when the school already has access to them. The use of live animals is also not supported by the by the American Heart Association, the organization that sponsors and creates the curriculum for PALS training programs.
As for ending this practice, local activists are back on the scene protesting the continued use of live animals to teach students and hope to see the school stop for good.
“We’ve redoubled our protest and outreach campaigning on this issue. And as the public learns of the deception, they’re as outraged as we are. Washington University is displaying outright cruelty and outdatedness―hardly an image St. Louisans want or expect for our city,” said Alexandria Faye of the St. Louis Alliance for Medical Progress.
If you haven’t already, please sign and share the petition expressing disappointment with the university’s deception and asking the school to stop using live animals to teach students.
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