Success! Washington University Stops Using Cats for All Intubation Training
Finally, for the first time, we can say this — no medical school in the United States uses cats to train students to intubate infants. Care2 readers, this victory belongs to you and to many others who have long opposed this antiquated teaching technique.
Washington University in St. Louis announced in mid-October 2016 that, effective immediately, they will stop sedating cats and using them to instruct medical students how to insert breathing tubes down infants’ throats. From now on, neonatal intubation training will be done only using mannequins and simulators.
Washington University was the last of 198 U.S. pediatrics programs to give up endotracheal intubation training using live cats and ferrets. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a press release issued by the school explained that “[i]mprovements in the simulators make this possible. Therefore, the university has made the decision to no longer rely on anesthetized cats in training health care professionals to perform these life-saving intubation procedures.”
To see what this training involved, watch this undercover video shot at Washington University by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in 2013:
If you prefer not to watch the video, this is how PETA described it at the time:
The video shows unskilled trainees struggling for several minutes to intubate two helpless cats named Elliott and Jessie, botching the attempts to shove tubes down their windpipes and mishandling metal instruments in ways that could break the cats’ teeth. As several participants in the video note, the inadequately anesthetized cats even begin to wake up during the procedure.
A WUSTL veterinarian is seen discussing how each cat is subjected to as many as 15 intubations each session, even though studies show that intubating animals more than five times per session can cause pain and trauma. The veterinarian and course leader also admit that some cats’ windpipes are injured during the exercise, which can cause potentially fatal bleeding, swelling, scarring, and collapsed lungs. Each of the cats held captive at WUSTL is subjected to this miserable procedure up to four times a year.
Cats and ferrets have been popular subjects for intubation training because their throat’s upper airway is quite a bit like that of a newborn baby. Many doctors felt a simulator or mannequin just couldn’t replicate the delicate internal tissue or the automatic reflexes of a live throat.
Shortly after this video surfaced in 2013, Washington University agreed to stop intubating live cats in its Pediatrics Advanced Life Support course. In other school programs, though, the practice continued until this month.
“The best way to teach emergency airway intervention is on human-relevant training methods,” said Dr. John Pippin, director of academic affairs for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), in a news release. “I commend Washington University for switching to modern methods. With this decision, Wash U’s pediatrics training has progressed into the 21st century.”
PCRM has been on the front lines for many years in the fight to convince medical schools to stop using live animals for medical student training. The organization started a Care2 petition that received more than 70,000 signatures.
In the last few years, pressure from PCRM and other animal activists has really turned the tide. This announcement is one more victory we’ve all waited a long time for. It took much too long to happen.
“We were truly perplexed that a leading program like that would use a discredited method of training,” Dr. Pippin told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The remaining cats will be adopted by Washington University staff members. In fact, all along, these cats have gone home to live with staff members after three years as a training prop.
Be glad no other cats will have to undergo this uncomfortable and potentially dangerous service as a tool for training. Washington University, we’re so pleased you made this decision, because it’s the right one. We just wish you’d made it years earlier.
Photo credit: Thinkstock