This week, animal rights advocates protested at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., to raise awareness about the school’s use of cats to teach medical students in its Pediatrics Advanced Life Support (PALS) program how to perform tracheal intubation, a practice that involves placing a tube down a newborn’s windpipe.
Animals used in these procedures can suffer from a number of issues from bruising, bleeding and scarring to chronic pain and death. In some cases, lawsuits have been filed against schools that still support this practice by organizations such as the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine who believe that using animals violates the Animal Welfare Act since alternatives are widely available.
Only a handful of schools still use animals to teach medical students. The rest of the medical facilities in the U.S. and Canada have made the switch to non-animal models, such as the TraumaMan System, Synman, PREMIE Hal and human cadavers for medical and trauma training courses, including Harvard Medical School, Duke University, Yale University and the University of Michigan. These simulators are anatomically correct, realistic, can be used over and over again and have been approved by the American College of Surgeons.
In recent months, a growing number of schools have abandoned the use of animals in their curricula, including the Medical College of Wisconsin, East Carolina University, the University of Virginia, Vanderbilt University, the University of Oklahoma, the University Texas at Houston and Albert Einstein Medical Center.
Unfortunately, Washington University still believes it’s alright to use animals and has attempted to justify the practice by saying that the cats are treated well and later adopted out… after repeatedly being used in the program for three years.
“Students report a cat gives them a better opportunity to visualize vocal cords that are moving and to learn to coordinate intubation with the animal’s breathing. They also report greater confidence to deal more adequately with infant and pediatric emergencies,” said a spokesman for the university in a statement.
Animal advocates disagree and are protesting the school’s use of cats, when it could instead take advantage of simulators that are available there. Others, including physicians, agree with the stance that animals shouldn’t be used and that simulators are more appropriate for teaching human anatomy. The study Dying to Learn: Exposing the Supply of Dogs and Cats to Higher Education found that both medical and veterinary students learn just as well through alternative teaching methods.
“This is such an easy campaign to win,” Laura Shields, co-founder of St. Louis Vegan, told the Riverfront Times. “People have cats at home. To imagine someone restraining your cat, opening their mouth and cramming a tube down it, must really upset a lot of people.”
Hopefully, Washington University will be next on the list of schools that stop using animals to teach students.
Please sign the petition asking Washington University to stop the cruel and unnecessary practice of using live animals and switch to infant simulators to teach pediatrics residents.
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