Evolve or perish?

Last week, a physician and former state health secretary in Maryland filed a complaint with the Baltimore State’s Attorneys Office accusing Johns Hopkins University of animal cruelty from the use of live animals in training medical students. In an article in The Baltimore Sun, Dr. Martin Wasserman and his wife Barbara, both alumni of the University, joined with Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine to file a complaint against the University with the claim that Maryland law does not exempt training in the animal cruelty statute.

Johns Hopkins University is only one of seven medical schools (out of 179) that still use live animals to train students. While the University defends its practice of using pigs, which are under anesthesia, to practice surgical skills and resulting in euthanasia at the end of the procedure, others are publicly declaring the practice as outdated. With the evolution of computer-simulated training procedures, Dr. Stephen Bartlett, chief of surgery at University of Maryland Medical Center, finds computer technology more effective for students because they can repeat and master techniques on a computer without fear of working on an animal.

The issue of using live animals in training our future medical doctors and veterinary students was addressed in my book, How Shelter Pets are Brokered for Experimentation, including a discussion of updated procedures that do not involve animals. While I think we can all agree that we want our future doctors and veterinarians to have proper training, we are still at a crossroads in accepting that science has evolved to the point where animals are no longer needed as training subjects. We all can relate to the growth of technology, especially after purchasing a new computer or high-tech device and then discovering a week or month later that a newer device has been developed. So why do some institutions and people cling to outdated practices and refuse to evolve along with the growth of science? Given that only 7 of 179 medical schools still use live animals, that provides the clearest answer that proper training can be given to students without the use of animals.

What is unique about this latest outcry is the use of state animal cruelty statutes to push for progress towards non-animal procedures. If institutions refuse to progress and evolve, then using the law, when appropriate, should be pursued. Is this a modern example of evolve or perish? Share your thoughts.

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