A group opposed to the use of live animals in medical education filed a federal complaint against UNC’s medical school Thursday, saying the university unnecessarily uses pigs to train residents in emergency procedures.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine requested an investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to determine whether UNC has violated the Animal Welfare Act. The complaint said UNC’s medical school “uses live pigs to teach procedural skills to emergency medicine residents, despite the widespread availability and implementation of educationally superior nonaminal training methods.”
The group, which has opposed the use of animals in research and training, said UNC uses pigs to teach 12 procedures, including inserting breathing tubes, draining abdominal cavities and making chest incisions, exposing the heart with a rib spreader.
The committee cited its own survey of 159 schools, in which 89 percent use nonanimal methods to teach resident doctors. Other North Carolina programs do not use animals in emergency medicine training, the group said, including Duke, East Carolina and Wake Forest universities.
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UNC issued a statement saying it has trained residents using live animals under general anesthesia for years.
“This training is done in addition to simulation training as there are certain key critical procedures that are best trained using live tissue when possible,” the UNC statement said. “We perform these procedures on animals who are under general anesthesia and hence do not experience pain with the procedures. We believe that our physicians are better prepared to perform life saving interventions for humans as a result of this training. These training protocols are approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), they are in compliance with federal law and are used by many other institutions.”
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine cited a number of widely used high-tech simulators that it claimed are superior to live animals in training.