Guide­lines on use of an­i­mals in test­ing are long over­due

Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity med­i­cal school is wean­ing it­self off the use of cats in med­i­cal train­ing af­ter con­clud­ing that tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances in sim­u­la­tors and man­nequins re­duced the need to use live an­i­mals. The tran­si­tion is a re­spon­si­ble one we can suppo

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION -

The school re­sisted years of pres­sure from an­i­mals rights groups to use al­ter­na­tive teach­ing meth­ods and was the last in the coun­try to use an­i­mals to train new doc­tors how to insert breath­ing tubes. The rea­son for not chang­ing the train­ing was med­i­cally de­fen­si­ble, and pa­tients should ap­pre­ci­ate that the uni­ver­sity did not cave in to bul­ly­ing tac­tics by an­i­mal pro­tec­tion­ists.

Dr. Bo Kennedy, a pe­di­atric emer­gency spe­cial­ist with St. Louis Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal, has said that the anatomy of a cat’s wind­pipe most closely mim­icked that of a new­born in­fant. Us­ing cats pro­vided the best train­ing ground for med­i­cal stu­dents.

Any par­ent who has anx­iously waited while a doc­tor safely in­serted a life-sav­ing breath­ing tube into a new­born’s del­i­cate air­way un­der­stands the im­por­tance of that train­ing.

Hos­tile cam­paigns by an­i­mal rights groups have tried sham­ing doc­tors into us­ing less-ef­fec­tive, al­ter­na­tive train­ing meth­ods. The right time to start such a tran­si­tion is when tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances per­mit doc­tors to sim­u­late med­i­cal pro­ce­dures as pre­cisely as pos­si­ble us­ing man­nequins in­stead of an­i­mals.

In­tim­i­da­tion and threats by some an­i­mal ethics groups caused some med­i­cal schools to lie when an­swer­ing ques­tions about their teach­ing meth­ods. The groups of­ten por­tray sci­en­tists and doc­tors as sadis­ti­cally us­ing an­i­mals in teach­ing and re­search labs, but over­sight agen­cies such as the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture have not found those por­tray­als to be ac­cu­rate.

Sci­en­tific ad­vances and med­i­cal train­ing that ben­e­fit hu­mans no longer have to come at the ex­pense of an­i­mals, and an­i­mal ex­per­i­men­ta­tion should be avoided when­ever pos­si­ble in fa­vor of al­ter­na­tive re­search strate­gies.

Most non-hu­man sci­en­tific and med­i­cal re­search uses less com­plex an­i­mals, such as rats and mice, which tend not to gen­er­ate the same lev­els of protest as pro­ce­dures in­volv­ing an­i­mals that hu­mans em­pathize with. Pri­mate re­search, which is highly con­tro­ver­sial, now ac­counts for less than a half of 1 per­cent of an­i­mal re­search. It has, nev­er­the­less, led to life-chang­ing med­i­cal ad­vances for se­ri­ous public health chal­lenges such as a treat­ment for deep brain stim­u­la­tion in Parkin­son’s dis­ease.

Safe­guards and over­sight that en­sure an­i­mals re­ceive hu­mane treat­ment in lab­o­ra­tory set­tings help ease the mo­ral dilemma. Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity said cats in its train­ing lab will be adopted by med­i­cal school em­ploy­ees and that no cats have been in­jured since the lab opened in 1988.

As public aware­ness in­creases, and tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ments lead to more life­like man­nequins and sim­u­la­tion de­vices, the use of live an­i­mals al­most cer­tainly will de­crease. Fed­eral eth­i­cal guide­lines for the use of hu­mans in re­search were de­vel­oped only in 1974. Sim­i­lar guide­lines on an­i­mals are long over­due.

Safe­guards and over­sight that en­sure an­i­mals re­ceive hu­mane treat­ment in lab­o­ra­tory set­tings help ease the mo­ral dilemma.

— St. Louis Post-Dis­patch

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