Human Exceptionalism

Animal Rights “Medical” Organization Wants to End Use of Pigs in Surgical Training

Contrary to its name, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) is not an organization of doctors. In fact, the PCRM is an outright animal rights advocacy organization that approaches animal issues through its ideological prism, not the science.Indeed, contrary to its name, the PCRM is not a group of physicians advocating for better medical practices, at all. According to Newsweek, less than 5 percent of its members are actually doctors. During the PCRM’s formative years, PETA donated more than a million dollars to support the group—not because it supports objective science and the best medical practices, but because it promotes animal rights in the name of responsible medicine—including vociferously arguing on behalf of vegetarianism.

This is fine–if it would admit it. But the PCRM pretends to be objective and evidence driven, which it most decidedly is not. Well, now it wants to stop medical students from practicing surgical techniques on pigs. From the story:

Taking aim at one of the last bastions of live-animal training for medical students, a physicians’ group that champions animal rights has called upon the Johns Hopkins University to stop using live pigs to teach operating room techniques. Calling the practice inhumane and unnecessary, the Washington-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine notes that Hopkins is one of just two top-tier medical schools still convening live-animal labs.”The ethical argument is that you should not use sentient creatures to our purposes unnecessarily,” said Dr. John J. Pippin, a Dallas cardiologist affiliated with the group. “The reasons to use live animals, whatever they were, are no longer valid.”

Hmmm. The thing is, I can’t think of one current animal research use that the PCRM has admitted is necessary. (The aforementioned Dr. Pippin has commented here, perhaps he can enlighten us on this matter.)

I don’t want to use animals in research without good purpose, either. But this arguments seems persuasive to me:

“I can’t change their feelings, but we’d want them to understand that we really do think it’s important in surgical training,” said Dr. Julie Freischlag, director of surgery at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Like most of their peers nationwide, Hopkins students practice basic surgical skills on computerized simulators, mannequins and dead animal tissue. Although they watch surgeons work on human patients and may pass instruments or snip sutures, they’re not allowed to operate on people.

Freischlag said pigs give students the feel of live tissue – and help students decide whether they really have the interest or dexterity to become surgeons. “Simulators have no feedback as to texture and touch,” Freischlag said. “That’s where it’s so important to use animals, to feel all the right tensions and strengths.”

Many medical schools no longer use this teaching approach. But I doubt it is based on science, but politics and political pressure.

We use pig valves in human heart surgery. We use animals in necessary research. I don’t see how training our surgeons of tomorrow in a realistic milieu is any different–particularly given that the pigs are fully anesthetized and don’t suffer any pain.

P.S. The photo above is of a medical student practicing the implantation of a pace maker into the heart of a pig. Sure makes sense to me that he do that before working on a human being.