A national advocacy group has escalated its campaign against the MU School of Medicine for using live pigs in its emergency medicine residency program.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine bought four billboards that call out the medical school for its outdated and inhumane practice of using live animals in medical training. The organization has been working since May 2017 to persuade the university to transition from live pig training to complete use of its Sheldon Clinical Simulation Center.
The group held a demonstration on campus last December, about a month after the school renewed its Animal Care and Use protocol, which permits the live animal training.
Monday, two billboards were placed on Interstate 70 near exit 125, both eastbound and westbound, and a third at mile marker 131.5 westbound. The truck carrying a mobile billboard runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Aug. 31 in a 20-minute loop of the MU campus. All the billboards employ a variation on the theme that the university’s medical school is one of the few in the country that uses live animals in training.
The committee reported that it received $12,145 in donations from Michelson Medical Research Foundation to cover the total cost to produce and run the stationary billboards for four weeks and the mobile billboard for five days.
The Physicians Committee says it surveyed 242 emergency medicine residency programs, and that 229 use exclusively non-animal methods for training, putting MU in the 5 percent of programs surveyed that still use live animals.
MU uses its simulation center for a majority of its training, according to a statement provided by Jennifer Horton, senior strategic communications consultant for MU Health Care. Still, the statement claims the program uses about six live animals a year to train resident physicians in “life-saving measures that are not adequately replicated through simulation.”
John Pippin, director of academic affairs with the Physicians Committee, said the use of live pigs is problematic not only because of the harm it does to the pigs, which are usually killed in the process, but also because of differences in anatomy between pigs and humans.
“If you think of what a pig looks like, and you think of what a human looks like, how can you learn how to do procedures on a pig, and then go into the emergency room and do that on a human being?” Pippin said. “It’s ridiculous.”
Pippin said modern simulators are not simply rubber mannequins but rather interactive, programmable, anatomically correct equipment that can bleed and with parts that can be easily replaced.
A study published in the Emergency Medicine Journal found that students who practiced making emergency airways on both sections of dead pigs and mannequin models reported that the reality of skin elasticity was greater with pigs, but it was harder to locate specific anatomical features in the pigs than in the mannequins.
The School of Medicine did not have anyone available to talk about the advantages or disadvantages of simulators.
In a letter Pippin said he was planning to deliver Thursday to Patrick Delafontaine, dean of the MU School of Medicine, he writes that the Physicians Committee offered to pay for a demonstration of a cadaver simulator which “can be used to teach every procedure for which MU is using live pigs, including thoracotomy and cardiac repair.” The committee reported that MU declined the offer.
Pippin, who completed his residency at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, said live dogs were used as part of his training, which he opted not to participate in after the dog his group was using died in front of them.
“You’re standing there with your colleagues — none of you wants to be here doing this — and while you’re giving drugs and various things, the dog dies right in front of you,” Pippin said. “And the lab director says, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll get you another one.’”
Times have changed, and many of the experiences he had in residency are a thing of the past. However, MU is behind the curve, he said.
In a June 2017 News Release, the MU News Bureau said animals have helped university researchers learn about cancer, heritable genetic disorders, muscular-degenerative conditions and other conditions both humans and animals experience.
“Animal research on the MU campus, and throughout the country, has led to discoveries that have saved the lives of both humans and animals,” Mark McIntosh, MU’s vice chancellor for research, graduate studies and economic development, wrote in the statement.
Pippin said the School of Medicine and officials in the university haven’t responded to the committee’s attempts to start a dialogue. He said keeping the campaign internal has not been effective, so the committee is attempting to reach the public with information, such as the billboards, that will push the community to take action against the use of live pigs.
The website listed on the billboards provides a link to an electronic petition members of the community can personalize and sign, with recipients including Delafontaine and Christopher Sampson, the program director for the university’s emergency medicine residency program.